Being a Healthy Church Is Hard and Holy
In a healthy, Christ-centered church, love prevails.
Close your eyes and imagine being in a community where everyone is kind, caring, trustworthy, reliable, and faithful; where peace comes from learning and struggling and growing in the Love of Christ, where forgiveness restores, and new life is common. Maybe you have experienced such a community, maybe you have it now, maybe it is just a dream. This is what Jesus intended the Church to be for all people. This is why proactively managing differences and conflicts with love matters.
In reality, we tend to regard conflict as a threat, and the “fight or flight” instinct kicks in. Many of us were taught to avoid offending or upsetting others, so we didn’t learn to speak our peace well. The truth is, conflict is inevitable and unavoidable, and can even be a blessing as a way to learn and grow. Having been in the Interim process for a year now, St. Margaret’s is becoming more and more proficient in managing conflict in healthy ways. It’s still hard work!
Jesus brings the reality of conflict within the church community and the responsibility of the leaders to our attention in Matthew’s Gospel. He quotes Scripture to teach his people how to manage conflict in a way that best increases the chance of peaceful reconciliation, which is the goal of community living, and new life in God’s love.
It starts with direct communication, no triangles or gossip. If necessary, bring a couple of spiritually mature leaders, so that it is done prayerfully and with grace. If resolution still doesn’t happen, it’s usually because one party is willfully acting without regard to the negative impact of their behavior on the whole community. In Jesus’ time, that merited a public reckoning, but we don’t do that anymore. We do, however, have to face our role in the conflict and do our best to reconcile. If that fails, Jesus directs us to prayerfully come to the hard decision to basically say, “you can do that, but you can’t do it here.”
To thrive as a church in the future, we, and all churches, must decide if we will put being a healthy church with vibrant mission ahead of personalities, especially those who manifest disruptive and destructive behaviors. Then we become living proof that love prevails, forgiveness heals, and that lessons learned through managing conflict well are life-changing.
It is a beautiful thing to be among those who practice God-centered ways of speaking the truth in love, listening to the other viewpoints, and engage in the work of finding compromise, or at least mutual understanding and respect. This is what it means to be a Christ-centered church. It is holy work, and Jesus promises to be in it with us, saying, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”