Dealing With Church Difficulties

By John Thiel

We are going to be shepherds of the flock, we will meet with church difficulties inadvertently. You can’t run away from it and they come because of two reasons. From what source do church difficulties arise?

1 Corinthians 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know [them], because they are spiritually discerned.

If you are born again, do you still have a natural man? That’s the battle between the spirit and the flesh. In the church we have people who have the natural man and it is from this source that church difficulties can come. The danger exists because of our natural man may momentarily turn away from our focus on Jesus.

The sanctification of the soul is accomplished through steadfastly beholding Him [Christ] by faith as the only-begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth. The power of truth is to transform heart and character. Its effect is not like a dash of color here and there upon the canvas; the whole character is to be transformed, the image of Christ is to be revealed in words and actions. A new nature is imparted. Man is renewed after the image of Christ in righteousness and true holiness. . . . The grace of Christ is essential every day, every hour. Unless it is with us continually, the inconsistencies of the natural heart will appear and the life will present a divided service. {6BC 1117.15}

A person might be born again but if he loses sight of Jesus for a time, the natural inconsistences when operative, the things of God appear foolishness unto him and the natural heart speaks and says I don’t agree with that and it creates problems. That’s in reference to a natural heart but there is also a second point. There are people in the church who are buried alive. They haven’t even died and therefore what is written?

The new birth is a rare experience in this age of the world. This is the reason why there are so many perplexities in the churches. {6BC 1075.7}

Many are buried alive as self did not die. That is another source of perplexity in the church. A person who is born again who loses sight of Jesus will exhibit the natural man and those who are buried alive, the natural man is in full control.

All who profess to be children of God should unceasingly bear in mind that they are missionaries, in their labors brought in connection with all classes of minds. There will be men who are untrue in their dealing with their fellow men; there will be the aristocrat, the vain, the proud, the frivolous, the independent, the complaining, the desponding, the discouraged, the fanatical, the egotistical, the timid, and the sensitive ones, the elevated in mind, and the courteous in manner, the dissipated, the uncourteous, and the superficial. . . . These varied minds cannot be treated alike; yet all whether they be rich or poor, high or low, dependent or independent, need kindness, sympathy, truth, and love. {ML 189.3}

These sort of things are displayed in the church whether we like it or not. The danger is when you see some of these things you say, ‘you are supposed to be a converted person, why are you frivolous, why are you joking all the time?’ Because everyone has a different style of mind and when the natural man appears, that is what appears. ‘Stop hanging your face, stop being despondent’, is that the way we should talk? These are the things we have to meet. As shepherds of the flock we have to meet this. The shepherd of the flock has to be capable of handling these things. In the church there are always hassles as the flock hasn’t learnt what the shepherd has had to learn. There are all kinds of tangles.

 Those who occupy the position of undershepherds are to exercise a watchful diligence over the Lord’s flock. This is not to be a dictatorial vigilance. {AA 526.1}

Have you ever experienced your children being really ratty and you can’t control them? What do you do? You get angry? This is exactly what can happen in the church. The church is really playing havoc and going haywire and the minster pulls his hair out as he doesn’t know what to do control it and instead of turning to the Lord, he lets the natural man rule and it is a dictatorial vigilance. This is out of place.

…but one that tends to encourage and strengthen and uplift. Ministry means more than sermonizing; it means earnest, personal labor. The church on earth is composed of erring men and women, who need patient, painstaking effort that they may be trained and disciplined to work with acceptance in this life, and in the future life to be crowned with glory and immortality. {AA 526.1}

In the future life there is no bickering.

Know Your Flock, Be a Watchman

Pastors are needed–faithful shepherds–who will not flatter God’s people, nor treat them harshly, but who will feed them with the bread of life–men who in their lives feel daily the converting power of the Holy Spirit and who cherish a strong, unselfish love toward those for whom they labor. {AA 526.1}

If you have a selfish love there are certain people in the church you feel really warm to and you would rather spend time with them than the ones that are hard to get on with. That is a selfish love but the shepherd must have a unselfish love. He has to spread his affections across the board. No cosy personal comfort zone with anybody in particular.

