The following is an excerpt from my book "Becoming Love. Avoiding Common Forms of Christian Insanity". In this brief section I begin to explore how to steward conflict in church communities with love.
In the context of the Love Paradigm the Church community is a reflection of the Kingdom of God, if only as through a glass darkly. Church is a shift from temple worship to appease an angry God as experienced through the eyes of shame, to the reality of His presence, Christ in us the hope of glory as experienced through Jesus, the love of God made manifest among us. Instead of an event to perform an act of worship we become worship. We understand that we are living sacrifices and this is our spiritual act of worship.
We are placed as living stones in relationship to Jesus, the chief cornerstone to make a spiritual house. We, in Christ, as living human beings form a spiritual house, a tribe, a Royal Priesthood that is acceptable to God through Christ. That we (inclusive of all Christians) are a people belonging to God, and we in the day-to-day reality of this relationship declare the praises of Him who has delivered us from darkness into His wonderful light! This is a proclamation of the manifest wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
There is, however, the reality that we are in the process of becoming what we are already through Christ. As a natural part of the process, as we learn to love and learn to be together in community, conflict is inevitable. Tom Pyne completed his Master’s thesis on conflict from a business perspective, and focused on two kinds of conflict: 1) conflict ending relationship and 2) conflict that inspires creativity and innovation. The latter example being a very healthy and very necessary form of conflict but one which is often missing in Western evangelical / charismatic Christian circles. It seems, though unfortunate, that matters of religious disagreement often end with schism, formally like church splits or informally via factions within a body. So the tendency in many church settings is towards passive-aggressiveness by ostensibly playing nice while “respectable” politics and “power games” are at work behind the scenes. It is the preferred modus operandi because it keeps the peace (delicate though it may be) and our programs roll on, but in reality it is one of the biggest roadblocks to authentic healthy community. Why? Simply because we never really deal with our issues together, hiding our true thoughts and feelings – our very selves – from each other. Healthy community cannot form and be nurtured in this climate and the best we can hope for is some congeniality and some cooperation. I suggest Christian community is so much more!
There is a fallacy that the absence of conflict is the sign of a mature healthy community, and conversely, conflict in a church must mean it is somehow unspiritual or unhealthy. This is a completely erroneous distinction. The reality of life with real people is that we are broken people, we all have our issues and conflict is inevitable. These issues manifest themselves in a variety of ways – some of which are more socially acceptable than others. This is simply a fact of life. The demarcation of healthy or unhealthy and spiritual or unspiritual church communities is not the absence or manifestation of conflict. Through the Love Paradigm, health is determined by how we deal with conflict when it arises – and it will. How we deal with conflict will directly impact the depth to which communities can actually form and become safe places to be. To become safe communities we must embrace conflict and deal with it in love, and allow the Holy Spirit to inspire us and to heal us and give us creativity to address our personal and corporate challenges together.
The emphasis needs to be on relationship, and the path of healthy relationship is intersected by conflict. Often our church structures prefer the efficient operation of the service and programs as the ultimate goal. As such we have no time to address real issues as the schedules and demands of our “product” trump the needs of relationship. Therefore, unhealthy power will be exerted to force or manipulate parties back into their service to the machine. Positional power is often invoked along with political power to bring about conformity. Unfortunately this never deals with the issues and only drives them underground, requiring a bigger and more “violent” use of power to keep them under control in the future. This brokenness will rear its head repeatedly if not dealt with in a healthy way.
I am aware of churches with a rich history of 100 years or more, and while they have had some wonderful experiences and provided some wonderful witness, you can see the same kinds of dysfunction recur every few years and alarmingly with every generation! The review of church board meeting minutes going back over 100 years reveals the same dysfunctional way of dealing with conflict. This dysfunction is learned and perpetuated generation after generation. The players change but the pattern continues. We are in desperate need of loving and courageous men and women who will become the generational curse breakers.
Another means of avoiding dealing with conflict is through being distracted by being busy or the “new and shiny.” The old adage, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” seems to lead us to keep very busy - too busy to get into trouble. Workaholism is alive and well in evangelical Christianity, but even busyness doesn’t avert conflict and will very often inhibit our ability and resources to deal with it. Likewise, the “shiny and new” also seek to distract us from the relational issues and towards a new project, new mission, or whatever else. Unfortunately this is not unlike a married couple attempting to keep their struggling marriage together by having children. While it diverts attention from the issues, they will no doubt surface again in the not too distant future!