I loathe opening my refrigerator when it has gone weeks without a “detox.” I’m bound to find something nasty growing, then I’m obligated to deal with it. I love things neat and tidy. But even “neat-nicks” often shove things to the back with Scarlett O’Hara-like thoughts of, I can’t think about that now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about it tomorrow. 

Sometimes church life can be like my refrigerator. At first glance, things look fresh and healthy, but as you dig deeper, it’s obvious mold and other unwelcome inhabitants have set up camp. By refusing to deal with things, funk settles in and rot grows within.

Dealing with relational rot is particularly imperative in church leadership. Passages like 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5 discuss qualifications for elders. The bar is high. These men are called to lead and shepherd the flock God has entrusted to them. But what does that mean for their wives?

Like any shared lifestyle, there’s a unique “understanding” between ministry wives. We often see behind the scenes of others’ lives, which can lead to pride or despair. It can also cause competition and envy between wives as we seek to promote the welfare of our husbands or ourselves before that the Lord and his church. Sadly, areas of Christian freedom can morph into areas of conflict. 

There aren’t specific directives for elder’s wives in Scripture, so how should we deal with conflict when it arises?

Here are four recommendations.

1. Deal directly with the funk.

As with any discord, we must first look inward to get the log out of our own eye before looking outward to pull the speck out of our sister’s (Matt. 7:3–5; Luke 6:41–42). All of us sinners need the gospel’s exposing light in our lives.

When you feel you should rebuke a sister, first decide if what you’re dealing with is truly sin. Recognize the realm of Christian freedom and forbearance. Personality quirks exist. Sometimes we simply need to be patient with our sisters’ imperfections. This can be challenging, of course, which is why God puts us into a community of believers. If you’re unsure whether what you’re dealing with is sin, ask yourself if the Bible clearly condemns the behavior. If so, what Scripture could you use to encourage her toward repentance? Is she in a public ministry position where this behavior may cause others to struggle? Is her husband aware of the issues?

We must check our own hearts. Ask yourself: Is my concern born out of genuine love for my sister and concern for God’s glory? Or is it motivated mainly by self-interest?

But what if you’re still unclear on whether the issue is worth confronting? King Solomon offers a needed warning: “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out” (Prov. 17:14). Deal with the funk festering within your church, but be certain it’s the funk of sin and not personal preference.

2. Pray and seek counsel.

Too often we work through these situations with sinful autonomy, forgetting we have God’s Word and Spirit to guide us. We can bring our cares to an all-knowing God to assist us in our time of need. In him we have all we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), so we should seek him before anyone else. Our first response in conflict should be, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). I know many a well-meaning sister (including myself) who has reacted hastily to a situation instead of first taking time to pray and ponder God’s Word.Lightstock

God also gives brothers and sisters to counsel and guide us along our heavenly pilgrimage. Go, seek their advice. But be careful to involve only those necessary. It’s never right to gossip under the guise of “seeking counsel.” Often in our desire to be affirmed in our assumptions about another sister, we involve too many outsiders, bolstering our pride instead of breaking our hearts over sin. Keep your circle small and your prayers large. Have ears to hear. Be humble. Be teachable. You may well find you are the one in need of rebuke.   

3. Follow God’s process.

In love for his people and his name, the Lord established instructions to follow when relational sin enters the local church. Matthew 18:15–17 lays out the format for confrontation when “your brother sins against you.” God gives three clear steps to deal with demonstrable and unrepentant sin: Go alone to confront her; if she doesn’t listen, bring a friend and try again; if she still remains unrepentant, tell the congregation.

We are called to sharpen one another as iron, but it only works when we submit to God’s Word. If there is clear sin, it must be addressed. We serve no one if we overlook offenses against God. But it should be addressed in the way he has prescribed. It may feel like the hardest thing you’ve ever been called to do, but trust him to provide the right motives and words as you step out in obedient faith.

4. Clothe yourself with humility and love.

Deep, affectionate, humble love can go a long way toward softening the hardest heart. If we bring our own lives before the perfect Judge—reflecting on God’s forgiveness of our many, many sins before approaching a sister about her own—we are bound to treat her with more grace and compassion.

Ponder biblical proverbs such as “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1), or “answer a fool according to his folly and be a fool yourself” (Prov. 26:4). We must measure our words carefully.

This is never the time to play spiritual superhero, thinking you must “fix” the one you think is a bad egg. God is perfectly capable of defending his name, and he cares more about church purity than you do. But he graciously invites us into the process of restoring his bride as we seek the good of others above ourselves.

If you’re caught in a difficult situation with a fellow elder’s wife, God is using it in your life as much as he’s using it in hers. Seek counsel from wise believers, submit to Scripture’s commands, and throw yourself on God’s mercy, seeking help to respond in humility and love. Don’t let the rottenness of relational sin fester. It’s worth the trouble for the purity of your church and the glory of your King.