There is tactful work for the undershepherd to do as he is called to meet alienation, bitterness, envy, and jealousy in the church, and he will need to labor in the spirit of Christ to set things in order. Faithful warnings are to be given, sins rebuked, wrongs made right, not only by the minister’s work in the pulpit, but by personal labor. The wayward heart may take exception to the message, and the servant of God may be misjudged and criticized. Let him then remember that “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” James 3:17, 18. {AA 526.2}

To make peace with the difficulties in the church. What is the procedure when these things are existent? We have received instruction of what it will be like, he is going to meet it and see it and he has to meet the natural man and encourage and erase the natural man’s propensities and uplift the spirit of Christ in the man. Even a unconverted man who has been buried alive also has Christ in him too because Christ is the light that lights every man that comes in the world. It is the shepherd’s responsibility to not harshly deal with the natural man but delicately and tactfully reach for the Christ in the man. There are some important guidelines in God’s word as to the procedure to deal with every given situation that may be arising in the church.

2 Timothy 2:24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all [men], apt to teach, patient,

 2:25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;

In the church you will meet this. People will say one thing at one time and at another time they will say something that opposes themselves. You are going to meet these people and the procedure is never to enter into the strife, he must not strive. It is a temptation to do so but the shepherd of the flock must not strive. Peter strove with Jesus. Peter wanted to correct Jesus and this is the characteristic of every natural man. The shepherd is not to strive but be gentle and meet all these unsavoury situations.

Ezekiel 3:17 Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.

What is a watchman? He is a person who is watching. He is watching closely what’s going on in the church. He has to have his ears and eyes behind and in front of him. He has to see everything that is going on and only the Lord can help him to do that.


Jesus knew everything that was going on. When the woman touched His garment, He knew she had. I know by experience that such a thing is possible. I came up to someone once and I said something and they said, how did you know that? The Lord showed me. Oh, I don’t believe that, you are just a human being. If the Lord is at work and He has called a watchman, he will watch and he will see what is going on and he can see trouble arising before it comes to the surface. You must know your flock as Jesus knows them. If you know your flock, you will see the dangers arising. If you know your flock, this is the first and important principle that you are watching the potential of the situations arising. The next step is that as he sees the problem arising, he is to move in with the presentation of the word. That is often how he can allay the problems. He can present God’s word in such a way that the problem is identified before it comes to the surface. There is many a problem that can be allayed because you are a watchman and you present God’s word to prevent it from coming about.

Know Whether to Step In or Not

Self-denial, self-sacrifice, benevolence, kindness, love, patience, fortitude, and Christian trust are the daily fruits borne by those who are truly connected with God. Their acts may not be published to the world, but they themselves are daily wrestling with evil, and gaining precious victories over temptation and wrong. Solemn vows are renewed, and kept through the strength gained by earnest prayer and constant watching thereunto. The ardent enthusiast does not discern the struggles of these silent workers; but the eye of Him who seeth the secrets of the heart, notices and regards with approval every effort put forth in lowliness and meekness. It requires the testing time to reveal the pure gold of love and faith in the character. When trials and perplexities come upon the church, then the steadfast zeal and warm affections of Christ’s true followers are developed. {CCh 52.1}

The silent worker, the watchman who doesn’t necessarily come rushing in, he knows whether to step in or not. Is it necessary to step in and stop some of these perplexities? In the great number of times you don’t. It is only as the Lord shows you, here is danger that can lose souls. In the majority of cases, let it rip, let it takes its course. Then when everyone goes to and fro in the misery of their experiences you can come in with the beauty of Christ to the dilemma they are going through and they will learn precious lessons from the terrible experiences they have made together. This is the right way of working. Don’t rush in where angels fear to tread. The shepherd of the flock will often say, I have to do something and rush in. I have often had the temptation to rush in, oh Lord I have to do something and I can feel Him saying calm down John, just leave it with me. As you have been challenged in these sort of areas in dealing with certain things, the voice of God speaking to me has comforted me. I have sometimes thought I am supposed to be doing this and that and the Lord says calm.

