Can’t We Just Get Along: Addressing Conflict in Ministry
Does Unity Mean Absence of Conflict?
If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have probably heard a sermon or Bible study lesson on unity within the church. Jesus places tremendous value on unity in John 13:35 when He tells the disciples that “all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one other” (ESV). Unity is essential within the church if it expects to grow and enjoy health.
However, the most important principle I have learned concerning unity in the church is this: unity does not mean absence of conflict! Serving in a ministry setting that is devoid of conflict is not the goal. Often, a complete absence of conflict in a church or ministry is a sign of great apathy (generally, people do not argue about issues in which they have no interest). Instead, the goal is to learn how to address conflict biblically and to lead others to do the same.
We Don’t Have Time for This!
If you have talked about challenges in ministry with seasoned ministers, they may have mentioned the persistent presence of conflict among those with which they minister. You may have already observed conflict in the church, but even if you have not, you will not be in ministry for long before you do. Do not let that discourage you.
Second Corinthians 5:19 states that the gospel is about God reconciling the world to Himself. In that same passage (v. 18), the apostle Paul states that God has given His people the ministry of reconciliation. The gospel ministry is the ministry of reconciliation…helping reconcile people to God. As people are reconciled to God, they can also be reconciled with each other. As you serve, do not consider addressing conflict as a hindrance to ministry…embrace it as a significant part of your ministry. As you help others resolve conflict biblically, you are engaged in the ministry of reconciliation.
What’s Wrong with These People?
As you embrace God’s calling on your life, you are probably eager to see Him use you in some specific way to reach the world for Christ. You may become frustrated by the presence of conflict, because addressing it requires time and energy that could be used to fulfill the Great Commission. Why does conflict occur so frequently? What are its causes among believers? Here are four causes of conflict:
1. Spiritual warfare
In Ephesians 6:12, the Bible clearly teaches that opposition ultimately comes from Satan and the forces of evil. Keeping that principle in mind will enable you to understand where the real fight is anytime conflict is present.
2. Sinful motives
While the fight ultimately is a matter of spiritual warfare, people are still involved. Second Timothy 2:26 says that those who stand in sinful opposition have been taken captive to do Satan’s will. Verses 24-25 of that chapter tell you how to respond to those people.
3. Lack of communication
While much conflict is rooted in sin, sin is not the source for all conflict. Often, conflict occurs because important information was not communicated clearly. Assuming others know or assuming they do not need to know can cause well-meaning people to become frustrated and even obstinate. They may question your motives. Seek to communicate clearly and completely.
4. Absence of effective policies
Those in ministry can avoid much conflict through effective use of policies and procedures. While you may have no interest in such (boring) matters, taking the time to clarify issues in your ministry’s policies, including addressing potential problems and points of misunderstanding, can save you much time and grief in the future.
Written by Marcus Brown, Assistant Team Leader of the Evangelism and Church Health Team, Arkansas Baptist State Convention