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April 12, 2012

Redeem a Church Conflict by Listening to a Lawyer? Really?

How church leaders should respond to a lawsuit.

Editor's Note: This guest post by David V. Edling first appeared on redeemingchurchconflicts.wordpress.com. It's related to the forthcoming book, Redeeming Church Conflicts, co-written by Edling and Tara Klena Barthel and scheduled for release in May from Baker Books.


Q. Redeeming Church Conflicts doesn’t apply to us because our church is being sued by non-Christians. So we have to listen to our lawyers, right?

A. If you are being sued by anybody, it is always wise to listen to your lawyers. Besides being licensed experts in the secular law, however, lawyers are not merely “attorneys-at-law;” they are also to be “counselors-at-law.” That means they are to be aware of what is important to you as Christians and how your faith will be expressed even as you respond to a lawsuit. And that means that Redeeming Church Conflicts does apply because you don’t stop becoming people of faith just because you are being sued by non-Christians. Christians, of course, should retain Christian lawyers who will be sensitive to the priorities and values of their fellow believers.

Tara and I define “redeeming church conflict” as:

Intentional dependence on the humbling and heart-changing grace of Christ’s Holy Spirit by turning relational crisis in the church into compassionate care as you take every thought and deed captive to him.

Since Christians are concerned about the reputation of Christ and his church in the world, how we respond to a lawsuit initiated by non-Christians will demonstrate our commitment to that concern.

A wonderful missionary friend (now deceased) by the name of Harvey Conn used to say, “The church is the only organization in the world that has great concern for its non-members.” Our relationship with non-Christians should reflect a deep concern for their present and future existence so we become those who “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) as a witness to the eternal truths we have embraced. Regardless of what others do (Christian or non-Christian) we are called to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). As such, Redeeming Church Conflicts applies to conflicts arising both within the church and outside of it. To redeem any conflict is not dependent on what anyone else does. Our trust in the Lord means we don’t have to fall victim to worldly conformity:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. --2 Corinthians 10:3

At the same time, however:

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. --Matthew 10:16

So, listen to your lawyers (being “shrewd’), but also speak to them as well of your faith in Christ and your love for your enemies (being “innocent”). Doing both should not be hard since it is the practical plan given to us by our Lord.

Dave Edling is an experienced Christian conciliator who has worked with many conflicted churches. During his decade of service on the senior staff of Peacemaker Ministries, he participated in more than 200 mediation and arbitration cases and worked with nearly 20,000 Christians engaged in conflicts affecting churches of almost every denomination. Dave holds several graduate degrees in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. They are: Master of Arts in Human Behavior, United States International University (now Alliant International University); Juris Doctor, California Western School of Law; Master of Arts in Religion, Westminster Seminary California; and Master of Arts in Biblical Conflict Resolution, Birmingham Theological Seminary. He is the co-author of the forthcoming book Redeeming Church Conflicts (2012, Baker Books).

Related Tags: church law, communication, court, government, law, pastors


I think you need a lawyer if you are being sued by Christians or non Christians.

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