How Do We Prevent Future Conflict?
Finding that Christlike Unity
Every church will have conflict at some level. If I want to start ministry A and you want to start
ministry B and we only have enough people, money and space to do one, we have a conflict. How we
deal with that conflict will make the difference. We can 't prevent conflict, but we can
prevent destructive conflict letting our differences degrade into attacks and power struggles.
In Philippians 2:15 Paul wrote:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his
love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy
complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above
yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus
In these verses we can discern several aspects of a church culture that can prevent conflict.
- United passion, motivation and understanding. same love
one in spirit
one mind Each of these phrases expresses a different aspect of church unity we
need to develop to prevent destructive conflict:
- same love represents our passions; that for which we are willing
to give our lives. John 3:1513 Churches need something to which
our members can passionately commit themselves. Without a big, God-shaped cause, we will
commit ourselves to smaller, us-shaped causes. And if my passion conflicts with your passion,
then we have a fight on our hands.
- one in spirit or perhaps one in The Spirit speaks to our
motivations. In the Bible the breath/wind/Spirit from God moves us about.
Even if we have a big cause, if our motivation is divided between that which please God and
that which pleases us (or worse, between that which pleases some of us and that which
pleases others of us), there will be conflict. We may want to renovate the worship
area. If some want to redecorate it to recreate the past glories of the church, while
others want to move forward with new ministry, there will be conflict.
- one mind shows that we have thought things through together. This
can be best accomplished through an explicit, written plan. For only when we place all
of our thoughts on paper where they can be compared are we likely to discover diffrences
When we draw together at least these three facets (and I am sure there are more)
we see that one basic aspect of preventing destructive conflict is to put us all on the
literally. What are our passions? What motivates us to serve Jesus?
Do we agree to the plan? When we consciously align our hearts with each other and God, then
we lay the foundation for unity. Will everyone completely agree? Not in this life and
on this earth. Yet, in our disagreements we can both appeal to a clear contract that the
church has made with itself and God and make choices. Some may find that this church
isnt the place to express their passions, motivations and thoughts. As long as
they seek a church more aligned with whom God has made them, there is no loss to Christs
Kingdom. In fact, the Kingdom will likely better prosper when likeminded Christians
band together to do His Work in its many expressions.
- Making it about Jesus. selfish ambition or vain conceit focus ministry
on us. We become the center of our own little universe. Churches fall into this trap every
time they ask, What do we want our church to do? or What kind of pastor
do we want In any church of 100 members these questions will find 125 answers.
(Many of us carry an internal conflict of our own.) If what I want does not neatly
align with what you want, then conflict will ensue.
But what if you and I could strive after something higher and bigger than our own personal
concerns? have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Of course,
Paul points to Jesus on a mission to fulfill the will of the Father by emptying himself
of his own rights as God. (Philippians 2:68) When churches start reflecting
that selflessness we can prevent conflict. I may not want to give up my desires for yours. As a
follower of Jesus I will give up my desire for Jesus desires, if we both agree that
the churchs plan reflects God's will for this church at this time.
So we begin to ask, What does Jesus want this church to be and do? We can
find this by examining how God has made us. When we see the gifts, experiences, abilities
and passions of our
members and the opportunities to use those in our Community, we begin to formulate our
Godgiven mission. When we live
out of the vision, the church is no longer about me. Rather is is about
Jesus and what he wants to do through us in this world.
- Valuing others. Of course, what Jesus wants us to do is love God, neighbors and
those inside the church. Matthew 22:3839; John 13:34)
We are to be othercentered, value[ing] others above
yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others
To know others interests I must become interested in others. I must come to see them
as creations formed by the hands of God, as His gifts to our body, then I will value what
they need and desire. We may not always agree. We will care.
This has to be modeled by all the leaders of a church to instill it into the DNA of that
congregation. This will come in several forms:
- Curiosity. Leaders need to actively seek to know others. So many times
we allow strangers to remain strangers even those who are members or attendees.
When we actively model curiosity, even when (or perhaps especially when) we
focus on these strangers instead of and in the presence of those we know. Thus we
model Gods call to hospitality and of valuing others above ourselves.
