The church is made up of diverse volunteers with strong beliefs who come together and seek to bring about change. As such, it is an environment ripe for conflict. Wherever there are different perspectives there is potential conflict. What should set churches and believers apart from other organizations and individuals is not the absence of conflict but the reasons conflicts arise and how they are handled.
Here’s Where They’re At
When you talk about church conflict with people who don’t attend church, you may hear statements like, “All conflict especially in the church is bad,” or “Christians are hypocrites if they have conflict because they are supposed to love one another,” or “Churches have conflict because Christians are intolerant.”
Here’s Where You’re At
You understand that the church is made up of imperfect people who often have diverse perspectives, values, and beliefs on many things. But you also may believe that conflict has no place in the church, which makes all church conflict sinful. Or, you may be in denial and can’t admit when there actually is conflict.
Here’s Where Scripture’s At
Conflict, like anger, is natural. What makes conflict sinful is wrong motives for it and negative manifestations of it. We could paraphrase the NIV version of Ephesians 4:26-27 and say “In your conflict do not sin…and do not give the devil a foothold.” Jesus faced and dealt with conflict always without sin and wants us to do the same (Romans 12:14-18).
The New Testament was written to a diversity of believers presupposing conflict and often urging them to, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3 NLT). Conflict and unity can live together because unity is not uniformity. We don’t all have to think and be the same to be unified.
Sinful motivations behind conflict are bearing false witness, hatred, and gossip (Proverbs 6:19; 10:12; 16:28). James adds pride, inner evil desires, jealousy, envy, covetousness, and lust as well as judging and criticizing others (James 4:1-3, 11). Refusing to give up one’s rights, desires, or preferences in the name of unity produces sinful conflict. Qualities that should govern how conflict is manifested are humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, love, and unity in the Spirit.
Where to Go From Here
Accept that conflict is natural, but not necessarily sinful. Where you have different people you have differing values, beliefs, and opinions and therefore disagreement. Why and how we have conflict makes the difference between it damaging or deepening relationships. See conflict as an opportunity for God to teach you something, serve other people, and glorify Him. Ask, “what would glorify God in this situation? How can I respond, now that I’m in it, in a way that will please and honour God in this situation?”
Seek to understand the conflict. You can’t resolve conflicts unless you have the facts and understand the reasons. See how you have contributed by looking at what you have put first and why you want it so much. Figure out what is driving you—is it fear, love, or desire? If you are acting from sinful motives, confess and repent of it and seek forgiveness from God and others involved.
Be ready and willing to forgive those you are in conflict with upon their confession and repentance of their sinful part in the conflict. Where there is no sin involved then bear with others’ differences. Where conflict erupts and you are not directly involved stay out of it and do not take up another’s offence.
Accept that not all conflict will be resolved. People may not change their values, beliefs, or opinions. The goal isn’t to remove differences in people or have an absence of conflict, but to achieve unity and peace.