You will have many perplexities to meet in your Christian life in connection with the church, but do not try too hard to mold your brethren. {5T 347.2}

We want to take the molding knife and start molding people because they see things have to be corrected, don’t try too hard.

If you see that they do not meet the requirements of God’s word, do not condemn; if they provoke, do not retaliate. When things are said that would exasperate, quietly keep your soul from fretting. You see many things which appear wrong in others, and you want to correct these wrongs. You commence in your own strength to work for a reform, but you do not go about it in the right way. You must labor for the erring with a heart subdued, softened by the Spirit of God, and let the Lord work through you, the agent. Roll your burden on Jesus. You feel that the Lord must take up the case where Satan is striving for the mastery over some soul; but you are to do what you can in humility and meekness, and put the tangled work, the complicated matters, into the hands of God. {5T 347.2}

There are some terrible tangled matters there, it’s like a bit knot and you think how are we going to get out of this one? We haven’t got the skill to unravel the knot but God can. So, put them into the hands of God.

Follow the directions in His word, and leave the outcome of the matter to His wisdom. Having done all you can to save your brother, cease worrying, and go calmly about other pressing duties. It is no longer your matter, but God’s. {5T 347.2}

I was driving with a minister and as we were sleeping in the same motel room, he was having a bad night and I was fast asleep. He said, ‘how do you sleep? With all the problems I have, I am troubled through the night.’ I said brother, ‘I sleep like a baby. I’ve been through the worst situations because when you put it into God’s hands you leave it there’. It is no longer your matter, you have committed it to God, it’s in Gods care, leave it there. How can you rejoice when everything is falling down around you? It’s in Gods care.

Do not, through impatience, cut the knot of difficulty, making matters hopeless. {5T 348.1}

When you have a tangle and you get impatient what do you usually do? Cut and re-knot it again in your way. That is not Gods way.

Let God untangle the snarled-up threads for you. He is wise enough to manage the complications of our lives. He has skill and tact. We cannot always see His plans; we must wait patiently their unfolding and not mar and destroy them. He will reveal them to us in His own good time. Seek for unity; cultivate love and conformity to Christ in all things. He is the source of unity and strength; but you have not sought for Christian unity that you might knit hearts together in love. {5T 348.1}

Here is the counsel of the Lord, don’t rush where angels fear to tread. They are themselves ministers and beings in Gods control and they will only do what God commands them and they won’t do anything else. They too sometimes are tempted. When they saw Jesus being treated cruelly some of the angels wanted to go out and help Him and the commanding angel said no He must go through with this, stay there. If the angels are tempted, what about me? We are to let the trials do their work. Don’t regard it as a strange thing if tribulation comes. It is all part of God’s work. In the church it is Gods place where He is preparing hearts to have their place in the eternal kingdom. That is the place where the hammer and chisel is being used. We must permit people to make their different mistakes to discover their natural man in relation to the spiritual. We must be instruments in God’s hands to help them discover it.

Harmonise Different Minds in Apparent Conflict

There are certain areas where people vision things differently yet they are not necessarily wrong and others may say, no, they are wrong because their mind is different to the subject matter to the subject they are looking at. They are looking at it from a different angle and sometimes they will be arguing with each other over doctrine.

Here we are brought together–of different minds, different education, and different training–and we do not expect that every mind will run right in the same channel; but the question is, Are we, the several branches, grafted into the parent Vine? {1MCP 53.4}

That is the important point, grafted into Jesus and part of the body of Christ but we are all from different angles and different minds. That is what we want to enquire, are we grafted into the parent vine?

