By Stewart Holloway
One of the nastiest tools in the Enemy’s arsenal is church conflict. Such conflict brings a lot of heartache and can stifle a church’s ministry for years – or even stop it all together. In some ways, church conflict is inevitable – the enemy will come against your church. However, church conflict does not have to be destructive. If you are prepared in advance, you can handle it appropriately.
Therefore, I want briefly to share some principles for handling conflict in the church from 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. If there is no conflict happening in your church right now, consider this preventative maintenance. If there is conflict in your church, well, you can use this today!
Key leaders can save the church from destruction. Chloe was that person in Corinth. She was a merchant lady in whose home the Church at Corinth likely met. Chloe wrote Paul asking him questions about some problems that had developed. DO not think of Chloe as a gossiping bitty. She was a concerned church leader. People like her are in every church. They may or may not have the leadership positions, but they can rise up as key leaders in difficult times. These saints of God are wise enough to see problems and find help. They are wise enough to handle issues appropriately before they get out of hand. A lesson I learned years ago and have tried to teach to the two churches I have pastored: Conflict always begins as a spark, never a raging fire. When that spark occurs, as a leader, you can either pour water or gasoline on the spark. I would encourage all of us to be the kind of leader who picks up the bucket of water and seeks to save the church from destruction.
Most churches facing conflict have the opportunity to hear and heed advice. Whether the advice comes from people within the church, denominational leaders, or former pastors, the advice is generally good and objective. I would seek advice from several sources to get a consensus idea. Unfortunately, many churches end up splitting because they fail to heed this advice. With Paul’s letter, the Church at Corinth has the opportunity to prevent disaster.
To deal with church conflict appropriately, you need to know the real issue. The surface issue is seldom the real issue. Desire for a position of service masks personal pride. Requests for multiplication of leadership can mask personality conflicts. Theological debates mask power struggles. Concerns over “cultural compromise” mask personal preferences. And on and on. Paul cuts to the heart of the issues at Corinth, revealing a spiritual problem. Ask the tough questions and get to the heart of the issue.
Begin where everyone can agree – everyone’s common relationship with Jesus Christ and the common message they share because of Christ. A church may agree on nothing else, but they can agree on these two matters. Unity is not based on the fact that we belong to the same organization, the church, or have the same gifts. Unity is based on the fact that we have the same Lord! Distraction from the gospel underlies all disunity.
With a common relationship in mind, call people to the common message they share despite their differences. We do not need uniformity; we need unity. Think of music. While unison singing is nice, harmony is much richer. In harmony, each part of the group is singing different notes – maybe even different words or sounds – but they are still saying the same thing with no division as a perfectly united group. Men, women, boys, girls, sopranos, altos, tenors, basses, join to say the same thing in harmony. But harmony can never be achieved unless there is perfect unity in mind and thought. If one person in a choir is singing “Amazing Grace” while another is singing “How Great Thou Art,” you’ll have a mess. But if everyone is singing the same thing and is focused on the same thing, then you have a thing of beauty. A church is united by their shared relationship with Jesus Christ and their common message.
Churches must be unified. Everyone will not always agree on everything, but, at the end of the day, we must come back to our relationship as brothers and sisters in Christ and stand before the cross and its message of the gospel and say, “Lest the cross be emptied of its power, we will be united.”
Stewart Holloway is senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Pineville.