Elder Ranieri Sales is professor of applied theology at the Brazil Adventist University

Along with visitation, organization, sympathy, and encouragement, church elders may also be called upon to provide conflict resolution. In this article, we will look at ways in which elders can promote harmony in the church. I just received a call from an elder. After identifying himself, his first words were, “Elder, I appreciate your advice. I never thought such a conflict, which had no apparent solution, could be resolved so quickly and in such a peaceful way. Thank you for your guidance.”

Conflict is just one of the many issues facing church elders. Sometimes conflicts are motivated by diverging ideas; other times, conflict is caused by differences in methods or even in differing interpretations of certain church situations or programs.

Conflicts may be productive if they motivate a deeper reflection about the decisions to be made or if they promote a fusion of ideas, a consensus. For that to happen, people need to be willing to accept differing viewpoints and be open to compromise. The results will almost always be positive. Leaders who deal effectively with conflict show their parishioners that they can be trusted.

However, it is not always easy for leaders to resolve conflicts. Pride and vanity may turn differences over concepts or methods into personal attacks. That is when emotions erupt. At that point, opposing parties, personal dissension, offense, intrigue, and dispute begin. You probably know what happens next: the church notices that its leaders are not united, the parties and disputes corrupt the members, and the leadership loses its credibility. Those who should act as spiritual guides have jeopardized their influence. Preaching loses its power, and the spirituality of the entire body deteriorates. 

Dear elder, do not allow this devilish process to occur in your church, or, if dissent is already present, respond quickly to correct the situation. Here are several suggestions, taken from the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, for dealing with conflict in the church. Gather with the elders and, with much prayer, study this article together. If possible, do the same with all the other leaders in a church committee meeting.


Be one with Jesus. “In order successfully to carry forward the work to which they had been called, these disciples, differing so widely in natural characteristics, in training, and in habits of life, needed to come into unity of feeling, thought, and action. This unity it was Christ’s object to secure. To this end He sought to bring them into unity with Himself” (Ellen G. White, Education, 86).

Be humble. Be humble enough to accept different opinions. Accept that the best ideas are not always yours. “We each need the help we can receive from other minds. God will work in other minds than ours. The various gifts given to different ones are to blend for the ‘perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ’ (Eph. 4:12)” (Ellen G. White, The Upward Look, 127).

It is not easy, but instead of spending your energy tirelessly trying to promote your own ideas, try adopting some ideas from your leadership colleagues. Try modifying your ideas. Eventually you will see that others will be more open to your ideas as well.

For current conflicts, follow Jesus’ guidance. “Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15).

This principle doesn’t apply only when the brother is guilty. The text shows us that a personal and direct approach, coupled with love and humility, is the key to resolving conflicts. This is not the time to expose mistakes or point fingers. It is a time to seek reconciliation and freedom from the power of the devil, for there is no greater effort in which the devil strives in the church than in promoting division and intrigue.

The elder mentioned at the beginning of this article, who called to thank me, had called a few days earlier, distressed and wishing to abandon his responsibilities in the church. He was facing a terrible personal conflict with another influential church leader. With prayer and humility, he took the initiative to seek out the brother, admitted his own fault, and expressed with a lot of prudence the points that offended him as well. The result was tears, hugs, and reconciliation. The name of the Lord was honored, the church benefited, and the devil left ashamed.

In the following statement, Ellen White encourages us to adopt the same attitude: “All heaven is interested in the interview between the one who has been injured and the one who is in error. As the erring one accepts the reproof offered in the love of Christ, and acknowledges his wrong, asking forgiveness from God and from his brother, the sunshine of heaven fills his heart. The controversy is ended; friendship and confidence are restored. The oil of love removes the soreness caused by the wrong, the Spirit of God binds heart to heart, and there is music in heaven over the union brought about” (Gospel Workers, 499, 500).

Remember, the greatest testimony in favor of Christ is the unity of His body, the church: “That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21).

Ranieri Sales is the Associate Ministerial Secretary of the South American Division