“You are so wrong!” I said with a sarcastic smile. “Show me in the Bible where it says that.”
“I’m telling you, it’s true,” he replied, shifting his weight impatiently.
“I’m not having this conversation with you. We can agree to disagree, but the fact is I’m right.”
“I’ll prove you wrong.” Spinning on his heel, he headed for the boys’ dorm. I’ll make you change your mind,” he called back.
I smiled, slinging my backpack over my shoulder. He’s wasting his time. I already know what I believe.
During my senior year of high school, a friend had approached me after class in the fall. He wanted to discuss current hot topics in Adventism. Eventually, talking about our desire for change within the church became a ritual. Our discussions evolved into opinionated debates that lasted for hours. Although I enjoyed intellectual conversations, I felt frustrated when his ideas didn’t agree with mine. Instead of listening, I shut down his opinions with anger and resentment. The more I thought about our discussions, the more bitter I became. Why did I feel the need to be right?
Looking back, I recognize my hypocrisy. I had focused on the negative aspects of the church. Pride took over, and I behaved in a manner that was less than Christlike.
Practical Steps to Peacemaking
Conflict is always present within the church. How do we deal with it? A recent online poll I conducted provides insight. More than 80 responses were received from a wide variety of Adventist members. When asked, “What responses have you witnessed toward internal congregational conflicts?” nearly 60 percent agreed that spiritual pride seemed evident in fellow members when disagreements arose.
In response to the second question, “Do you feel that church conflicts are dealt with in a peaceful manner?” more than 56 percent responded that church members sometimes handled conflict peacefully.
As Christians, how do we redirect the negative feelings that create obvious conflict? How do we bring lasting peace to our local congregations? The following five steps deserve consideration:
1. Recognize that no one is perfect – Because we’re all naturally sinful, comparing ourselves to one another is ineffective for peacemaking. Opinions may differ, but out approach should be filtered through Christ’s example. John 13:34-35 provides insight: “A new commandment I give to you, that you also love one another, as I have loved you. By By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” When dealing with others, always reflect Christ’s attributes and remain humble.
2. Bathe everything in prayer – Whenever there’s doubt, prayer is always the answer. Ask God to give you guidance when dealing with difficult issues. Pray for an understanding mindset that forgives and loves unconditionally. Before initiating conflict, ask for peace and a Christ-centered approach. Let go of your anger, and open your heart for God to transform.
3. Approach others directly with love – After prayerful consideration, do something you normally wouldn’t do: Go to the source, and speak face to face. Confronting someone may be uncomfortable, but God calls us to do so in Matthew 18:15: “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one” (NRSV).
Godly confrontation is needed when dealing with gossip, backbiting, personal issues, or disagreements. Above all else, remain loving and kind when confronting an issue. Work through disagreements with honesty and transparency. Most issues could be worked out in minutes if people would sit down and talk.
4. Listen – In disagreements, our first instinct is to form a defensive reply. In my survey, when participants were asked, “What improvements would create a more peaceful, loving environment in your local church?” 65 percent of the surveyors say they desired more proactive listening. Most conflicts could be worked out if we all took the time to listen. Disagreements become inflamed when people feel unheard. Proactive listening involves interest in what the other person is saying, without interruption. Showing genuine care and consideration for other opinions is an important step in creating peace.
5. Extend grace – This final step in the peacemaking process is particularly important. Grace is sacred, and the very word implies a second change being extended to the undeserving. I’ve always put grace on a pedestal, categorizing it as a gift I’m unable to give. Though I associate this word with God, I rarely include it in my daily life. However, if I practice giving grace to others, when mistakes occur, peace will be well on its way to restoration. Nobody is perfect or “deserving.” If we look through Christ’s lens, we too can show others an image that resembles His.
Results of Online Poll* (Over 80 responses from a broad range of Adventists. Conducted fall 2015.)
60% said spiritual pride seemed evident in fellow members when disagreements arose
56% said church members sometimes handle conflicts peacefully
65% said they desired more proactive listening
Miss Seeker’s Visit
Miss Seeker pulled on the door handle apprehensively. Years had passed since she’d stepped inside a church. After several bad relations and addiction, the young woman was desperately seeking forgiveness and purpose. Is there really a God? Can I escape the turmoil and ridicule often thrown my way?
Picking up a bulletin, Miss Seeker nervously entered the sanctuary. The room featured soft red 1970s carpet, brown wooden pews, and a podium surrounded by plants. Sliding into a pew toward the back, she glanced around the room, catching the eye of Mrs. Gossip. The older woman’s eyes crinkled in apparent amusement. Miss Seeker shifted uncomfortably in her mini skirt, and her gaze fell downward to her new, suede heels. Unfiltered whispers caught her ear.
“Mrs. Traditional won’t be pleased that someone’s sitting in her pew,” Mrs. Gossip said, leaning toward a friend.
“She’s clearly never been to church before,” responded Ms. Hurtful. “Her outfit is completely inappropriate for Sabbath.”
A lump formed in the back of Miss Seeker’s throat. The air became stuffy and the silence was filled with tension. Desiring less attention, she quietly focused toward the front.
The rest of the morning turned out to be equally uncomfortable. Sabbath school entailed Ms. Argumentative and Mr. Prideful’s arguing over doctrinal beliefs. Mr. Judgmental shot frequent glances in Miss Seeker’s direction, and loud whispering was heard from Mrs. Gossip. Church was nothing like Miss Seeker remembered. How can the people of this congregation help me, when they themselves won’t approach visitors?
Bringing Peaceful Change
As a pastor’s kid, I have witnessed these scenarios in church. I am ashamed to say, on several occasions I have participated in excluding visitors. It’s easy to cast judgment on others when we’re unaware of their personal journey. But as Christians we must get rid of disagreement and resentment before they consume our churches.
When peace and love are not part of a congregation, people are driven away. Without God, we have no church; no body of Christ, no truth. He is the center of everything, and if we lose sight of Him, our congregations suffer.
Can we resolve conflict and bring about peace? Yes! If we have the desire to approach others in love, immediate change will take place.
Conflict will inevitably arise on occasion, yet it’s how we respond that speaks volumes. As a 20-year-old college student, I struggle when it comes to a Christlike approach. I pray daily for an understanding heart that reflects Christ. We must put aside our wounds and pride to come together as a family. Only then will peace be restored within our church doors.
This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue of OUTLOOK magazine. To see the original, visit outlookmag.org.© 2017 - 2019 Church Support Services. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.