The Church that Jesus is building will be one noted for an extreme and powerful love. A practical, every day, hands-on love for each other within the fellowship. And, a love for those not yet part of the family and thus unsaved.
It is sad to say that this love is, at times, not seen or experienced. Some would say, seldom seen and experienced. Within the Church there is often conflict and instead of walking it through and solving it in a biblical and thus loving way – we often see people leave. Some will go elsewhere and others will simply give up on the Church although still claim to be believers. The church becomes known for their “fights to the bitter end” instead of working biblically and seeing the “fight to a better end.”
The truth is, conflict cannot be avoided in real community. It is not only a part of life; it is especially a part of life together. The only place where people are together and conflict does not exist is the cemetery. There is nothing in the Scriptures that suggests we are to deny or avoid conflict. Quite the opposite, actually. Instead of being admonished to avoid it, God’s Word tells us that we are to expect it and also how to handle it. Conflict is not a sin, but all sin leads to conflict. The Bible encourages us to lean into our relational troubles. It is shocking how conflict avoidance is what often takes place which results in wounded, inauthentic relationships.
As a result, the biblical call to unity and oneness as well as the call to be ministers of reconciliation is not answered. Instead of being examples of forgiveness, unity, and love we bear the fruit of shallow relationships and fractured friendships. We talk a lot about our love for and commitment to one another, but we seem to struggle to demonstrate these things when they require forbearance, humility, forgiveness, and selfless communication in moments of awkwardness or conflict.
Simply put, we are awkward in our handling of the awkwardness between us.
This is taking a toll on people’s willingness to come to our churches. And, those who are attending do not experience the fullness of what Christ wants for them in the Church. The Barna Group found that some of the main reasons people avoid church are the painful experiences they have endured within a local church context. The article noted that among unchurched adults, nearly four out of every ten non-church going Americans said they avoid churches because of negative past experiences in churches or with church people. People around us are offended because the people within our church body are not fully devoted to all that Christ’s Word teaches us about dealing with offences. And, they do not see the love that Jesus said we are to have for one another.
This lack of conflict resolution is sad. The resulting lack of trust results in surface relationships where people are no longer willing to share anything personal or anything that is important with others in the church. So, in the long run everyone suffers – not just the few who are in conflict. This is really sad as it is in the Church that the world should be able to come, learn, and watch people from every tribe, nation, gender, and socioeconomic stratum live in peace with one another. Not without conflict as there will always be conflict when people and churches are growing and moving forward in the things of God. But, in the midst of conflict, seeing believers deal with each other in a loving, forgiving, and reconciling way.
I am involved in a local church as the trans-local apostolic overseer. For the past few years there has been a great deal of conflict. It started between leaders – but did not remain there. It started over small misunderstandings – but soon grew into major proportions. It started with people assuming things and not checking out their assumptions. Near the time went the eldership was dissolved many had been defiled by individuals on the eldership speaking to others instead of to each other. At the end, as announcements were made that two of the elders and their families were leaving the church, others had already left and others would soon leave because of the gossip and back-bitting and actual politicking of the elders who were leaving. In fact, I was aware of the talk and defilement that was being spread as one of the elders told me five months before he left that he was already telling others that he was planning to leave.
From the beginning of my involvement in the conflict I kept say, “Just go talk with each other and sort things out.” But, because those who were on the eldership were all “friends” they did not want to upset each other. Of course, what I shared at that point came true. By not sharing and dealing with issues you will destroy the ‘friendship’ or relationship that you do have. And, that is what has happened. Oh, as they announced they were leaving they commented on how much they love the church – yet, even after leaving, they continue to speak against the leader and some of the new leadership. That is not love no matter which way you slice it.
It is time that we learn how to build the Church in such a way that it is a safe place to have decent, in-depth relationships. It is time to learn how to really love one another. It is time to learn how to seriously forgive each other and deal with offences. It is time that we learn how to humble ourselves and move forward past the relational conflicts and resulting woundedness.
It is time to be the Church that Jesus is building.