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Dealing with conflict within the church

June 20, 2013

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When I agreed to preach at my home church, I was not expecting the topic to be ‘dealing with conflict within the church.’ My initial thoughts were ‘they must be in trouble’, but on reflection I believe it is healthy for a church to deal with this matter before conflict arises – as it will. Just as in preparing people for marriage I help them to prepare well to minimise conflict, I tell them they will have conflict and give them strategies to help.

One of the issues with church in our generation is that it has imbibed a consumeristic approach, and people use church as consumers. The bible teaches otherwise, that church is a covenantal relationship, a relation based on promises and submission (see Eph 5). And just as in a marriage covenantal relationship we teach commitment and mutual submission, so we need to in church life.

But how did I handle this topic.

Firstly by identifying why conflict arises in church

1. Pride – James 4:1 teaches that conflict can reveal pride and selfishness within. So when conflict arises the first thing to do is to identify the pride and selfishness in us that needs dealing with. As we say to children when you point a finger at someone, there are three pointing back at you. Check your motives and attitudes.

2. Preaching – Gal 1:7-8; Acts 15:11 show that the gospel causes conflict. So when conflict occurs we do not necessarily simply do the ‘Christian’ thing and back down when the gospel is causing conflict. Just make sure it is the gospel that is causing conflict and not the way you are presenting it.

3. Practice – Acts 15:20-21 shows us that the living practice of the gospel can cause conflict. There are matters of doctrinal practice that are important. For the early church it was to do with matters of sexual immorality and avoiding appearance of syncretism (mixing Christianity with other religious or philosophical perspectives)

4. Personality – Acts 15:36-40 shows us that sometimes personality differences can cause conflict. And although the conflict in this case allowed for the further good of the gospel, the gospel of reconciliation always seeks to reconcile. Paul and Mark were reconciled – see 2 Tim 4:11. Let us not allow personalities difference to hinder the work of God.

5. Preference – Romans 14:1 shows us that sometimes matters that we really think are important are not, and a matter of preference. However note that ‘being convinced’ in your own mind DOES matter, as anything that does not come from faith is sin!

So if this is how conflict arises, how should churches deal with conflict. Acts 15 gives us a good model to help us.

When conflict arises we need to listen to

The Dispute – v2 tells us they didn’t internalise the conflict as we have the habit of doing but raised and debated it in a healthy way.

The Covenanted Community -v3 they all listened to and recognised the authority of the church/covenanted community and came to an agreement together on the way forward (under the leading of the Holy Spirit)

The Ministers – v4 they listened to the those who had been called and set apart to the ministry of the ‘word and prayer’ and accepted their wisdom and council.

The Scripture – v15 they listened to and accepted the authority of the scripture in interpreting their situation.

The Tradition – v21 they listened to the tradition of the faith and built upon tradition rather than neglecting/ignoring the wisdom of previous generations

The Context – v12 they listened to all that God was doing and working in the present context.

The GOSPEL – v11 they listened to the gospel and what it had to say to the situation

By submitting to one another in this way they dealt with the conflict in a healthy way that allowed the Lord to ‘build his church’. From this point on in Acts 15 we see an expanding mission to the Gentiles without continual internal strife. They were able to move from church politics to church mission. May we deal with conflict in such a healthy and gracious way.

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