Two men who lived in a small village got into a terrible dispute that they could not resolve. So they decided to talk to the town sage. The first man went to the sage’s home and told his version of what happened. When he finished, the sage said, “You’re absolutely right.” The next night, the second man called on the sage and told his side of the story. The sage responded, “You’re absolutely right.” Afterward, the sage’s wife scolded her husband. “Those men told you two different stories and you told them they were absolutely right. That’s impossible — they can’t both be absolutely right.” The sage turned to his wife and said, “You’re absolutely right.”- Dave Moore
In many church conflicts, the loudest voice wins. Unfortunately, there are bullies in congregations. Let me define what a church bully is. It is someone who lets their agenda and their need for control and power become more important than God’s mission. Those people at times use schoolyard bully tactics to get their way. They prey on the fact that church members truly have no desires to come to church and argue and fight. People come to church to be fed with God’s Word and seek avenues that they can use their gifts and talents to help advance God’s kingdom. So, in church conflicts often the bully has free reign. These power struggles play out in the life of too many congregations and the end results are good people are either hurt in the fight or become disillusioned with Christianity. The bully can take on many faces, but no matter the face, it is Satan’s way of disrupting God’s work among God’s people.
Satan uses many people to accomplish this; sometimes it is a pastor who feels the need to exercise unhealthy control over every aspect of the congregational life. You see this being played out when the lay leadership has less and less administrative oversight and the circle of power shrinks down to a faithful few committed followers. These members believe they are doing what is best for the church, but in reality, they are destroying the unity and harmony of the congregation.
Sometimes two factions of a church are fighting over something and the preacher is in the middle. Silence and inactivity give more power and credence to the bullying behavior and divisive power struggles. I hope to give you some practical ways to deal with imperfect people and broken relationship. Let me say this first: if the behavior is abusive that needs to be addressed.
The Apostle Paul addressed how to approach a divided and fighting church in the city of Corinth. They were as mixed up as any church today. Paul’s message to them in 1 Corinthians was there are three things that people who are fighting and divided need to do.
- Focus on Jesus because we are United in HIM.
Knowing they are fighting and quarreling, Paul says to them…
“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” I Cor. 1:10
In that one sentence, he reminds them that people in the church share a special relationship with one another. We’re are united under one common faith, we share one baptism, and the church has one common mission. And for that reason, we should be united around that shared relationship. If that is truly the case, there is no room in the body of Christ for fighting with each other. Instead, we should come together in Christian fellowship to strengthen each other, not to tear each other down.
- Focus on Jesus instead of other people.
Paul says, here’s what I hear is happening there: some of you are saying ‘Paul is your man.’ Some are saying that you follow Apollos. Some of you say you follow Peter, and some of you are even misusing the name of Jesus by splitting off from everyone else and saying, ‘We follow Christ alone.’ The Church isn’t supposed to be like this. Jesus died for us, and we were baptized into Him, not into any mere man.
Paul’s point was that Christians are supposed to follow Jesus and not other people. When you follow someone, eventually they’re going to let you down because they’re inadequate when compared to Jesus. You may be attracted by someone’s personality or something else they have or do well, but they’re still human and will eventually fail you. Others may not be as enamored with another church leader as you and they see his or her flaws and sins, and then you get the situation that Paul condemned in Corinth: people rallying around leaders instead of gathering around Jesus.
The temptation for leaders in the church is to build a sort of “personality cult” around ourselves. We all want to be liked. The more people heap praise on us the more we begin to crave it and tend to lose sight to whom belongs the glory. So It becomes very tempting to craft our message in often subtle ways so that we come off more holy than we are. It may come across as if the leaders don’t struggle with sin as they condemn the sins of those not like us. It becomes tempting to set ourselves up as the example for people to follow. It is here we need to be reminded we preach Christ and him crucified. Or to say it as a true Southerner, “It Ain’t about me, It’s about Him!”
- Focus on Jesus and on what he wants us to do.
Paul told the Corinthian Christians, in effect, “I don’t care about who baptized who. I was just doing what God asked me to do—preaching the Gospel. I don’t care who gets credit; I was just following my orders.”
What God wants from us can be summed up in two words — faithfulness and fruitfulness. God wants us to be faithful to him: to worship and honor him with all our heart, mind, soul.
And God wants us to be fruitful for him too. One can be faithful and still miss the boat as far as being fruitful. God’s desire is to transform us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) and make us as fruitful as He was. We want to always be ready to “give an account for the hope that is within you” (1 Peter 3:15). We desire to be the “good soil” Jesus spoke of in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:3–9. The result of spiritual fruitfulness is that as God is glorified, we grow, and others are introduced to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the ultimate fruitfulness for a child of God.
We’re imperfect people, and so our tendency is to be selfish and self-centered. Our goal is to see things from Christ’s point of view, that is only possible through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and prayer.