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Monday, January 17, 2011

Wherever Two or Three Are Gathered...

Wherever there are two or three gathered, there is Christ...and there is conflict!

Prior to the 5th and 6th chapters of Acts, the opposition against the Christian movement was largely from the outside. It's easy for us to idealize the early church, thinking that it was free of significant internal disagreement and conflict. But people are people in the first and the 21st century and not only is Christ present when two or three of us get together, but there's also disagreement! That's what happened when the church began to grow and included a diversity of people. People gathered in Christian community from different ethnic-racial groups, languages and from a lower socio-economic condition and conflict erupted!

While we are aware of the role of decline in a local church that causes conflict, having significantly grown church in my ministry, I'm aware that conflict results when a church grows, too!

"Who are these people and why are they here?"

"I don't know everyone anymore!"

"Things just aren't the same here anymore!"

As a church that was growing, we had problems; we called them "good problems," like not enough parking, seating, coat space, Sunday School rooms, etc. As the church grew, it also attracted a diversity of people with different theological perspectives, racial-ethnic backgrounds, religious traditions, socio-economic conditions. These differences created challenges for the church to include all who needed community and their spiritual needs met. A clear focus on the purpose of the Christian movement as well as the distinct leadership gifts was essential in order to deal with their good problems.

One way or the other, differences and conflict occur when two or three of us get together, even in Christ's name. We need to stop beating each other up for that reality. Keeping our focus, recognizing each other's gifts, and including all into our midst of Christian community transcend time, people and context.

Please don't give us the gory details about the conflict, but what do you see has important in moving a community of faith through the inevitable differences and disagreements that occur when two or three of us get together?


Lausten North said...

I have seen things go well when the proper balance is struck between the pulse of the whole congregation and the sense leadership has of where things should go. Sometimes one person has a great idea and everyone follows it and other times great ideas bubble up from the grass roots. I don’t have a simple answer, but watching for when those two come into conflict is a key. Resolution can be found by polling the congregation, small group discussions, exploratory committees and similar means.

It is easier to spot once the conflict has become institutionalized; i.e. nomination committees that keep the leaders in place, committee leaders that don’t use proper rules of order and people talking about others who aren’t present. More individualized means are usually necessary such as getting leaders to better understand and listen to the pulse of the congregation.

The title you used comes from Matthew 18:15-20. I review it often. Although sometimes referred to as “dealing with sin”, this passage can be applied to dealing with anyone who is not aligned with the mission of the church.

Anonymous said...

Moving a group of people through their disagreements can be quite challenging. However, I truly believe that more often than not, a greater finished product comes from working through the disagreements and finding some acceptable common ground, compared to implementing an idea that does not generate any opposing viewpoints.

As a basic illustration, if blue and red hadn't ever mixed together, we wouldn't have purple. I suppose, for me, ever looking for the purple helps me help others move through the disagreements and on to something that could be pretty neat.

Of course, having a common and clear focus as a group, and taking each step respectfully is critical; but looking for (and believing in) what could be stronger thanks to the diverse opinions that helped shape it can help the disagreements and differences become life-giving rather than destructive.

Gary Korsgaden said...

Gary Korsgaden Said: The committee function of any organization allows for a sounding board for ideas that are brought forward for the main governing council to approve. Once approved the idea must go forward as reccomened, any changes must be brought to the orginating committee for review before changes become enacted.
Plain and simple, a conduit of good communication processes be practiced to minimise misunderstanding or hard feelings.

emacaulay said...

Our church is talking about the inevitability of conflict. We've worked Matthew 18 and begin every meeting with a reading of each committee's behavior covenant. It's working. By normalizing conflict and putting it on the table, we are more able to learn from it. One of our stated commitments is to "disagree without lasting wounds". At our recent annual look-back, we affirmed our progress in this area, and named our willingness to interact in ways that don't rip at the Body as one of the key reasons for growth and vitality.