This is a book for healing wounded churches. When a church experiences conflict, it results in a wounded people. Healing for the church involves a healing of the people involved. The process is essentially the same for both. That is because the church is God's vessel for healing the deep wounds of the human soul.
The healing process set forth in this book is the application of biblical principles of grace that actually work. They have been tested and found to be amazingly effective. Damaged churches can experience renewal and become effective vessels of grace to their community. Wounded believers can experience renewal and restoration, discovering a dimension of God's presence either forgotten or never before known.
Understanding the reasons for conflict and division, rediscovering the healing impact of Jesus' mission, catching a new vision of what it means to be the church in today's world, and designing a local fellowship so that healing grace defines worship and ministry is the focus of this book. As such, it is both a manual for personal healing of the deep wounds of the soul and for healing the wounded church.
"Church conflict" is an oxymoron and a blasphemy. The word church reflects healing, grace, forgiveness, love, hope, inclusion, welcome, recovery, renewal, transformation, and other positive, Christ-like values, all of which are the very antithesis of conflict and division. Unfortunately, for many people, the very word "church" elicits feelings of anger, conflict, rejection, wounding, prejudice, pain, judging, condemnation, and other negative connotations. Conflict seems to be the norm for many congregations. If we look for a wounded, broken, conflicted church, we usually don't have to look very far, often not even beyond our own foyer. How Jesus must weep! His prayer in the Garden of Gesthamene was a plea for His followers (the church!) to live in unity (not to be confused with uniformity) so that the world would come to know the Father. We, the church, are ordained by God as the unique vessel, empowered by His Spirit, to be His agency of grace, a living, visible presence of God in the world. Unity in the church validates the message of forgiveness, love and hope, a message and reality desperately needed in our world of terror and conflict. "Church," as Jesus intended, ultimately means peace, refuge, and safety. Some of His final words reflect that meaning: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27). Sadly, in the two thousand years of Christian history, instead of unity His church at all levels is often rendered impotent with conflict.
One of the most tragic accounts I can imagine is that of someone desperate for meaning, healing, and hope, a soul damaged and wounded by the issues of life, who finally walks through the door of a church building in search of God. But instead of experiencing a community of love, grace, and acceptance by a congregation of redeemed sinners who extend to others God's redemptive grace, they are subjected to terrorists of the soul who inflict condemnation, criticism, and rejection and who practice exclusion. Add to that the fact that too often a seeker discovers a congregation in some kind of power struggle with open conflict. The result is that the very vessel ordained of God to heal people does the opposite. Instead of being the place of peace, a fellowship of wounded healers, conflicted churches are wounding hurters. The question is haunting: If the church of Jesus Christ fails to be a vessel of grace and healing, where else can desperate souls go to find hope? Will they be redeemed by the government, our judicial courts, the halls of higher education, or Hollywood? There is only one ordained vessel of grace, one unique image bearer of the Redeemer, one agency ordained by God to be the living body of Christ in the world. It is the church, best expressed in local congregations.
I would be happy if readers could dismiss the above scenario as an aberration and prove that most churches today are refuges of peace where grace and love rule without conflict. Unfortunately, it seems that such congregations of grace and peace are exceptions instead of the norm. This raises some troubling questions. Why do so many churches get embroiled in conflict and become divided? What has gone wrong? How can wounded, broken, and divided churches experience healing and renewal so that they can become God's vessel of healing and hope to the community around them? There are many solutions proposed these days to fix the declining church. The most popular have to do with changing worship style, ministry emphasis, and personalities, all important issues to consider. But I would contend that the problem isn't that easily fixed. The reason being that the real problem is systemic, a dysfunction at the core, an issue of the root upon which we base our perceptions, meanings, purposes and actions.
Not all churches are in conflict. There are many wonderful fellowships of grace. They are modern cities of refuge where people of any kind, condition, or need can enter in and experience the healing presence of God. They are sanctuaries of love and grace, oases to the soul in the desert of hedonistic values, training centers where disciples develop understanding of truth in the confusion of postmodernity, hospitals of the heart where the balm of Gilead is applied with genuine compassion.
Likewise, few of the people in conflicted, divided, broken, and wounded churches are evil. In fact, the very activities that lead to ecclesial chaos are often the desperate actions of people wanting change and renewal. They are wrong and destructive because they emerge out of personal agendas, wrong assumptions, or established traditions that, when involving power, control, anger, slander, gossip, and other self-centered behaviors, are never healing but always destructive. The good news is that wounded, dysfunctional, broken congregations can experience healing, spiritual transformation and renewal. It is God's will that His people overcome difficult circumstances and escape from the painful past, becoming effective vessels of grace. The Spirit of God is a fire that doesn't just destroy-it refines and heals the wounded and broken congregations so that they "may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:7).
Duane Eastman lives in Anacortes, Washington with his wife Myrna. Most of the churches he served were wounded, either from congregational conflict or pastoral dysfunction. With an emphasis on grace and love as the keys to personal and congregational renewal, healthy churches became the mark of his pastoral experience and is the source for this book.