Dear Friends,

Every day that goes by we, as a church body, get closer to occupying our new home at Marsh’s Edge.  The task that God set before this church so many years ago has been monumental but now, we are nearing its fulfillment.  But we are not done yet!  We are entering the final phases of construction and then the work of moving, the grand opening celebration and so forth.  We also have to pay for it all.  There are so many decisions to be made, details to consider and changes that will occur, heads will spin and stress will mount.  Even though everything is going great right now, this is a time that is ripe for disagreement, misunderstanding and conflict.  While I pray that it doesn’t occur, as your pastor, my mind naturally goes to how can we best prepare so that our church family and our mission is not damaged if it does.

I find conflict to be particularly uncomfortable in a church situation. We are a family but not a “blood” family.  I mean, we all have family members that we don’t like but because they’re family we have to love them.  So, we may yell and argue but, in the end, you know it will blow over and you’ll see them next Thanksgiving and act like nothing ever happened.  Church family doesn’t have that same kind of bond.  People get upset and they walk away many times waving the dirty laundry around for everyone to see and damaging the church for years.

Now, there are many areas of a church where conflict can develop. However, most of them tend to fall under one of three categories: conflict due to blatant sin in the body, conflict with leadership or conflict between believers. Admittedly, many issues can cross over and actually involve two or more of these categories. My personal experience is that the most frequent conflicts in church revolve around the budget and perhaps, to a slightly lesser degree, how things are done or how things look.  Certainly, this is not unexpected.  For as many people that attend a local church, there are just as many opinions for almost any topic that may arise.  In the same way, people are natural political creatures.  Anytime a group of 3 or more people get together, some form of politics usually occurs.  Politics, by it very nature, causes and exploits conflict.  We, as a church and as believers, are called to rise above politics in our interactions.  Paul says in Romans 15:5-6 “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Being unified and acting with one heart and one mouth means working through conflict in a Biblical manner.

Believers who blatantly sin pose a conflict for the church as described in 1 Corinthians 5. The church that does not deal with sin among its members will open the door to more problems. The church is not called to be judgmental of unbelievers, but the church is expected to confront and restore believers who are unrepentant of sins.  Jesus provides a concise procedure for the confrontation and restoration of a believer in Matthew 18:15-17. Confrontation should be done carefully, meekly, and with the goal of restoration (Galatians 6:1). Churches that humbly and lovingly discipline sinning individuals will curtail a great deal of conflict in the church.

There will be times when believers might not be content with the direction or actions of those in church leadership.  When churches do not have a clear process for dealing with such concerns, people tend to create their own platforms. Individuals may begin polling others in the church, get involved in gossip, or even develop a group of “concerned people.”  So often these “concerns” are not really spiritual in nature but are born out of selfish concern for their own opinions and preferences.  Certainly, leadership should lead like selfless, loving shepherds with a servant attitude.  They should never lord their position over others (1 Peter 5:1-3). However, Hebrews 13:7,17 tells those in the church who may be frustrated that they should still respect their leaders.  Paul tells the church in 1 Timothy 5:19 that accusations against an elder (pastor) should not even be entertained without strong and sufficient evidence.  Be that as it may, leaders are not perfect and on occasion they need to be confronted, however, an individual should follow the pattern set down in Matthew 18:15-17 to ensure that there is no confusion as to where each stands and Ephesians 4:15 says that we should talk to everyone in a loving manner.

The Bible warns us that there will be conflict among and between believers.  Some conflict is due to pride and selfishness (James 4:1-10). Some conflicts come about because of offenses that have not been forgiven (Matthew 18:15-35). God has told us to always work toward peace (Romans 12:18, Colossians 3:12-15). It is the responsibility of each believer to seek to resolve any conflict. The Bible gives us some excellent advice on how to do that properly.  First, make sure that our heart attitude is correct.  We should be meek (Galatians 6:1); Humble (James 4:10); Forgiving (Ephesians 4:31-32); and Patient (James 1:19-20).  Second, we must evaluate our part or motivation in the conflict.  Matthew 7:1-5 says to remove the log from our own eye first before helping others with the speck in theirs.  Third, go to the individual (not to others) to voice your concern (Matthew 18:15). This should be done with loving care and not to just get something off your chest. Furthermore, always attack the problem rather than the person. This gives the person a better opportunity to clarify the situation or to seek forgiveness for the offense.  Finally, if the first attempt does not accomplish understanding or the needed results, go back with another person that can help with mediation (Matthew 18:16).   Always remember that the goal is not to win an argument or to get our own way; it is to win our fellow believer to reconciliation and maintain unity within the body of the church.

Please remember that as we go through these times of change, a bit of uncertainty and maybe even a little upheaval that our purpose, our mission for being a church remains the same.  To grow deeper in our knowledge and love of God and to reach farther to encounter the lost with the gospel.  Everything is done with the goal of glorifying God.  We can only do these effectively if we remain unified and deal with any conflict in a healthy Biblical way.

Only by Grace!

Pastor Mike