Ten things that can cause church conflicts to get out of hand
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Conflict is not necessarily bad, but the way it’s handled can
be bad. Where there are no conflicts there probably aren’t real deep
Chuck Lawless shares ten
things that contribute to conflict in churches getting out of hand.Originally posted by Chuck Lawless
Some years ago, I was a
volunteer firefighter. It was amazing to see what could happen when a tiny
spark ignited a small blaze that could quickly become a roaring fire. Given
the right conditions, a spark could lead to absolute destruction.
That happens in church
conflict, too. Here are 10 “right conditions” for escalating conflict in a
The church is made up of sinners. That’s the case, of course, and that fact won’t change.
Sinful people are naturally selfish and divisive. Sanctification sometimes
takes a while to correct these tendencies.
Members care about something. This
“condition” might seem strange, so hear my point. Some conflict in the
church heats up in direct proportion to how much people care about some
issue in the church. Their care may be misdirected, and their sense of
ownership may be problematic – but they fight for something precisely
because they care about it that much.
The church has no “up front” relational expectations. The churches I know that deal well with conflict are
usually those who teach how to deal with relational conflict as early as their membership
class. The church that ignores these potential issues
Nobody’s praying for unity. Jesus prayed this way in John 17:21 – “May they all be
one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us,
so the world may believe You sent Me.” If Jesus prayed that prayer for His
followers, we, too, should be praying for this unity.
Church leaders have not taught biblical principles for conflict
resolution. Matthew 18:15-20 is
a starting point. Putting others before self (Phil. 2:3) obviously matters.
Believers who don’t know what the Bible teaches about reconciliation will
follow the ways of the world – and the way of the world is often, “I want
Leaders do not address legitimate concerns. At times, the concerns that church members raise are
legitimate. When church leaders blatantly ignore those concerns, nonchalantly
hear them, or superficially address them, the conflict is not resolved. Its
resolution is only delayed.
Conflict is not separated from emotion. I think, for example, of battles over worship styles.
These preferences are so connected with emotions that it’s often difficult
to separate the two. Conflict escalates because emotions heat up.
People operate in secret. You know the scenarios. Anonymous complaints. Unsigned
letters. Behind the scenes meetings. Opposition rallies cloaked as “prayer
meetings.” It’s all secretive – and it’s often demonic.
People listen to gossip. Once
conflict begins, it’s often fueled by rumor and innuendo. Those who spread
the rumors are acting in sin, but so are those folks who stoke the coals by
listening. As long as anyone listens, the fire spreads.
Nobody carries out church discipline. It would be ideal if all conflict were resolved before
discipline became necessary. The Bible, though, assumes that churches will
take necessary steps to deal with troublesome members. If the church
doesn’t do so (or, if they do so, but in an unbiblical or uncharitable
way), they prolong the conflict.