Last summer wore on long and hot at our church. A key staff member resigned and founded a nearly identical church a stone's throw away. Ultimately, about 20 percent of the congregation left to join him.

Each week I would look around and wonder about empty seats: Are those people on vacation or have they left?

To lose good friends hurts. I had to tell my 12-year-old son that he wouldn't be seeing his close friend very often, because their family was leaving the church, too.

I was recruited to fill a board vacancy of a member who left, and so I began receiving angry faxes and phone calls.

"I shouldn't let them bother me," I told my wife. Later, I decided to grant myself permission to be normal: of course they would bother me. But I resolved not to brood on any call or letter more than forty-eight hours. My resolve was tested.

Now, months later, our church has stabilized. I thank God. I also ask myself, What can we learn from the painful conflict we went through?

I've begun to form a list. Perhaps ...

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