Some months ago, I wrote a post about why some churches have a history of only conflict. As I’ve continued to work with churches, here are some more reasons such churches remain:
- We base our conclusions on something other than the Word—or we claim the Word says something it doesn’t. Anytime we give only lip service to the authority of the Word, we set ourselves up as determiners of truth—and conflict is almost inevitable if we don’t share the same authoritative source of truth.
- We elevate less significant issues to most important ones; that is, using Al Mohler’s terms, we push third-order issues as first-order ones and then fight to protect our opinions. These battles are often marked by strong emotion and spiritual arrogance rather than self-sacrifice and unity.
- We fall in the devil’s trap of power. He who was brazen enough to offer Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” (Matt 4:8) delights when we believers fight to protect our positions and guard our “church turf.”
- We’ve not been much pressed into a position where church unity matters. We have brothers and sisters around the world who know they must stand together in unity; outnumbered and threatened, they know how much they need each other. Many of us have never been in that position.
- We speak through social media rather than with each other. I’ve seen more than one church conflict begin with a member posting something he or she would never directly say to another believer. As long as we talk to each other only through electronic means, we’re likely to be fighting congregations.
- No one’s ever taught us how to do biblical conflict resolution. Sure, someone might have told us to move beyond the conflict, but that doesn’t mean someone’s actually taught us how to resolve conflict. We don’t know what steps to take next, so we just keep quarrelling.
- We don’t really know each other in the church. We might worship together, but we sometimes don’t even know each other’s names. When people in the church are just faces, it’s easier to fight against them.
What other reasons would you add to these lists? Which of these have you most seen?
The sad thing about number 7 ( We don’t really know each other in the church) is that it can happen even in small churches and go on for years.
Churches can become embroiled in conflict over the future of the church and how to go about planning for the church’s future. I was a longtime member and leader of a church that split over these two issues. The pastor and a group of his supporters wanted to build a new, larger sanctuary. The church board wanted to reduce the church’s debt on its existing buildings before undertaking such a project. Its members proposed the formation of a long range planning committee to develop a long range plan for the church. The church was a product of the long range planning process of its mother church, the church which sponsored it when it was a new plant. That process produced a church, a church school, and an assisted living-senior retirement community. The pastor opposed the formation of such a committee. I do not know why. I believe that I was recuperating from a car wreck at the time. The church was growing rapidly with the population of the area in which it was located. It had initially built a multiple purpose building which included a church office, nursery, kitchen, two classrooms, storage space, and a large room that was used for worship and fellowship. The room was also available for meetings of community groups and organizations. The church then built an education building which was used as a early childhood development center and preschool during the week. The education building had been constructed as a part of the church’s outreach strategy. A third part of that strategy was a baseball field. That idea was shelved because the area had plenty of baseball fields. The baseball field was replaced with a soccer pitch where local soccer teams could practice and even play games. Soccer was growing in polarity in the area and soccer fields were in short supply. The church had grown from one service on Sunday morning to two, then from two services on Sunday morning and a Wednesday evening service to three services on Sunday morning and a Wednesday evening service. The pastor largely agreed to the third Sunday morning service because the parking lot could not accommodate all the cars at the second Sunday morning service. He had proposed the construction of the new, large sanctuary to avoid a third Sunday morning service. The style of worship and music at the third Sunday morning service became a thorn of contention. Promises were made and not kept. The bishop caught wind of the conflicts that the church was experiencing and insisted that it hire a consultant. The consultant’s recommendations only added fuel to the fire. The church board tried to oust the pastor and failed. The church board then resigned, then the music director, and most of the choir. The church split. After the split, the church experienced financial difficulties and declining attendance. The pastor, however, was able to persuade the new church board and the congregation to support the construction of a fellowship hall and the conversion of the multipurpose building’s large room into a permanent sanctuary. Its construction added to the church’s financial difficulties that the church ceased to be self-supporting and required subsidization. The pastor resigned. In this case the church conflicts were symptoms of underlying leadership problems. Seminary had not prepared the pastor in question to lead a rapidly growing church or to appreciate, much less, develop effective outreach strategies. he had received no conflict resolution training or long range planning training. He became the church’s pastor one year out of seminary and after an internship at a long-established, upscale city church. He had negligible experience in leading a suburban church plant and no training in leading a large church by the standards of the denomination. He had not availed himself of any additional training other than attend a preaching workshop or two after graduating from seminary. He believed that he had received all the training he needed at seminary. He had no new books on his bookshelves other than one I gave him and several books from the library of a deceased pastor whose widow gave the books to the church. They were not the kind of books that would have helped him with his ministry. They were collector’s items. I have several books from the same library, and I have put them to good use over the years. If anything can be learned from what happened, it is that seminary professors need to impress upon their students that their education and training are a continuous process that lasts throughout their ministry. The pastor in question did have his strengths as well as his shortcomings and I am not blaming him for everything that happened. And I am not blaming the seminary. However, his seminary education did not prepare him for the problems that he would face. Seminaries have adjusted their programs since that time realizing that they were not adequately preparing their graduates for real-life ministry.
One group has power and is trying to retain it while another group has none and either would like some or is upset over what the powerful group did to them.