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Curing Church Conflict

Author
Category Articles
Date August 11, 2017

The members of First Church (not the real name of the church) consistently made false accusations against one another. They would regularly throw verbal mud at one another. At times, they would even form alliances and fight against one another.

Some of their claims were silly. One elder accused a teenager of rebelliously going to the wrong Sunday school class. Even after the evidence cleared the youth, the elder insisted he was right. Some of the accusations were more destructive though. A particular leader falsely accused the pastor of lying. This charge forced the pastor to leave the church.

At this point, you may find yourself asking ‘How could Christians act this way?’ James answers the question for us in James 3:16:

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

Pastors, elders, deacons, and church members can fall into Satan’s trap of selfish ambition. It can be defined as insisting on your own way rather than seeking God’s will. Selfish ambition then motivates us to shoot bullets of slander and false accusations at our brothers and sisters.

But I have good news for you. James not only points out the problem, he also gives us the antidote in verse 17:

 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 

The answer to fighting the temptation to selfish ambition is to seek the wisdom that comes from above. In other words, we replace it by seeking God’s wisdom instead.

Please understand not all ambition is necessarily sinful and destructive. The Christian with godly ambition practices the words found in II Corinthians 5:9, ‘…we make it our aim to please Him. Or as an alternate translation has been given, ‘… we are ambitious to please Him.’

Let me now share with you how you may examine yourself and begin to root out any selfish ambition that may be growing in your own life and ministry. The first step is to give up your dream for your church. ‘What? Renounce my dream? All the church growth books tell us to dream big dreams!’

But this is the key: Seek God’s vision for your life, ministry, and church.

You find God’s dream by seeking the wisdom that comes from above. And we seek the wisdom from above through the study of scripture and through prayer.

I wonder what would happen if pastors, church leaders, and members came together and prayed this prayer: Lord, each of us now lay aside our dreams and ambitions for our church. We now seek your vision and dream. We will continue to pray until we are sure we know which direction will please you.

I am not saying that if you give up your selfish ambition and seek God’s dream everything will go smoothly, far from it.  Satan will always raise his ugly head against us. As Daniel Henderson has wisely written, ‘We do well to remember that the devil hates a praying leader and a praying church.’ (Old Paths, New Power p. 109) But having God’s purpose, mission, and dream will unite us to stand firm against the assaults of the enemy and to complete the ministry God has given to us.

Nor am I saying it is wrong to create a strategic plan but to use an old worn out phrase, we often put the cart before the horse. We plan and then ask God to bless our plan rather than seeking God for the plan in the first place.

After a pastor’s conference, most pastors go home with a degree of excitement. They may think, ‘now I know what I am going to do. I am going to start a Tuesday night prayer meeting like the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Or I am going to develop ministry teams like First Baptist in Denver. Or I am going to develop multi-campuses like Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan. Or I am going to…’ but wait a minute! Such seminars may add valuable insights but did you take the time to pray with your leaders about the direction of your church before making decisions? Or did you seek what seemed good in your own eyes rather than what God wants for your church?

I am not referring to a quick prayer at the close of your leadership meeting, or a simple round of prayer among the leaders. I am talking about taking time, setting aside time specially to wait upon the Lord in prayer and continuing to pray together until you are sure of God’s direction.

Donald McDougall has written, ‘The bottom-line objective is for the leadership to face the fact that the church of which they are part is not their church; it is God’s church. And the people they lead are not their flock but very distinctly God’s flock. The purpose of their meetings is not to come to a consensus about running the church but to wait upon God to find out how He wishes His church to run.” (The Pastor’s Prayer Life pp. 145-148)

Why do we need to pray in this matter? Because Jesus is the Lord and head of the church. And since Jesus is the Lord and head of the church, he is the most important expert we need to consult. But there’s something else. Jesus died on the cross for His church. On the cross, Jesus showed His love for her. You can, therefore, trust Jesus to lead your local church in the best possible direction.

Years ago, a church experienced exponential growth. They were running out of room and there was conflict among the leaders. The senior pastor, staff, and elders had various opinions about how to solve this problem. Over the course of several months, they gave up their individual dreams and instead they started to seek God’s direction. Together.

After several months of prayer, they finally came to complete agreement: God wanted them to start a new church in a neighboring community rather than building a bigger building where they were. Since all the leaders were united, the congregation enthusiastically got behind the project.

In the new church, there were some surprises, disappointments, and struggles but in the midst of their trials, they stayed united. They knew God called them to this ministry. That’s what can happen when we seek the wisdom that comes from above.

This approach to ministry should not surprise us. We see this very concept at work in Acts 13. The early church did not call for a strategy meeting, then ask God to bless their plan. Rather it was while they were in prayer and fasting that God revealed His plan to send Paul and Barnabas out as missionaries.

I am not suggesting some strange and mystical approach to ministry, but that we give up our selfish ambition and wait on God in prayer. In this way, we will first and foremost be seeking the wisdom that comes from above. As Henry Blackaby has written, ‘For Christians, God alone sets the agenda…The visions that drive spiritual leaders must be derived from God.’ (Spiritual Leadership p. 69)

Daniel Henderson has also written in Old Paths, New Power, ‘When leaders pray openly and honestly with their people in pursuit of the face of God, hearts are united with Spirit-imparted affection and understanding. Health overflows.’

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