Five of the Most Frequent Issues of Conflict among Church Members

If you want to hear the reasons for a church fight, you are likely to encounter one of these five. Let me be clear. I do not think all church members are fighting all of the time. But the sad reality is that it only takes one real issue of conflict once a year to do serious harm to the unity and health of a congregation.

I’ve addressed issues of church conflict in different ways on this blog. This particular post is an update based on issues I’ve heard, or those in which I have been a mediator the past year. They are listed in the order of frequency I’ve heard them.

  1. The corporate worship time is changed. The church may be adding a service. Another scenario is that current worship times are modified for a variety of reasons. Some members simply do not want to give up a cherished time slot for “their” worship service.
  2. Members disagree how to deal with a pastor or staff member involved in moral failure. I’m serious. I recently was in conversation with leaders in a church where a staff member was dismissed due to clear and flagrant moral failure. The terminated staff person was treated with grace and generosity. Still, some church members thought that Christian charity and forgiveness demanded that the staff member not be dismissed.
  3. A number of members complain about the length of the worship services. Their issue may be the length of time of music in the worship service. Or it may be the length of the pastor’s sermons. Or it could be other issues. Perhaps some of the members are frustrated that they get to the restaurants later than members of other churches.
  4. There is lack of clarity and disagreement about who makes decisions. Most church documents are not clear on this issue. How much independent authority does the pastor have? Or the staff? What decisions should be made by congregational vote? How much authority do the elders or deacons have? Or committees or boards?
  5. The conflict over worship style is still present. I have noted in other posts that this issue has not been as prominent as in recent years. Yet it is still present. I would surmise that it would have been the number one issue five to ten years ago.

If you have read any of my writings, you know I have a heart for revitalizing churches. Ultimately, church revitalization is about the revitalization of Christians. It is my prayer that church members will seek to be last and not first, that the needs of the church and the community will come before their own preferences.

“I give you a new command. Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35.

What do you think of these five sources of dissension among church members? What would you add?

Posted on July 23, 2014

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • I wanted to know about solving disagreements when both parties are right in the church. I would think just applying both solutions could bring unity. Maybe not

  • Tithuiguangliu Rikhi Panmei says on

    I agree on the 4th and 5th reason. The authoritative figures and how much does a pastor or deacon or church staff have, which always seems vague gives reasons for conflicts in church. There are things which should be address by the pastor and some to be address by other staff or deacon but when that position gets mixed up, and without or maybe no congregational vote, grumblings starts.
    The issue with what type of worship style to is still prominent in some places.