That is what we want to inquire, and we want to ask teachers as well as students. We want to understand whether we are really grafted into the parent Vine. If we are, we may have different manners, different tones, and different voices. You may view things from one standpoint, and we have ideas different from one another in regard to the Scriptures, not in opposition to the Scriptures, but our ideas may vary. My mind may run in the lines most familiar to it, and another may be thinking and taking a view according to his traits of character, and see a very deep interest in one side of it that others do not see.–MS 14, 1894. {1MCP 53.4}

This is what we have to meet in the church. It is not necessarily contradictory, it’s just that people see things differently and in our effort to harmonise and be in unity which is the shepherd of the flocks work, he has to help the people to accept what the other person is saying which may be absolutely right but not acceptable to the other persons mind.

Differences of opinion will always exist, for every mind is not constituted to run in the same channel. Hereditary and cultivated tendencies have to be guarded, lest they create controversies over minor matters. Christ’s workers must draw together in tender sympathy and love. Let not anyone think it a virtue to maintain his own notions and suppose he is the only one to whom the Lord has given discernment and intuition. Christian charity covers a multitude of things which one may regard as defects in another. There is need of much love and far less criticism. {2MCP 504.1}

Cover it, don’t even countenance it.

When the Holy Spirit is manifestly working in the hearts of ministers and helpers, they will reveal the tenderness and love of Christ.–Lt 183, 1899. {2MCP 504.1}

You want to be the minister’s helper? You have to follow his example. Don’t jump in on people’s faulty ways, cover them. Don’t criticise as everyone comes from different perspectives and most of the time it is not a contradiction it’s just a different appreciation. There are people in the church who maintain their own notions. What is a notion? A notion is an idea that has no substance for it. There are notions on health reform from naturopaths. A lot of naturopaths deal with notions. Sometimes they have stabbed in the dark and found the right answer but most of the time it is a notion. We will have notions and suppose that I am the only one who the Lord has given discernment to. I build on this notion and it think I have got divine intuition. Oops, this creates church problems. Harmonise different minds who are in apparent conflict.

When to Step In and What to Do

Don’t rush in. There comes a point in time in a conflict that is taking place where the shepherd has to step in and do something. It is not all together sitting back and doing nothing. Where the Lord says move, don’t waste time, fix it. Then you deal with it. When to step in and what to do when you step in.

Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

Peters’ Experience

When does a man have to step in? If a man is overtaken in a fault. While things are happening the Lord can often work things out without you having to step in but when a person is actually overtaken in the fault and being overtaken, he is a danger in the church by Gods direction. Then you must step in. I’ve often stumbled over this statement, you which are spiritual. What? Are there some church people who are spiritual and some who are not? I didn’t want to know that. I want to know that everybody is spiritual. Here this is the point, all our studies have shown that there are people who are the shepherd or helpers of the shepherd who are more qualified to do deal with it. There is a time to step in when a person is overtaken in the fault and it is the spiritual person that is to go and help him.

Here is a special direction to deal tenderly with those overtaken in a fault. “Overtaken” must have its full significance…. To be led into sin unawares–not intending to sin, but to sin through want of watchfulness and prayer, not discerning the temptation of Satan and so falling into his snare–is very different from the one who plans and deliberately enters into temptation and plans out a course of sin. {OHC 177.2}

  More effective measures are needed to check the premeditated sin, but the apostle directs the treatment to be given to those who are overtaken or surprised or overcome by temptation. Restore him in meekness, “considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” {OHC 177.3}

Can you see there are two kinds of sins in the camp? The ones that are sins and they have been taken unawares, they have not been deliberate sinners but they are falling for the problem of the flesh in the natural man and they are caught unawares. To them, deal carefully but more effective measures are needed to check the premeditated sin. That is when we must step in. When someone has overtaken or deliberately and premeditatedly worked to destroy, we must step in.

