Conflict and the Church

When was the last time you attended a perfect, conflict-free church? Why is it that every church seems to struggle with conflict in one way or another? The easy answer is that church is made up of imperfect humans who will always deal with their sinful natures.

Still, this answer doesn’t seem quite satisfactory. It ignores the fact that God created the church and could have made His examples on earth to be without conflict. Instead He chose to use something that is very flawed and human.

If this is indeed God’s choice, it must be that He in His infinite wisdom had a purpose for conflict.

The Purpose of Conflict

In his book The Peacemaker, Ken Sande defines conflict as “a difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires” (Sande 29). Most of us probably feel that we’ve had enough experience with conflict to not require a definition. We don’t need to know what it is; just how to stop it. But what if that approach to conflict misses something very important?

An opportunity to glorify God.

Isn’t this what we were created for? What if we have been getting so caught up in trying to escape conflict that we have completely missed a chance to fulfill our purpose in life?

But how exactly does it work? How does one bring glory to God through something like conflict?

Types of Conflict

Conflict can be divided into two categories: healthy and unhealthy. Both must be dealt with in different ways, and both provide unique opportunities to glorify God.

Healthy conflict produces fruit and changes lives. It calls us to reevaluate our position. The motivation behind healthy conflict is the betterment of everyone involved.

Healthy conflict honors God when, through it, we allow truth to shape and grow us. We must be willing to consider that we might be wrong in order for this to happen. Then, if we are in error, we need to admit our mistake and make the appropriate changes. This allows us not only to correct an error but also to grow in humility. If the other person is at fault, we must be willing to take a stand for the truth remembering that things which do not contradict Scripture may not be worth pushing too hard.

But what about unhealthy conflict?

Sadly, our fallen nature has made this the norm. It is when the parties involved have let their own sinful natures get between themselves and the truth. Conflict of this sort usually ends with hurt feelings, broken relationships, and regret.

Is there any hope for these situations?

Focus on God

When we experience conflict, our natural tendency is to become self-focused. What do I think? What do I feel? What do I want? These responses will only lead to more conflict. Instead, the first question we should ask is, “What does God want?” Obeying God in these situations will bring Him glory and ensure the best possible outcome.

Imitating Jesus’ example is another way to bring God glory. Jesus often experienced conflict in His life and in each circumstance He had the perfect response. Maybe the most telling account of this is Jesus’ crucifixion. Despite being hated and even tortured for speaking truth, He was able to say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus’ life is to be the example by which we pattern ours.

Acknowledging God’s work in your life is probably the most impactful way you can bring Him glory through conflict. When you respond in way that is Christ-like and unselfish, people will take notice. This type of response will demand people’s attention. It provides the perfect opportunity to bring God glory by pointing others to Him. Make it very clear that your response was a direct result of God’s work in your life and that none of it was in your own power.

Focus on Others

Conflict also provides an excellent opportunity to serve others. One way to do this is to show mercy, especially to a person’s area of weakness. When in a conflict with someone else, pointing fingers at their mistakes will only make things worse. By showing mercy, you give more than what is deserved, just as Christ has done for you.

You can also serve others in times of conflict by helping them to recognize the real problem. Quite often, it has little to do with you. With this approach, you become allies against a common issue rather than opponents. Keep in mind that the problem may be two-sided or yours alone.

Focus on Growth

Finally, experiencing conflict gives you a chance to grow. James wrote in his epistle, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1:2) There is nothing that tries our patience more than a difficult person, and yet God’s word says that we should see it as an opportunity.

Use conflict as a gauge to measure your growth. Sande says, “Every time you encounter a conflict, you will inevitably show what you really think of God” (Sande 33). Your response will show if you truly trust God and his Word or if you still have work to do.

The truth is that we will never have perfect churches. God knew that and intended it to be this way. He knew that conflict would facilitate a chance to grow, to serve, and to rely on Him for strength. When we find ourselves in a conflict, it doesn’t mean we’ve lost the fight. It means we’ve discovered an opportunity to win.

Josh's Bio Pic Joshua Blank is from NYC, but will be living in Boston for the next four years where he will be attending Sattler College. He enjoys learning, living in the city, good discussions, and anything related to music. He is hoping to use his business degree as an opportunity in foreign missions.

Bibliography

[1] Sande, Ken. The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. Baker Books, 2004

5 thoughts on “Conflict and the Church

  1. Wow, great article, Josh! I normally really dislike conflict, but you give such a great perspective on it…maybe I will be able to see the opportunity in it next time! Best wishes as you head off to Sattler.

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  2. Wow, I didn’t expect to scroll down and see you as the author. Thank you for writing! I have been thinking about conflict in the church and this article helped me to know how to view and deal with church conflict. I especially liked how you pointed out that we need to evaluate if we are just being focused on ourselves. Your conclusion really hit home for me: “When we find ourselves in a conflict, it doesn’t mean we’ve lost the fight. It means we’ve discovered an opportunity to win.” This was a good article and I may just pick up the book sometime! Keep up the good work and hope you are enjoying Sattler.

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