  • Other Causes of Church conflict
    1. Pride: People often behave with self-centeredness, ego, and pride. When you feel that life is about you, you take things personally. Self-centeredness causes one to experience hurt feelings easily. James observed, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Solomon wrote, “By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom” (Proverbs 13:10). Get the focus off of yourself and onto Jesus Christ!
    Value others above yourself. Make sure people in your church know that you care about their needs. When you feel that you have allowed pride to influence your relationship negatively, admit your failure. Say, “I apologize. I let pride get in the way.” The Bible says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). People prevent and resolve church conflicts when they implement this teaching.
    2. Spiritual and Emotional Immaturity: Maturity helps a person understand that differences in perspective broaden understanding. Mature people learn to disagree without being distressed. Mature people are self-aware and seek to improve their weaknesses.
    Immature individuals have not learned to avoid disputes over a person’s personality or style. Likewise, maturation helps a person understand the futility of fighting over things that cannot be controlled. “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking, be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20). Believers must learn to think, behave, and communicate with maturity.
    3. Change and Inflexibility: In reality, change is the norm. When policies or priorities change in the church, misunderstandings and stresses are likely to occur. When pastors and church leaders make strategic decisions, an effective process of communicating these new directives and norms is crucial. Even so, some church members may struggle to accommodate the changes.
    Some people have a greater propensity to resist change than others. In times of change, one may benefit from evaluating emotional responses to change. Often change leads to feelings of powerlessness or insecurity because one may trust the status quo at church instead of trusting God for security and peace. “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (Proverbs 29:25). Only God provides security in a changing world!
    Wise believers look for the benefits of change. Change can lead to a more biblical church and to a church that is following the Great Commission. James wrote, “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (Jas. 3:17-18). Wisdom is being “open to reason” and “impartial.” This wisdom is difficult to put into practice. However, wisdom looks for the positive.
    4: Abuses of Power: Power is the influence a person has on his or her environment, relationships, or self. Shifts in power may create gains or losses. Power is the ability and means to get things done. Conflict expert Dudley Weeks wrote, “People choose how they use power and whether they allow it to be corrupt. We can use power negatively or positively. The severely damaging seesaw power approach creates the illusion that you are more powerful when you make the other party less powerful.” Thus, people must have a healthy view of power to prevent conflict.
    Jesus, the Son of God, used his power to serve others and to look out for those who were disadvantaged or in need. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus’ use of power is a model for a person of influence. God forbid that anyone would use power to abuse or hurt someone! Likewise, power and influence in the church should ultimately be directed to Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the church.
    5: Church Politics: Factions in the church may intentionally or unintentionally engage in political maneuvering and posturing that leads to conflict. For instance, senior church members may favor proven methods, while younger members desire to change. Factions may attempt to increase their power and recruit others to their side. A person may be challenged to resolve the situation without offending the other individuals and groups involved in the conflict. For believers in Christ, this takes extreme caution and integrity.
    The Bible addresses politics among factions. The Apostle Paul dealt with factions in the Corinthian church. “For you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?” (1 Corinthians 3:3-4). One group in the Corinthian church claimed to be following only Christ (1 Corinthians 1:12). One may find it interesting that Paul did not commend those who followed him (“I follow Paul”) but condemned each of the factions. Paul identified these political factions in Corinth as distractions from the mission of the church and selfish in motivation.
    6: Unclear Authority: Conflicts arise among church staff and members when authority is unclear. When lines of authority are unclear, church volunteers and leaders sometimes exercise authority out of the realm of their responsibility. Such conflicts may become worse in times of crisis. A biblical example of the lack of clarity and authority was during the transition between Kings Saul and David in Israel (1 Samuel 16-31). Severe and complicated relational difficulties erupted among those in authority and the citizens of Israel. The Israelites could not understand Saul and David’s relationship. Eventually, a physical conflict erupted. Saul’s pride, which led to his suicide, provided David with opportunities to prove his integrity amid the confusion (1 Samuel 31).
    7: Personality Differences: The real or perceived differences among your congregation play underlying roles in communication and conflict. Remembering why others talk and act as they do may prevent misunderstandings and false assumptions. The time-honored

  • ODABOR REBECCA says on


  • Charlene schiela says on

    This is. A completely new question that I’m having difficulties in my church of 13 years. I’m a widow and remarried a man that I thought I’d live with for the rest of my life. After we got married he changed into an abusive husband emotionally verbally and spiritually. I only stayed 7 months. I thought I was strong enough in the lord and also knew who I was as a person that I could endure the abuse. I couldn’t, we went to my church and I read the Bible to him and would do a morning meditation with him. I took him to a Christian counselor. My counselor told me he wouldn’t change but she could help me live with him. I finally left.

    My minister asked if he could talk with him and I agreed. He got nowhere with him and only listened to the things I did wrong. My husband asked if he could continue going to our church. My minister told him yes and told me that my ex-husband put him on the spot.

    Again I thought I could live with this also and that he would leave and go back to the church he was going to. He didn’t and every Sunday I had to see him and relive the abusive situation I lived in I talked with my minister about this and even took him to my therapist so she could explain to him about my ex.

    Now he’s bringing his new girlfriend and the torment is continuing. We are a small church. I’ve asked if I could talk to the leaders with no reply. The answer has been We allow all sinners to come to our church and he hasn’t done anything wrong and they don’t know what to do. He is stalking me. And they want me to get a restraining order against him. The church is his only way for him to see me.
    Can you help me or tell me what else I can say. I’ve quoted Act 20 and Matthew 18 15-18.
    Do I just give up.

    • Ephesian V I believe it says when the church follows J Christ then wives obey your husband’s in everything. That church knows he is sinning bringing his friend there. They should speak to him about marriage and tell him he cannot bring someone he is dating there because it is unholy and his worship is false. He is being a false witness to Christ and He won’t acquit a false witness. He can attend by himself though not with anyone else it gives the church a bad reputation to the community?

