Church conflict inevitably happens since their populations are made up of "flawed saints." I am currently involved in consulting with a number of congregations walking through conflict and the thing that grabs my attention time after time is that those who claim to love Jesus are quick to damage His bride - the church - when they don't get their way in the church. Here is the irony: many are willing to trash, divide, hurt and engage in unholy conduct in the church (Jesus' most precious possession) and yet claim to love the Lord of the church. It is not compatible, it does not compute and God is not pleased!
I am not saying that important issues in the church must sometimes be addressed, even when it makes others unhappy. However, when our actions, words, attitudes and conduct violates what Jesus has to say about those issues, we have crossed a line into sin. Our cause may be righteous but if our conduct is sinful we are in the wrong and the loser is the church and the reputation of Jesus. Spiritual issues must be dealt with in spiritual ways. When they are not we have crossed a dangerous line.
Many of us have an inadequate view of the place and theology of the church in God's plan. According to Scripture, the church is the bride of Christ. He has placed His whole plan for the salvation of the world at the feet of the church as His chosen instrument to reach the world. Further, He loves the church and members of the church are members of "His body." As His bride, His reputation is wrapped up in the conduct of the church. Trash the church and you trash His reputation. Divide the church and you divide His body. Be careless about preserving the unity of the church and you are playing careless about His bride.
Think about this: if someone violated your children or tried to destroy or hurt your family you would hold them responsible for the damage they inflicted. Why do we think Jesus is any less grieved and angry when people are careless about their conduct in the church that results in damage to His family? And to make it worse, it is members of His family hurting His family! To top it off, it is people He redeemed who are hurting others who He redeemed.
The reputation of Jesus is either lifted up or brought down by the conduct of His church. One of the greatest proofs of His transformation in our lives is our ability to disagree with one another while continuing to love one another and refusing to hurt each other in the process. Acts 15 and the council of Jerusalem gives us a good example of Christian leaders working out disagreements while retaining their Godly character. There was robust dialogue which resulted in conflict being resolved in a godly way. However, when our disagreements result in sinful behavior toward one another we are not only trashing each other but we are trashing our Lord - strong words but true.
When dealing with conflict in the church we ought to ask several key questions:
One: How do we address the issue without hurting the bride?
Two: Does my conduct in any way move away from the christian character I have been called to?
Three: What other Godly individuals can we call in to help us negotiate our issues when we come to an impasse or are we afraid of accountability?
Four: Are we together living out the teaching of Philippians 2:1-5, along with the example of Christ?
Five: Am I coming at this issue from a spirit of humility or pride?
Six: Do I have bitterness and anger in my heart toward anyone on the other side?
Any church engaged in conflict needs to think deeply about these words of Paul. "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-5)."