Our church, only 16 years old, held its first evening congregational meeting last night rather than the usual Sunday after church meetings. We have four pastors who preach in rotation between us and another church we started two years ago. One of the pastors is leaving his senior position here to take a leading role in our daughter church so we needed to have an official vote to put one of the other pastors in his place.
It was a congenial meeting with lots of laughter and as many predicted, a unanimous outcome. One hundred percent of the voters said YES to this transition. There will be small changes, but rotation will continue. Everyone is okay with that.
I have been in churches that did not have that kind of unity. In one of the discourses recorded in the New Testament book of Matthew, Jesus gives instruction on what to do when conflict happens. While He is speaking of individuals, the principles apply, mostly because church spats start with individuals.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15–17)
Most conflicts can be resolved by following this process, but the problems usually begin with the first step. When someone sins against us, our human (and sinful) response is to go tell someone else what happened. We look for a sympathetic ear, a person who will justify our pain and take our side. Instead of gaining back that other person as a brother or sister in the Lord, now two people are upset. From that point, it escalates.
This is serious for several reasons. I know one family that has never seen their two grandchildren. I‘ve no idea how the rift began or who sinned against who, but all these folks are in the family of God besides being an earthly family. The idea of letting something do this to their relationship is heart-breaking.
Another reason is that in-fighting gives the world a reason to judge us as not being Christians at all. Jesus said:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35)
Choosing to be hurt, angry or bitter instead of reconciling and caring for someone who sinned, regardless of who was sinned against, gives the world a message. Instead of affirming that we belong to Jesus, they assume we are hypocrites or worse.
Another reason for following Jesus’ directions on how to heal this problem is that it will make a difference in our relationship with God. In just a few verses, Jesus says this:
“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:19–20)
Harmony means power in prayer. I see that in our church. Instead of being busy dealing with spats and selfishness, the Lord is actively hearing and answering our requests.
The directions Jesus gives are always sound and practical. Most of the time they are difficult, but the difficulty level is more to do with my pride level than anything else. If I want to be right, want to lord it over others, want to appear needy or whatever else I might think will profit me, then that attitude makes reconciliation a tough assignment, no matter what the other person may have done.
Jesus, You just make sense. At times someone comes to me with something like, “You won’t believe what she did to me” and when I stop them with, “You need to talk to her, not me” they are totally dismayed. Reconciliation is a challenge, yet You set the example. When I sin against You, You never yap to others about it. instead, You come to me and tell me what I did so I can confess and repent, putting our relationship back on track. What a wise and wonderful God You are!