  • coberty milimo says on

    let us tell it to God always so that it maybe things of past

  • Thom,

    I have read every response on this post carefully . . .
    The post and the answers parallel many other posts and answers regarding this issue and issues like it.

    Some of the comments, while valid and well stated . . . such as: “church conflict” regarding money, mission, selfishness, dissatisfaction, worship style, even mission of the church, deal only with the SYMPTOMS – they do not deal with the root of the problem.

    The root problem is described, verified, and explained in an interaction some time back between a Torah expert and a Rabbi. The Torah expert asks a sh’eilah (question about Jewish law or tradition) with the intent to trap the Rabbi. He poses the sh’eilah that he supposes will trap the Rabbi when he asks:

    “Rabbi, which of the mitzvot in the Torah is the most important?”

    the Rabbi responds:

    “‘You are to love Adonai your God
    with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’
    This is the greatest and most important mitzvah.”

    However, the Rabbi doesn’t stop there. He continues:

    “And a second is similar to it, ‘You are to love your neighbor as yourself.’”

    Again, the Rabbi doesn’t stop there either. He says something VERY profound:

    “All of the Torah and the Prophets are DEPENDENT ON these two mitzvot.”

    How does this interaction long ago “describe, verify, and explain” the root problem you may ask?

    This most important mitzvot in the Torah that the Rabbi makes a reference to assumes that the hearers would KNOW and understand the ENTIRE command:

    “Sh’ma, Yisra’el! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad
    [Hear, Isra’el! Adonai our God, Adonai is one];
    and you are to love Adonai your God
    with all your heart,
    all your being and
    all your resources.
    These words, which I am ordering you today, are to be on your heart;
    and you are to teach them carefully
    to your children.
    You are to talk about them:
    when you sit at home,
    when you are traveling on the road,
    when you lie down and
    when you get up.
    Tie them on your hand as a sign, put them at the front of a headband around your forehead,
    and write them on the door-frames of your house and on your gates.”

    The second most important command that the Rabbi also references also assumes that the hearers would KNOW and understand the ENTIRE command:

    “Don’t take vengeance on
    or bear a grudge against
    any of your people;
    love your neighbor as yourself;
    I am Adonai.”

    When the Rabbi continues from here, he uses 2 significant words: ALL and DEPENDENT (hangs) regarding 2 significant words: Torah and Prophets. How so you may ask?

    There was no New Covenant (New Testament) written when the Rabbi stated this to the Torah teacher trying to trap him. It didn’t exist. The Ketuvim (Writings) didn’t become part of the Hebrew canon until around 100AD.

    By stating ALL of the Torah and all of the Prophets (Nevi’im) are dependent on . . . He is stating ALL of the BIBLE at that time is dependent on . . . understanding, applying, living . . .

    I apologize for the length of the post, but it is necessary to address the root problem that I must assume by the nature of your post and others like it, you are trying to get at.

    In light of the above, the root problem can now be addressed by asking some simple questions with far reaching implications . . .

    The Rabbi Yeshua (Jesus) our Lord and Savior and the Messiah (Christ) said these 2 commands are most important and that understanding, living, applying the Bible depends on understanding, living, and applying these two commands to do so . . .

    1) You love Jesus, right? – have you memorized these 2 commands? The WHOLE command? Do you know where they are at in the text? After all, they the MOST IMPORTANT commands and the whole text is dependent on them . . . if not, why not?
    2) Have you taught these commands CAREFULLY to your children? Have they memorized them? After all, they the MOST IMPORTANT commands and the whole text is dependent on them . . . if not, why not?
    3) Do you talk about these words with them when you get up, walk or drive, sit, and before you lay down – Is there any time you are NOT doing one of these things? If not, why not?

    Finally, I can ask a simple question that will address the root problem inclusively:

    *** If EVERY Christian church in America did nothing for a solid year but truly teach, memorize, apply, and live these two commands, to the best of their individual and corporate abilities, what would the American church look like at the end of that year? ***

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