One particular issue was tearing a local church apart. The conflict was serious and had yet to be resolved. A conflict management expert was called in to answer the question "Can this church be saved?" Accusations flew around the room. Unchecked assumptions ruled the day. Feelings were raw and voices were raised. It was sad to watch. "This issue has created a climate of anger and mistrust!" claimed one local church member who sat around the table. "What issue created the anger and mistrust of 20 years ago?" asked the consultant
"I don't know what you are talking about?" responded the parishioner, genuinely confused.
"I have seen your local church file," the consultant reported "It is filled with letters of anger and mistrust from the past. You yourself wrote one of those letters 20 years ago saying 'This issue has created an intolerable climate of anger and mistrust in our church.' I am simply asking if you remember what divisive issue threatened to tear your church apart 20 years ago?"
"I have no idea," was the honest report
In my search to find out what is happening here, it is my opinion that no one issue will tear this church apart. This church may die because it has never learned how to fight with each other. Where ever 2 or more people occupy the same space with different opinions, you will find conflict. The apostle Paul addressed conflict in Ephesians and Corinthians. Jesus gives us a road map to conflict resolution in Matthew 18.
Maybe some folks fail to resolve conflict because, in their heart of hearts, they really like the drama. Maybe some folks want more power and control or maybe some folks are just plain mean. I really don't know but what I do know is that conflict resolution can only happen when we remember that our purpose is to make new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
The atmosphere and environment of a conflicted church will destroy our ability to fulfill our purpose. The acrimony is palpable for anyone who walks through the door. Persons from both sides will saddle up to the newcomer with questions like "are you for us or against us?" Combatants will nurture their animosity and recruit others to be on their team. These behaviors drain all energy away from the more healthy behaviors of conflict resolution.
The church for tomorrow will have conflict. The church for tomorrow will have participants who value healthy steps in conflict resolution. In the church for tomorrow, participants will not be in agreement all the time but they will be unified in their purpose to make new disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world. The church for tomorrow understands that it is time to stop the fighting and grow the church.