by Al Maxey
Special Request of Readers
Tuesday, May 23, 2006

As you probably know by now, I have great respect for the wealth of wisdom and insight readily available to me from the large pool of Reflections readers, and I have previously tapped into this reserve when seeking perspective on a difficult topic. I would like to draw from that source once more. Thus, I seek your reasoned responses to the following situation.

A couple of days ago I received a lengthy email from an elder of a congregation that is experiencing some degree of turmoil. I won't name the congregation, nor will I even identify the state, as I don't wish to draw any more undue attention or hardship upon this group of believers. This elder, however, did preface his email to me with these words, "Everything that follows is for you to consider for a future Reflections article." Therefore, he does desire for me to give this matter some amount of public reflection, and I also informed him that I would be seeking the insights of the readers prior to composing my response.

The bulk of his email to me is found below, which he further prefaced by saying: "Al, I'm at my wits' end. I've written the following without any identifying characteristics." However, he then provided me privately with the necessary identifying information, as well as a phone number, so that I could verify the information, if I so desired. Here is the problem that he then presented to me:

I do indeed have quite a few thoughts on this very tragic, and in many ways disturbing, scenario being played out within a local congregation of disciples of Jesus Christ. I have already written this elder with a very brief plan of action that I believe might be advisable in such a situation. However, I would sincerely like to hear from the readers as to how you think such chaos within a congregation should be handled, and what these elders can do (or could have done earlier) to bring resolution. Is some sort of "bishop system" advisable? Should there be persons above the local elders who can decide such matters for a congregation? What are the benefits of such (if any)? What are the dangers (and, frankly, I think there are several). Is there some other, perhaps more biblical, process whereby such scenarios could be successfully resolved? I believe there is, but will wait to share that view until I have heard from the readers. Thus, I'm asking what you think Churches of Christ in particular (given our views of "autonomy," organizational structure, etc.) ought to be doing to avoid such situations as this (could these elders have handled this better?), and what we can do to resolve such chaos when it does come upon us. Is our organizational structure to blame, or does the fault (and solution) lie elsewhere?

I look forward to your suggestions and insights. In the meantime, please keep the above congregation in your prayers ... and others like it. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and when they are hurting, we all hurt. May our Father step into that situation and bring healing and restoration.