How to handle conflict in the church

How to handle conflict in the church

Posted in In line with Scripture

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. – Philippians 4:2

Because people are all different conflict happens wherever people get together. Conflict is therefore also a reality in the church, in our families, in our support groups. We can deal with conflict in various ways.

The easiest way is to leave and go elsewhere. That happens repeatedly but it really shouldn’t be an option for Christians. In the church at Philippi two ladies didn’t get on with one another but leaving for another church just wasn’t an option the nearest neighbouring church was a two day walk away. Paul challenged those two ladies to deal with conflict the hard way to work it out.

Leaving a church fellowship, like leaving a support group, over an area of disagreement has several negative consequences. First: by walking away we’re not dealing with our own involvement in the situation. Second: we are modelling to our children and young people that walking away from something is okay. Third: we are breaking fellowship which always causes a measure of pain to some of those left behind.

Another way some of us within the Christian community deal with conflict is to talk about our unhappiness. We let everyone know how we have been wronged, or that we are no longer content with the status quo. Openly airing our unhappiness also has negative results. First: it usually results in others taking sides so that we gain some support, but we also alienate others. Second: we often become more entrenched ourselves as other unhappy people encourage our self pity. Third: the conflict, instead of being resolved often deepens.

Eugene Peterson wrote about this problem of conflict in the church (Subversive Spirituality) and suggested that a more God-honouring way is to begin with ourselves. He suggests we ask ourselves three questions.

First, is the matter a serious and central issue or is it a peripheral issue? Often it is little things that get us worked up so we need to ask: Is it important?

Secondly, am I speaking my concerns about this matter as someone who is committed to this church? Often a lot of the talk in areas of discontent is merely sniping by people who take no active role.

Third, how can I go about making a difference? Improvement and change in the situation may well come about as you begin to meet with others to pray for those involved.

These three questions are good to ask when you have a problem with your church. But the same questions can also be helpful when it comes to conf1ict in your family, your support group or in your marriage. Is this issue in my support group important enough to get worked up over? Am I dealing with it as someone committed to the group? What can I do within the group to make a difference?

You don’t get a choice about conflict -it happens. You do get some choices as to how to handle those conflicts. Paul urged reso1ution: ”I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.”

Many home education support groups are beginning to experience growing pains. Those few mums who were often also long-time friends who would make a few phone calls to organise an outing for themselves now find themselves heading a rather large and growing support group. They can feel pushed along by it and by the demands of some members who are often only names on a list, rather than old friends. Being eager to please and thinking how grateful they would have been if someone had done for them what they are now doing for others, they go to a lot of time, trouble and personal financial expense to organise a top-rated outing. And what has too often happened? The ones who lobbied most for it don’t turn up. Half the ones who said they’d think about it apparently didn’t and there is a mad rush on the phones at the last minute to make up the required numbers. A newsletter and complicated phone tree is needed. Too many “subscribers” never actually pay their dues. The leaders, who started by simply organising things for themselves, now feel pressured into organising things for other people, even though they themselves aren’t interested. They are still leaders simply because everyone else is happy to let them do the work; and they, being the pioneers, have always done all the work themselves and are not that good at delegation.

Then “the new kid on the block” comes along. “This isn’t effective/fair/democratic! Back in our support group in Waikikamukau we did it this way,” and the deadly seeds of discontent are sown. If the group has one, its constitution is hauled out and the wording examined with a fine toothed comb.

This is a dead give-away that the problem is spiritual in nature, a personality clash; resorting to legal documents will only result in heavy legal fees and NO change to the root problem.

Growth does require new organisational methods, but the transition can be very difficult on some people. Pay particular attention to the peculiarities of the support group’s history and defer to the volunteer leaders as the martyrs they are. Above all, I plead: agree with one another in the Lord.

(by Rev J Westendorp and Craig Smith)

From Keystone Magazine
January 1999 , Vol. V No.I
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
Phone: (06) 357-4399
Fax: (06) 357-4389
email: craig