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Healing in Divisive Church Situations


In an exchange in the comment section on the Train Church Leaders Practicum under the topic of church discipline, the question was posed of how elders or other church leaders can come alongside of people with comfort and counsel to help bring healing in a divisive church situation. I gave some of the following general suggestions but have herein expounded on my response.

9 Suggestions to Help Bring Healing in Divisive Church Situations

Just what this looks like could depend on the particular situation, like what caused the division, how far along it is, what has already been done, perhaps the church’s culture and governance, etc.. But, these suggestions can help.

1) Communication

Church leaders must honestly share with the church about what is happening, what steps have been taken, and how they hope to bring resolution. If you wait too long to communicate, you open the door to what might be irreparable damage as gossip, misunderstanding, and side-taking quickly ensue in situations like this. Further, people may feel you are trying to hide or cover up things through your lack of communication. You do not, and often should not, share every detail, but you must share enough for people to be able to understand, join in praying about it, and be able to participate in varying ways in the process. Being kept out of the loop can compound the hurt, adding to their sense of helplessness.

Also Read: Christ-like Communication

2) Availability

While some of the sharing will need to take place in the large group setting, much of it can and should happen one-on-one, as couples, or even as small groups which is more conducive to dialoging and addressing specific concerns. Church leaders must make their desire to come alongside in these ways known. While this does require a commitment on the part of the leaders, their availability is essential to helping the healing process.

Also Read: Don’t Just Survive, Thrive: Need for Presence

3) Safety

Keep in mind that people need more than the physical presence of church leaders meeting with them. They need to know that the leaders will be safe to talk to, that they will be objective, non-judgmental, and will keep confidences. People need a safe environment in which to express themselves. Remember that people will be at different stages in the grief cycle. Can people feel as though they will be accepted and loved if they express where they are at … even if they don’t appear to be very spiritual? Or will they feel further traumatized?

Also Read: Christ-like Ministry

4) Observation

Take note of people who seem to especially be taking it hard and initiate contact with them. But, be careful that you don’t assume that people who aren’t saying anything are okay. They could be withdrawing which can be as harmful as obvious reactions.

Also Read: Want to Be More Discerning? – Look at God

5) Listening

Let people talk. Don’t make it all about you talking AT people. Hear what they are truly saying and then gently correct (Gal. 6:1), encourage, and support as needed (1 Thess. 5:14). The kind of help people need to heal could vary from person to person and the way you are going to find out what is needed is by listening.

Also Read: Listening Skills Training for Accurate Empathy

6) Prayer

Constantly bathe the situation in prayer, specifically praying for the people involved and for the entire Body. Encourage people to spend much time in prayer. Take time to pray with people, especially after you have taken time to listen to them. But, be careful not to use prayer as a means of preaching at them. By consistently turning to God in prayer, you are pointing people to God as not only the standard but also the source of all that is needed in the situation. Prayer is an important part of the healing process (James 5:16).

Also Read: What is Powerful Prayer?

7) Love & Serve

Despite people’s reactions, seek God’s help to love them no matter what. Go out of your way to assist them in any way you can Give a blessing when they attack. React to their unkindness with kindness (Rom. 12:19-21; 1 Pet. 3:8-12). One of the worse things a leader can do is to respond in like to aggressive, obnoxious, inconsiderate, or even hateful expressions of people’s hurts, fears, confusion, frustration … grief.

To Read: Attitude Toward Those Who Do Us Wrong

8) Reconciliation

This should be a major objective of church leaders in coming alongside of people to help in their healing. Divisive situations tend to be filled with hurt feelings as things are said that shouldn’t have or said in ways that damage relationships. Trust gets broken. Fellowship between believers and with God gets fractured. For true healing to take place there needs to be an effort to reconcile. People, including the leaders, need to extend and seek forgiveness. Be clear that the restoration of relationships with one another, and with God, is essential to to healing, not the need for people to agree with or condone what has happened. We must work toward unity based on who we are in Christ, even if we continue to disagree, for God’s glory and for testimony’s sake. One of the best ways leaders can teach people to be at peace with one another and God is by being an example of it themselves.

Also Read: Let All Be Harmonious – How’s that going to happen?

9) Mediation

Where reconciliation seems unlikely, it may be necessary to bring in an unbiased person from outside of the situation to mediate. In some situations the leaders may be able to step in and mediate between members, but it may be necessary to bring someone in from outside of the church.

The above suggestions are not listed in order of importance or even as chronological steps to take. The reality is that there are no 1-2-3 steps in situations like this. We need to continue to seek wisdom and discernment from God each step of the way. – “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Prov. 3:5-6)


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