I am pained to write about church conflicts. Yes, it is a reality and that does not bother me as much as what impression it leaves upon others. When there are conflicts within the Christian community, those unaffiliated smirk. It seemingly gives the onlookers ample justification for their rejection of the Gospel. “If the good news of Jesus is full of peace and love, then why all this bickering?” There are some merits to this line of argument, but I believe it is intentionally short-sighted and a superficial evaluation of the situation. Here are some important aspects that the outsider does not consider.
- A functioning church is not a place of superficial contacts. The relationships within a church are very much like those in a family. And in a family we are accepted who we are, for better or for worse. So conflicts within a church are evidence of the deeper nature of the relationships.
- A church is not a club of interests. Clubs form around interests and natural similarities in character. The church is made up of all types of people, from all social levels, and different characters. This increases the likelihood that there will be conflicts.
- A church deals with issues that people hold dear. We may be wrong on some issues and maybe one is wrong in his manner of expressing himself, but to have convictions has long been considered a point of strength not weakness. If there is nothing worth dying for there is nothing worth living for. It is commendable when someone dies for his faith (regardless of the religion), but killing for one’s faith is when the problem comes in.
- A church is comprised not only of true believers. The Bible is clear that not everyone in the church is a true believer, some are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Conflict often arises not from sheep, but from wolves–those who wish to destroy the church. In many of these situation conflict is even necessary to protect the sheep.
- A church is not always in conflict. A church conflict is often blown out of proportion and the impression is that churches are always bickering. An emphasis can be made on the problems, when actually the positives far outweigh the bad.
- The church is not a group of perfect people. There are also different levels of maturity, which is not necessarily tied to age.
- Churches often have highly-motivated, visionary leaders who can at times clash—not only among themselves, but also with those comfortable in their complacency. Stereotypical CEOs are not the easiest types to get along with, but this is excused as long as they are making money for the shareholders. In the world this is acceptable behavior, but in the church people expect pastors to be pushovers. People misconstrue the meaning of humility. Jesus was the humblest of all, and yet was no pushover.
Considering all the points, it is not surprising that conflicts take place in the church. It is surprising that they do not happen more often. What is missed is that conflict is often necessary and can be constructive. The absence of conflict is not necessarily an indication of peace, it is often the result of lifeless indifference. When conflict does arise within the church there are means of working through difficulties. The natural human reaction is either fight or flight. The Gospel’s message of forgiveness gives the example and the strength to do the impossible. We don’t just walk away, we are family. It is evidence of the real value of the church. Stronger relationships are built through the trials of conflict. Though often conflict is seen as evidence against the church, if handled properly it can be a strong testimony of the love of brothers and sisters who work through their problems, because they do love one another despite their differences.