Faith and reproofs will be needed, and kindly counsel and supplications to God, to bring them to see their danger and sin. The original word is, set in joint, as a dislocated bone; therefore the efforts should be made to set them in joint, and bring them to themselves by convincing them of their sin and error. . . . There should be no triumphing in a brother’s fall. But in meekness, in the fear of God, in love for their soul’s sake, seek to save them from sin. {OHC 177.3}

This is the battle between the spirit and the flesh. It’s just dislocated as the flesh got the better and the spirit was put aside so now try to bring the spirit back into line again. What can you think of as a perfect example of this? Someone who had committed a sin and it required careful tact to convince him of his sin. David himself became dislocated. Wasn’t that a premeditated sin? No he was caught, he was surprised into sin. It took Nathans wisdom from the heavenly Father to place before the king the object lesson of the man who had many sheep and the man who only had one sheep. As he brought him through the mental exercise, he didn’t tell him look David you have just done such and such, he just gave him that picture and he got David to think for himself, what would you do to a person who took that one lamb? David told him straight and Nathan said, well you are the man and David woke up.

This is the way, a spiritual person must do that kind of work. He must find the way from heaven to deal correctly to bring them to themselves by convincing them of their sin and error. You can’t convince a man by saying you’ve done that haven’t you? Now come on own up. That’s not the way you do it. That’s self that wants to do that. It is this gentle tactful way but what do you do when it says more effective measures; when you have to step in when you know the person in front of you is a deliberate under-miner, a deliberate canker in the camp?


We have a good illustration of that. This is in reference to what happened in the camp of Israel when the Midianitish women were around and the people were brought into apostasy. As Moses and the elders were praying and pleading with the Lord to stay the plague that was happening, here was a deliberate sinner.

 Never was vice more bold, stubborn, or daring than it was in Zimri, a prince of the chief house in the tribe of Simeon. Such an exhibition of effrontery toward God was almost too great for belief. He publicly appeared before the people leading a Midianitish harlot, one of high standing, a daughter of a chief house in Midian, in the sight of Moses and the congregation. He thus showed open contempt of God. He gloried in his shame; for wine had perverted his senses. He openly declared his sin as that of Sodom. The position he had occupied had been one of influence. Moses and the people who had taken no part in this great departure from God’s law, were weeping and lamenting at the door of the tabernacle for the sins of the people, and the plague that had begun. But amid all this demonstration of sorrow, this prince defied the judges to molest him if they dared. The priests were weeping between the porch and the altar, crying, “Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach.” Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, and rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin, and went after the man of Israel into the tent, and killed them both. This staid the plague. {RH, May 17, 1887 par. 11}

Phinehas was a Levi, a man of God and a shepherd. Phinehas saw Zimri doing this.

With this history before the peculiar people of God in these last days, there is no excuse for any one who will follow the example of ancient Israel in sin. But Satan will work in this special temptation to make void the law of God, and make light of God’s special injunctions and warnings. The point to be marked is, that Moses’ prayers were not heard, neither his weeping nor the sorrow and prayers of those who had maintained their integrity, until justice was executed upon that demoralized God-defying prince. God says of Phinehas, He “hath turned away my wrath from the children of Israel.” It was the greatest mercy that Phinehas could do to Israel, to deal promptly and decidedly with the guilty, and thus be instrumental in turning the wrath of God from the congregation of Israel. Something besides prayers and tears are needed in a time when reproach and peril are hanging over God’s people. The wicked works must be brought to an end. The very work of justice done by Phinehas was an atonement for Israel. {RH, May 17, 1887 par. 12}

That is what Sr White meant when she said more effective means are required for that kind of thing. Joshua had to deal with Achan and if you read widely about it, you will see Sr White saying that Achan was just the same as Zimri and if there is a Achan in the camp it has to be dealt with in the same way. There will be some people who will say to those who will deal with that, you were so harsh, you weren’t Christ like as you should have been. It is not everybody’s work to do that work and when someone has that work like Phineas and Joshua, don’t judge them as you thought it wasn’t quite right. Those who are spiritual must know what to do and that is the question, who is sufficient for these things?

