Unpack forgiveness first, church planters. Before you pick out a sound board, before you buy a coffee pot, and even before you register a domain name, determine to apply the gospel to relationships. Study and teach what the Bible says about interpersonal conflict and, together as a launch team, resolve to live out that teaching.
To be sure, in a fallen world we all need to live out biblical teaching on forgiveness. But conflict resolution is especially important in the early days of a church.
Here are five reasons why:
1. Everyone who signs up to join a new church will be lugging baggage. Whether you have new converts or seasoned church veterans, nearly everyone on your launch team will have scars and, in some cases, open wounds. It’s naïve to believe those wounds will simply be forgotten. Instead, as you share life together in Christian community, prayerfully and intentionally help one another process aches and pains in gospel-centered ways.
2. It is better to teach and discuss forgiveness before you are in conflict. Leading a local church is like driving a semi on ice. So long as the rig is going straight, it is easy to make minor adjustments of the steering wheel. But once you go into a conflict slide, when trust is in short supply, it is much harder to correct course. An ounce of teaching about forgiveness in advance is worth a pound of instruction later on.
3. Your launch team must be adept at distinguishing between matters to overlook and offenses to confront. Matthew 18:15-20 outlines steps for biblical confrontation. But Scripture also tells us that “love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8) and good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is to a person’s glory to overlook an offense (Prov. 19:11). So which do you do? Confront? Or overlook? Your leadership needs to agree early on how to wisely work through those questions. See: Justin Taylor: Questions to Ask Before Confronting
4. Confusion and controversy surround a biblical understanding of forgiveness. Much of what is taught about Christian forgiveness owes more to the prevailing influences of our therapeutic age than to a clear exposition of Scripture. My forgiveness quiz surveys various questions that surround an understanding of forgiveness. Whether or not your launch team agrees with my answers — or even amongst yourselves — it is important early on to be aware of the parameters of the discussion.
5. Forgiving one another is a foundational application of the gospel. As it was for the Apostle Paul, centering on the gospel should be of first importance for all churches (1 Cor. 15:1). Being gospel-centered means not only explaining and understanding the doctrine of salvation, but also showing how the gospel changes everything, including how we forgive one another (Eph. 4:32). Explicitly apply the gospel to interpersonal tensions from Day One.
One more transportation metaphor: If planting a church is like a plane ride, take-off is the most exciting part of the trip. But the early days of a new church also are the most precarious. Mistakes at 30,000 feet may mean nothing more than tray tables rattling. But when you are only 500 feet off the ground, even small disagreements can lead to disaster. Work on a shared understanding of biblical forgiveness and conflict resolution as soon as possible in a church plant.
Published August 9, 2018