In the upside and downside of life in God’s church, when things are going well, it’s a blessing. When we’re experiencing tension, it affects the church’s ability to grow.
God can be seen in the church through the family relationships. We all know that God is not all about answering prayers with a Yes and raining down blessings on demand. God’s desire for us is to help us grow in character and in relationships. Our characters and our relationships are the only things that will go with us to heaven, and those are parts of our lives that need constant development. However, growing is not always easy. It can be painful and frustrating. But God does not expect us to grow alone—that’s what He gave us families for! A church family is much like a biological family. The relationships can be just as complicated. But it is through these relationships that God helps us to develop as Christians and He shows Himself the most clearly.
Conflict is often thought of as a negative experience. In fact, most people avoid conflict if at all possible. It is something that cannot be avoided when dealing with people, however, especially a group of mismatched people who do not come together based on personality, but on a collective acceptance of a group of doctrines. Christians are no exception to this.
One of the things that people feel most strongly and personally about is religion. And while church members might agree on doctrine, they don’t necessarily agree on interpretations of Scripture. But conflict does not necessarily have to be a negative thing. Conflict, when dealt with in a positive way, builds stronger relationships.
First, each person must be able to speak his or her mind and to be heard. They don’t have to bottle up their feelings. Second, if they are listening to one another, they are able to see a different perspective from their own. Third, a compromise can be reached in which both parties feel they are gaining something. And fourth, a new level of trust is developed when each person realizes that they can disagree and still be respected and loved.
This kind of communication does not require both parties to agree. In fact, it sounds much like David in his Psalms. David ranted. He raged. He begged God to demolish his enemies, and in one particularly fierce verse, says how “blessed” the person is to dash their babies against the rocks (Ps. 137:9). David felt perfectly safe expressing his feelings to the Almighty God. He didn’t feel the necessity of saying the “proper” thing. He didn’t squelch his true emotions. He said it as he felt it, and God loved him for his honesty.
David’s blood lust for his enemies was not God’s. His anger and lack of mercy were not God’s. But regardless of David’s unresolved feelings, God called him a man after His own heart. Why? Because David turned to God with utter trust that God would understand him, provide him answers, and guide him, regardless of his imperfection. David knew that he could approach his God with complete honesty and still be respected and loved. It is through conflict successfully dealt with that a Christian is able to grow and develop.
The Bible refers to this experience: “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17).1 This steel-on-steel approach is not easy. Both members are solid and sparks will sometimes fly. But the end of the conflict leaves both members sharper than they were before.
This is a principle adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous. This organization stresses the need for a time when members come together and are completely honest with each other about their experience in overcoming the addiction to alcohol with openness and love. Each member is honor-bound to be honest with the other members of the group for their own benefit and growth. It is an emotional experience, but it is a part of the healing process as alcoholics attempt to put their relationships and lives back together again.
It is the honesty that brings healing, both with oneself regarding one’s own actions and with others regarding their actions. It is a system of accountability. However, not all relationships in a church family are filled with conflict. Some are nurturing the way a father or older brother would be nurturing, demonstrating for us the kind of relationship that our heavenly Father desires with us. Some are gentle and caring, the way a mother is with her children, and we can see the kind of love Jesus spoke of when He said He wished He could draw His children together like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (Luke 13:34). Some provide camaraderie, like that of siblings. Some relationships provide the kind of fulfillment when a youngster looks up to you as an example. All these different relationships demonstrate a different aspect of God’s multi-faceted character.
God created human beings to be social creatures. When He created Adam, Adam was not complete until God gave him Eve. Even Jesus gathered disciples to Himself, and when He was laboring in the garden, begging God to let this cup pass from Him, His only request of His disciples was that they “ ‘stay here and keep watch with Me’ ” (Matt. 26:38). He wanted their company, their moral support, their prayers. These are the same things that we crave as human beings, and God created us to need each other.
Relationships don’t always mimic the type of relationship God wants with us. Sometimes they force us to grow in character, and sometimes they help us to see things from a different perspective. We strengthen each other. We comfort each other. We annoy each other and we make amends with each other. As we join together, opening our hearts to our God, we realize that we don’t have to all be the same, hold the same opinions, or have attracting personality types. We are united under God.
God’s priorities and expectations are summed up in His law: “ ‘ “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” ’ ” (Mark 12:30, 31, NKJV). The church allows us to combine our love for God with our love for our neighbor. There is no spiritual experience more complete.
It is in the disruptive moments of our lives when our true depth is revealed. Then we really discover what we’re made of. We truly see the quality of our lives.
Let’s allow God to lead us in the stormy moments, as well as in the calm.2