- October 22, 2008
Congregations are being torn apart by conflict. Usually, the decisions to resolve the issues are decided by majority votes. Why is there no deference to minority reports? After all, that is the ground out of which Baptists developed.
Controversy and division aren’t new to Baptists. We’re known for our many church splits. Church members divide into factions over worship style, budget priorities, church staff and more. In addition to these conflicts, Baptist church members divide over Baptist convention matters and national politics. Church conflict can result in broken hearts, as well, when even good people drop out of church forever.
How can we do better? Your question suggests the answer lies in congregations hearing and responding to minority reports when a majority vote takes place. Perhaps that would be helpful, but what we need much more is congregational spiritual health. When a congregation has spiritual health, it resolves its conflicts in Christlike ways.
What does spiritually healthy church conflict resolution look like? Sadly, models for this kind of resolution are few. Most church conflicts end up with a split or with members leaving the church. The best place to look is in the Scriptures.
The gold standard of spiritually healthy conflict resolution is Matthew 18:15-17. There, Jesus said if a fellow Christian sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he won’t listen, then take one or two witnesses along to speak with him. If he still refuses to listen, take it to the church. Sad to say, we usually do the opposite. We get upset with someone and start talking to others. Then we get a group together that’s upset. With that approach, we create a church explosion! Yet we could have avoided the church explosion by going to individuals privately and working things out.
Why do we not do as Jesus commanded? First, it’s not easy. Few of us tolerate conflict well. We find it difficult to speak with people privately about sensitive issues. It takes a significant degree of love, trust and spiritual maturity to do so. Second, we often want to defeat our brothers and sisters in Christ instead of reconcile with them. We want to win and have our view predominate. This attitude reflects a lack love, trust and spiritual maturity.
How can we promote spiritually healthy conflict resolution in our churches? We can emphasize the principles of Matthew 18:15-17. We can be honest with each other. We can look for “win-win” solutions instead of “win-lose” ones. We can emphasize reconciliation and family instead of rivalry and factions.
When we do these things, we’ll arrive at spiritual health, we’ll give a positive witness of Christ’s transforming power and we’ll grow and nurture mature believers.
Robert Prince, pastor
First Baptist Church