2 Corinthians 2:15 For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:

 2:16 To the one [we are] the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who [is] sufficient for these things?

Can you see the point? O Lord, how can we know? How can we be sure we are doing the right thing?

2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency [is] of God;

 3:6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

The sufficiency is not in us. Our sufficiency is of God. The sufficiency can only be of God and who God has committed it to. The people who have had experience enough to recognise the voice of God and the direct purpose of stepping in and dealing with a problem when it needs to be dealt with. There is a perfect balance, you must know when to treat tactfully and relocate a problem in a person’s life or when to deal severely.

I saw that many souls will sink in darkness because of their covetousness. The plain, straight testimony must live in the church, or the curse of God will rest upon His people as surely as it did upon ancient Israel because of their sins. God holds His people, as a body, responsible for the sins existing in individuals among them. {3T 269.2}

You can misread this and starting treating the people who are sinners saying we have to deal with you. No, see the balance here. We must read aright.

If the leaders of the church neglect to diligently search out the sins which bring the displeasure of God upon the body, they become responsible for these sins. But to deal with minds is the nicest work in which men ever engaged. All are not fitted to correct the erring. They have not wisdom to deal justly, while loving mercy. They are not inclined to see the necessity of mingling love and tender compassion with faithful reproofs. Some are ever needlessly severe, and do not feel the necessity of the injunction of the apostle: “And of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire.” {3T 269.2}

 There are many who do not have the discretion of Joshua and who have no special duty to search out wrongs and to deal promptly with the sins existing among them. Let not such hinder those who have the burden of this work upon them; let them not stand in the way of those who have this duty to do. Some make it a point to question and doubt and find fault because others do the work that God has not laid upon them. These stand directly in the way to hinder those upon whom God has laid the burden of reproving and correcting prevailing sins in order that His frown may be turned away from His people. Should a case like Achan’s be among us, there are many who would accuse those who might act the part of Joshua in searching out the wrong, of having a wicked, fault-finding spirit. God is not to be trifled with and His warnings disregarded with impunity by a perverse people. {3T 270.1}

Chronicled here is to discern when to treat to tactfully and gently or when to treat severely. It is not everybody’s job in regards to church difficulties, it is the job to those given and those to whom it is not given are not to stand in their way. How do you stand in the way of somebody who has got the job and is acting severely? They may say, you are not doing what a shepherd should be doing, you should be treating them gently. That is false sympathy.

Open and Secret Sin

Then comes somebody who is really doing an open sin apparently and they come to the person who is to do the judging and say, why didn’t you disfellowship him? He has done an open sin, he has to be disfellowshipped. I’ve been through that. A beautiful brother who did a secret sin and the interpretation was laid upon it that the secret sin was so severe that he was an Achan in the camp and he wasn’t. He simply fell into sin as a young person and years after he had done the sin, he had already been married to another person and this was raked up and he was called to lay down his office and his membership and called to be rebaptised again. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and that was done by ministers in the church.

The wisdom, the discernment that comes from God that which has been done in secret and a person who has been overtaken by sin is never to be treated severely but a person who is a deliberate scandalous mongerer of trouble must be treated severely. The discernment between one and the other needs to be clear. In the midst of all that, to leave certain perplexities without stepping in at all to use careful discernment of not rushing but letting God deal with it, is a job beyond us. Who is sufficient for these things? Our sufficiency is to be of God (2 Corinthians 3:5).

Let us learn to become servants and missionaries for the Lord that we will take these things we have looked at and understand what is going on and in that way we will keep the unity and safeguard of Gods beautiful work. As we testify when we come together and we praise the Lord, there is such lovely unity and Satan comes along and wants to by different means break it up. This will continue in our next study where we will look at the problem of unbalancing minds and how to deal with that.


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Sabbath Sermons is a small resource information ministry in Australia standing upon the original platform of the Adventist truth. We are dedicated to spreading the special 'testing truths' for our time and are not affiliated with the various denominations. This website is administered by lay members only

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