Christian Collision: Conflict in the Church

If there is anything that is certain in life, it is that broken people have conflict with one another. We are all broken people. Sin has affected every area of life and we all experience conflict from time to time. The Church, made up of broken people, is not exempt from conflict. An observation and a question results from the realization that we will experience conflict.

Observation: Conflict has been a part of the Church from the beginning

Acts 15:35-41: Summary of the account – Paul and Barnabas, committed Christians, separate in an ugly disagreement over John Mark’s involvement in their missionary endeavors. What can we observe?

  • Conflict happens to committed Christians too
    • Paul and Barnabas were mature believers. They cared for people and desired to see Gospel change occur in the lives of others. Both were active in teaching the Scriptures (.v35) Both had been used by the Church to advance the Gospel and impact communities through their missionary travels.
  • Conflict is driven by our selfish desires
    • Sometimes selfish desires are difficult to discern from godly desires. Paul desired to embark on another missionary journey to revisit fellow believers in the cities he and Barnabas traveled in the past. This is a noble desire; perhaps a right desire.
    • Desires, held too tightly, result in conflict. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them as they traveled on this missionary journey. The response by Paul gives us some insight into what he was thinking. Paul was insistent that Mark not join the team (v.38). The conflict that resulted was based in selfish desires. The reason for Paul’s insistence was that Mark had deserted Paul and Barnabas in the past and not continued with them to work with them in their missionary endeavors. What might have been some of the idols of Paul’s heart?
      • Idol of efficient ministry – sometimes it’s just easier to do it yourself than rely on others to try and fail
      • Idol of embarrassment – when partners in ministry fail, it’s embarrassing. Avoid the person, avoid the embarrassment
      • Idol of expectations – It’s a difficult thing to invest heavily in someone and then see them walk away from the task given to them. It just becomes easier to not invest at all to avoid any disappointment
      • What others do you think might have been clouding Paul’s Christian vision?
  • Conflict, handled improperly, leads to death in relationships
    • Paul was so insistent, as was Barnabas evidently, that this dynamic duo separated without resolution (v.39). When either party is not dealing with conflict correctly, separation is always the result. It may not be physical separation always, but separation in relationship occurs. Avoidance happens. Avoiding the topic of conflict, living together but separate, sitting on the other side of the church, and being part of a team but dis-unified are all results of conflict handled poorly.
  • Conflict does not diminish God’s plan and purpose
    • God is greater the total sum of his children. Thank God for his working in our lives despite our character! Barnabas would end up taking Mark and heading toward Cyprus. Paul partners with Silas and traveled through Syria and Cilicia.
  • Conflict can be handled correctly and relationships restored
    • The resolution of the conflict between Paul & Mark is seen most evidently resolved at the end of Paul’s life. 2 Timothy 4 records that Paul desires to be with Mark once again, giving this evaluation of Mark: “…he is useful to me for service…” God continues to work in the heart of his children who remain submitted to the Spirit and the Word.

How should conflict be viewed within the Church?

  • Conflict is a redemptive opportunity
    • In the letter that James wrote, he exhorted his readers to view various trials as opportunities of Christ-like growth.
    • Ask, “Why am I in this conflict with this person at this time?” God brings opportunities to his children in various ways. Part of the method of our sanctification is seeing how tightly we hold to our selfish desires. Then we are given the opportunity to respond in humility and grow in Christ-likeness
    • Tim Lane, in his booklet on Conflict, reveals three typical types of behavior that can be employed to satisfy one’s selfish desires:
      • Win – This strategy is typically chose by people who like power, success, or comfort. This person hates failure, discomfort, and being out of control.
      • Please – This strategy is typically favored by people who need approval. They tend to be quick to agree and have a hard time saying no because they fear rejection. They are often over-committed
      • Avoid – This strategy is typically used by people who want approval or comfort. Living alone has benefits for this person: no possibility of rejection and no discomfort!
    • What strategy do you think Paul employed? Barnabas? You?
  • Conflict must be examined biblically
    • Later in his letter, James would plainly ask for the source of all our quarrelsand conflicts.
      • We need to examine what desires are popping to the surface in our conflict.
    • We also need to examine how we are interacting with the other party in our conflict. Are we acting in humility and with an “others-centered” mindset? What is our speech like? Is it wholesome and building up or is it tearing relationships apart?
  • Conflict must be resolved biblically
    • The hope of all Scripture is that conflict can be resolved. The greatest example is God himself in his conflict with us. 2 Corinthians 5 demonstrates a God is all about reconciliation. He not only reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, but gives us a ministry of reconciliation with the equipping of the word of reconciliation.
    • You can be a peacemaker because God made peace with you and modeled how you are to make peace with others. Perhaps the key ingredient in peacemaking with others is the idea of “moving toward” other individuals in love. When we understand how God’s grace and forgiveness and love has impacted us, we then can extend grace and forgiveness in love toward others.

Chance to Interact: What resources of conflict resolution have you used successfully?

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