You have heard the horror stories, the new pastor comes in and within a few months people are already clamoring for his removal. I will not try to tell you this never happens, because it does. I do believe it happens much more rarely than most would think and I certainly believe it could and should happen far less than it does. What causes conflict in the church? How could those (pastors & churches) that claim to love and follow Jesus be in the middle of such ugly confrontations? Certainly the fall has a lot to do with it, and as people, even believers we tend to be very self-centered and stubborn when it comes to what we think is right. I certainly do not claim to have a cure-all for the problem of conflict in our churches but below are simple reminders I would give to any minister as they begin serving God’s sheep.
· Always carry yourself with humility: We are not the great hero that has come to rescue God’s misguided people. We are to have the heart of Christ and serve always with great humility.
· Remember the qualifications: The language of 1 Timothy 3 describes the qualifications for a pastor as one that is able to walk with temperance, sober-mindedness, not violent, not quarrelsome, but gentle. Titus 1 adds that he is not self-willed, not quick tempered, but he is sober-minded, just, and self-controlled. Much conflict in our churches could be avoided if pastors would just walk in a manner worthy of the qualifications of the office they hold.
· Develop a genuine love for the sheep: Conflict will certainly arise for pastors when they see the church members as just tools to a goal rather than sheep that Jesus genuinely loves and desires to see follow Him. The greatest way to handle conflict is when people genuinely love each other they will do what it takes to work it out. We must also remember that people in churches have REAL problems that they are working through. Some of them are in rebellion against God. Some of them are dealing with the consequences of past sin, even though they have been redeemed. There are some we deal with that act the way they do because they are lost, and need us to love them enough to show them Jesus.
· Try diligently to see the other side’s perspective: When we are in the midst of a conflict it seems that we assume that the other side is entirely wrong. I have found that usually in the midst of conflict there are things that both sides could learn from each other, if they would just humble themselves and take the time to listen.
· Don’t get overwhelmed by exaggeration of the situation: As a pastor do not fall into the hype of a situation. There will be times that you hear something like, “Pastor, a lot of people are upset about . . .” The reality is normally that the person telling you the information is upset and maybe a few of their friends. It may even be that the person sharing the information is not upset but a few in the circle they associate with are upset and from their perspective it truly sounds like a “lot” of people.
· Remember not everything is worth fighting over: There are some issues that are ALWAYS worth taking a stand. The Gospel, the exclusivity of Christ, and the inerrancy of Scripture are examples. There are some issues that are SOMETIMES worth fighting over, and others that are NEVER worth fighting over. Make sure if there are going to be arguments that they are arguments worth having.
If we seek the Lord, walk in humility, remember the qualifications, and genuinely love the sheep, we can many times be used as an instrument to avoid altogether or at the very least, limit the scope and damage of conflict. How we as ministers respond to potential conflict can play a considerable role in whether or not it amounts to anything.
Proverbs 15 is one of my favorite passages when it comes to how we as ministers can help in the area of conflict management. Verses 1 and 18 are good reminders of the role we play in leading the sheep in harmony.
“(1) A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger . . . (18)A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays contention.”
I welcome your comments and questions, but just remember I am not going to fight over them!