- Courtesy. Everyone wants to be heard. Loving my neighbor as myself means
that I want them to be heard, and, most especially, I want to hear them. When a
person feels that she or he has not been heard, their frustration will lead to conflict
in either the form of aggression or passive-aggression. In order for a person to feel
heard they need two forms of affirmation:
Being allowed to speak fully. Letting a person fully express their ideas,
feelings and opinions defuses much anger. If someone goes on and on, it is likely an
indication that they have not been heard in the past and feel the only way to be
heard is to filibuster. It may not be appropriate to let them go on in a public
meeting. In such cases make sure that it is clear that there will be a meeting of
leaders where that person (and those who think like them) will be able to
Affirmation that we fully understand. We dont really understand
someones position until we can express it back to them. Mirroring
someones ideas, feelings and opinions back to them allows us to check to see
if we have, indeed, comprehended them. After they express an idea we can run a
simple test by saying something like, So you are telling me
People, of course, correct us and continue to correct us until we truly reflect their
ideas. Even if we strongly disagree, they will know they have been heard.
- Good boundaries. When I value others I let them be them. They do not
have to always agree with me or conform to all my values and tastes in order
for me to love them and to remain connected to them. In fact, I will value
many of the differences. As some smart person said once, If two people
agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary. Or, as Paul says,
If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?
If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?
But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them,
just as he wanted them to be. (1st Corinthians
On a more critical note, the Proverbs add,
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another
Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies
kisses. (Proverbs 27:6)
Obviously God values the diversity in our midst. We cannot
disregard the value of those differences without rejecting
Gods plan for the Church.
Again, leaders can model this by treating with love and respect
even those who strongly disagree with them without having to
convert them to the right way of thinking about
what Paul calls disputable matters
- Interdependence. Jesus asked the woman at the well for water.
(John 4: This natural act of interdependence, far from some
evangelism ploy, reflects clearly Jesus othercenteredness. When we
naturally make ourselves vulnerable to others by asking them to fill our needs,
we raise them to social parity with ourselves (the original meaning of the
word fellowship). From that station, they find their
contributions valued, including their ideas. Recruiting others into ministry
(and not just committees) helps them feel heard.
- Outsider orientation. Jesus became human to seek those outside Gods
will. He went outside of heaven to seek those outsiders. And Jesus tells us to go seek the
outsiders and bring them in. (Luke 14:2123) The church has no other direct
command from our Lord. (Matthew 28:19L20) The church has no other purpose
for existing than to seek outsiders. I find that churches which stray from this single purpose
inevitably become selfish and selfish congregations produce selfish members. Selfish members
will come into conflict and, having no greater purpose, will fight destructively for their own
selfish desires. When we unite our passions, motivations and plans around doing the work of
Jesus by being curious and courteous to outsiders, we will seek them.
If we are to escape this trap we must focus on bringing the love of Jesus to outsiders.
There are two kinds of outsiders we need to
focus on: the inside outsiders and the outside outsiders.
- The Outsiders among us. Look around a church foyer on an average Sunday and you
will likely see someone or some couple standing alone looking for someone to talk to them.
They will either be visitors or perhaps a less-connected attendee. They may be
misfits to our congregation not fitting our class, culture or race.
Members wont naturally feel attracted to such outsiders because they fall outside
their personal selfimage. Look quickly, because these people wont stand around
long. Either they will go home or they will go away and never return.
When leaders go out of their way to seek out such people and draw them into groups of
insiders model Jesus desire to draw such people in. Setting the
expectation of inclusion in words as well as deeds makes clear that we are not here
for ourselves, but for those whom Jesus is seeking.
Once a rather traditional leader in a congregation I led approached me after I had
begun to make changes in worship to make it more attractive to outsiders. This
leader had been assigned the role of mentoring a young outsider woman who had
suffered a very abusive childhood and yet, having attended our youth ministries,
as an adult was now seeking to profess her faith and be baptized. This leader told
me, "Wayne, I hate what you are doing in worship, and keep it up. [She]
needs it. Because of his outward orientation this man could give up his
cherished way of worshiping so that an outsider could be brought in.
- The Outsiders outside. At night parts of my house look dark a corner here,
a wall there. The lighting inside doesnt perfectly light every part. At the
same time, when I walk outside I see real darkness, no matter how bad my lighting
in may be.
I find the same is true of churches. We can fight over wrongs and
issues that seem so important
until we see the lives and heartaches
of those who don know Jesus. Then those problems fade to insignificance.
I cant be bothered with issues of paint once I see real pain. And
programs will always pale before the needs of people.
There are real issues of faithfulness to God and the Word of
God. Often these crop up because we havent rehearsed the truth to enough
outsiders outside the church. Gods truths slowly lose their force when spoken
and lived only to the insiders. When regularly shared with and lived with outsiders
we realize what wonderful treasures they are and how truly they change lives.
Once again, the cure for conflict lies in living like Jesus, seeking outsiders.
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