Handling Conflict

Lesson Materials

In this session David looks at the biblical pattern for handling conflict. He also explores the common causes of conflict, how to manage conflict between Elders and Leader in the church and the oversight of churches.


PRACTICAL APOSTOLIC MINISTRY  |  Session 6 -  Handling Conflict


1/ Introduction

    • No culture comes close, without the fruit of the gospel, to the Biblical pattern for handling conflict. Examples of different cultures.

    • In the Bible (particularly the New Testament), there are a number of key concepts which are repeated again and again:
      • Peace-making. Matt 5:9. Eph 2:14-17. Essence of the corporate effect of the gospel.
      • Reconciliation as a responsibility – Matt 5:23-24. 
      • Restoration – Gal 6:1. That verse comes at the end of an epistle where Paul has been defending the gospel of grace passionately. He then tells us to handle those who offend with grace! All church discipline even in the most extreme cases has in view restoration.
      • Forgiveness. Eph 4:34. 
      • Speak about it – don’t ignore it and hope it will go away, eg Matt 18:15. 


Deal with yourself, your own attitude and your own vulnerabilities first. Matt 7:3-5. Gal 6:1b. This also means apologising first for what you can in good conscience admit to before challenging what the other person has said/done.


2/ Oversight of churches

    • Principle 1 – once elders are established, those elders govern the church. They are the door/gate to the church and our apostolic authority serves these elders and that church at the invitation of the elders. So when we are invited, we can minister with authority but we don’t “own” the church (nor do the elders – it belongs to Jesus!) – but they are accountable to God for it and for the way they exercise authority.
    • Principle 2 – The relationship of the apostle (and his team) is with the whole church, not just the leaders. Paul’s letters to churches were written to the churches, not to the leaders – only Philippians mentions them (Phil 1:1). Therefore we can listen to people in the church – Paul evidently heard things about the church in Corinth, partly through a letter but partly through stories that reached him from people. 1 Cor 11:18. 1 Cor 5:1.  This means we do not only pick up issues from the elders or the senior pastor but from the church.
    • Principle 3 - We must act if there is:
      • Sexual or financial or other serious sin on the part of the elders – then we must exercise authority and/or relationship with the church as a whole even if the elders say they no longer want to receive us.
      • Wrong doctrine being taught.
      • Harsh exercise of authority (3 John 8 – Diotrophes).

Our intervention then is because of our responsibility for the church – whatever the leaders may feel. However if elders decide to leave us and our authority in other different circumstances, then we release them and bless them.


    • Sometimes leadership teams want to stay in relationship with the apostolic team but don’t take their advice on important issues. Provided this advice was not about any of the above nor a departure from core values, then sometimes you say, I can’t give you so much time in the future and in the end the relationship may become meaningless. 
    • Remember the responsibility of the apostolic team. Lay good foundations, appoint elders, continue to help, support and advise but you are not a super-pastor. It is their responsibility.



3/ Conflict between Elders/Leaders in a church

    • Ensure:
      • Listen to both sides without prejudgement because of past and present strength of relationship. Avoid favouritism. Proverbs 18:17. Don’t always take the main leaders side – he may be wrong! (Don’t have such a close relationship that you can’t see the problem).  Also be careful when working cross culturally that you don’t favour the one within the team who may be able to speak English whereas the rest of the team you may have to listen to through translation.  I have often seen them get an advantage in such contexts. Help the team to understand how the disagreement has arisen – miscommunication (or no communication!), personality type, external/internal processing.
      • Take time therefore and do crucial meetings in team if you can.
      • If in an eldership, involve other senior trusted people as well if conflict not easily resolved.  Listen to their perception and get them on side.
      • Try and see couples if the problem in the eldership is being reinforced by the spouse in the case of a leadership team.


    • Are there issues from the past? Lack of fathering, rejection, demonic oppression, unresolved hurts, fears from the past affecting the present conduct of any leader. We often provide counselling for people in the church with issues – leaders can have issues too – remember objective is to restore (Gal 6:1).  Try and understand and discuss this one to one and therefore widen the issue beyond the immediate conflict.
    • Imperfect leadership. You will need to then offer ongoing coaching and possibly counselling.  Sometimes you can make adjustments – provided there is a non-hierarchical view of leadership.
    • Understand the spiritual dimension and speak and pray at that level.  Rare but sometimes there is a Jezebellic spirit (see my book “Demolishing Strongholds”).
    • Have to accept that if complete breakdown, some mud is likely to stick on you, hence, team, other wise people in the church.


4/ Common causes of conflict

Finding the causes and practical steps for the future helps us find the solution/way forward.

    • Misunderstanding as a result of poor communication. Joshua 22:10-34.
    • Different priority of common values (Acts 15:39 – Paul and Barnabas) – relationship and mission.
    • Competition over limited resources – money, time, relational capacity (you can’t be equally a friend to all those you are serving).
    • Sinful attitudes and habits leading to sinful words and actions. James 4:1-2. E.g. personal ambition, anger, insecurity. Note the context. We can often see chapter 4 as starting a new section but it is actually a contrast with godly wisdom primarily in a leadership context – James 3:1. Leadership is discerned by the fruit of wisdom – it is humble, meek and not personally ambitious (3:13-18). This wisdom is demonstrated in the ability for peace-making (3:18). It seems that some were wanting to lead the church i.e. be “teachers” without wisdom but with fleshly attitudes. That is equally possible today.
    • Lack of personal “chemistry”. Just don’t get on well with certain other people. Sometimes a leader needs a 2nd chance in another leadership team or with others.
    • Inability to recognise legitimate diversity of gifts, temperament, personality etc.
    • Unwillingness to give way on non-essential matters. Paul’s encouragement to imitate him (1 Cor 11:1) is in the context of not arguing about non-essentials – whether to eat meat or drink wine etc 1 Cor 10:31-33 – but Paul even in that context was very strong against legalism.



© David Devenish

Creating an Apostolic Family - Broadcast Series - April 2021