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First Thoughts

The Fourth Commandment of Staff Relationships: Thou Shall Fight for Reconciliation

We Must Address Sin When We See It, Confess Sin When We Commit It, and Forgive Sin When Victims of It.

The Greatest Threat to Your Ministry Staff

In the first blog in this series, I shared about the many staff problems I had to begin addressing when I became senior pastor at First Baptist. When I began to deal with those problems, things turned ugly very quickly.

Long-term staff members began to plot with others about how to damage our church. People I have known for years began to slander me to others while refusing to speak to me. Pastors and their wives posted (and still post!) messages online designed to embarrass me and damage the church they once said they loved. People who used to be my friends now root for my ministry to fail.

I truly understand when people are upset over a lost job, a changing situation, and dashed expectations. I also know that I addressed necessary problems in ways that were imperfect, bumbling, and careless.

What still discourages me as I look back on that time, however, was the hateful lack of love from people who were in vocational ministry. It is the worst problem you will face on your ministry team. It is that problem that stands in the way of faithfully and productively dealing with all the other ones.

That is why it is such good news that Jesus helps us address the problem of sin on a ministry staff. The Bible lays out three steps we are all required to follow.

Step #1: Rebuke

Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matthew 18:15). This statement from Jesus requires us to point out to others the sins we encounter in their life. Jesus gives this statement to all Christians. There is no exception granted for people who serve on a ministry staff. Far from it. Those in ministry should set the example in obeying this command.

Far too often, ministry staff members do the opposite of what Jesus says, talking to everyone but the person who has sinned, posting on social media about the sins of the person, and working to undermine the ministry of the person who sinned against them and try to get them fired.

Contemporary Christian culture often learns its lessons about dealing with sin from the world rather than Jesus.

Even if the task is unpleasant, we must obey Jesus by pointing out the problems of the person who has wronged us privately.

Step #2: Repent

Once the person sinned against discharges their responsibility to point out the sin, the responsibility of the person who is guilty of sin begins. Proverbs 28:13 explains it, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

This passage explains the beauty of repentance. Sinners find it easy to believe that the best thing to do with our sin is to ignore, deny, and conceal. Scripture promises that there is no benefit to this approach. The only way to obtain mercy is to admit your sin and abandon it.

This work is brutal because the most basic problem of sinful people like you and me is that we are proud. It is hard for us to come face to face with our wrongs and admit them. In fact, it is so hard that in order for us to do it, we need God to perform a work of grace in our hearts. We must pray that God will give us this grace and confess our sin and turn from it in an act of repentance.

Step #3: Forgive

When the responsibility of repentance is discharged, there is a new burden that comes to the one sinned against. That burden is to forgive. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Forgiveness happens when you release someone from the relational penalties of their sin. It happens when you refuse to hold their sin over their head, when you refuse to bear a grudge, and when you promise not to let that sin interrupt your fellowship.

This forgiveness is what Jesus has granted to everyone who trusts in him. His forgiveness of us is the standard for our forgiveness of others. If you wonder how you should treat someone who has repented of their sin against you, then you should look at how Jesus treats you after your repentance of sin against him.

As Christians, we are required to forgive sin. If you are holding onto it, then the problem is no longer with the one who sinned against you. The problem is you.

Reconciliation Is Easier

When you put these three elements together, you get what the Bible calls reconciliation. This process is challenging and will always require a lot of grace for everyone involved. Despite the difficulties, it is always easier than the alternative.

The alternative to reconciliation is anger, resentment, years of bitterness, the loss of friendship, frustration, gossip, slander, incalculable ministry damage, embarrassing posts on social media, and so much more.

It is just not worth it. That’s why it’s a rule at First Baptist that you must fight for reconciliation.

Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

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