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Elliff: Unforgiveness hinders ministries

MOBILE, Ala. (BP)–If Ed Litton is right, pastors and churches all over the country are hamstrung in ministry because of broken relationships — and an experience in reconciliation would set them free of that hindrance.

“As a pastor, I feel we don’t handle broken relationships very well. I don’t know many groups who do,” said Litton, who is pastor of First Baptist North Mobile in Saraland, Ala., and president of the SBC’s Pastors’ Conference. “But the Lord said that if we don’t forgive others, our Father in heaven won’t forgive us either. One reason we don’t see more people coming to Christ in our churches may be that unforgiveness is blocking the movement of God’s spirit.”

Litton said he was deeply moved last year when he read “The Red Feather,” a book that describes the role forgiveness played in restoring the badly broken relationship between Tom Elliff, who at the time was pastor of Applewood Baptist Church in Wheat Ridge, Colo., and his father, J.T. Elliff, a longtime pastor and former director of missions in Oklahoma’s Capital Baptist Association.

At age 65 — after 43 years of marriage — the elder Elliff left his wife for another woman. The betrayal reverberated in Southern Baptist circles across the country, leaving many people deeply wounded and disillusioned.

“It was an awful shock. Dad was my hero,” Elliff told Baptist Press. “He moved to another state and for two and a half years, we had virtually no contact with him.”

Then through a remarkable series of events — including a phone call from his father that awakened Elliff’s mother from a coma — God did a profound work of healing in the family’s relationships. Elliff would like to see more pastors and congregations benefit from the freedom that reconciliation brought to his family and ministry.

“There is a great need for restoration in relationships all across our convention. It isn’t a salvation issue but it is a serious fellowship issue,” Elliff said. “When the father urges one of his children to forgive another, only to be met by refusal, you have a relationship issue that affects the entire family. It’s true among our own families, and it’s certainly true in the family of God.”

The Lord “took our family to school on forgiveness,” Elliff said and he wrote The Red Feather so others could benefit from what they learned. It was a message that struck home with Litton.

“I was so moved by the book that I invited Tom to share that message with our congregation last fall,” Litton said. “It was very powerful and I wanted more pastors to hear it.

“Tom’s father ultimately sought forgiveness from the churches he pastored and the association he led,” Litton said. “That is such an unusual thing in our time. As I began working on the program for this year’s Pastors’ Conference, I just felt impressed of the Lord that this needs to happen on a national scale.”

Tom Elliff will share the story of his family’s journey through alienation and reconciliation during the June 22 session of the Pastors’ Conference, prior to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Louisville, Ky. For more information about the Pastors’ Conference program, visit sbcpc.net.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.

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  • Mark Kelly