Here is a list of alleged gray areas that I read that churches have conflicts over:
• Should music in a worship service be mellow or upbeat?
• Should you sing from the hymnal or use an overhead?
• What instruments are allowable in a worship service? Organ? Organ and piano? Drums, keyboards, and saxophone, along with the organ and piano?
• Is it okay to sing music composed in the last twenty years, or is it, “the older the music the more sacred”?
• Can a person sing in the choir who is not a church member? Can a person sing a solo who is not in the choir? Should the choir members wear robes? If so, what color?
• Should the Sunday school curriculum be the same for each class or can teachers choose topics?
• Should the adult classes be divided by age or topic or both?
• Should the Sunday school meet before the worship service or after?
• Should a church have adult Sunday school or one longer service?
• Should offerings be taken in Sunday school? If so, should the money be used for Sunday school materials only or budget needs or both?
• Should people being baptized wear robes or casual clothes? If robes, should the color be white or can they be another color?
• Should churches build buildings, rent public buildings, or meet in homes? If building a building, which building should be built first – the multi-purpose building or a sanctuary?
• How should the building be financed? Should you borrow money, sell bonds, or pay as you go with cash? If it is cash only, what method of fundraising is to be employed? Can outside organizations help?
• Should missionaries be supported for certain terms or for life?
• Should missionaries be given inflationary raises or should the amount of money remain the same?
• Should church planting missionaries take precedent over other medical missions?
• Should an offering be taken in church by passing offering plates or placing a box in the back of the sanctuary or neither?
• Should people simply pledge their annual giving and mail it in whenever they choose? (Stephen Davey, Wisdom for the Heart)
Even in the Book of Acts, there is one conflict after the other. In Acts 5, there is the first church battle over money involving Ananias and Sapphira. The widows in Acts 6 next stirred up a dispute. The first heretic, Simon Magnus, in Acts 8 disrupted church unity for awhile. False teachers invaded Paul’s newly founded churches in Acts 15, which required a Church Council to solve. From the conflict riddled early church we learn:
1. We Need To Expect Conflict.
Malcolm Forbes, founder of Forbes Magazine and father of Steve Forbes, said, “If you have a job without aggravations, you don’t have a job.” We could paraphrase and say, “If you have a ministry without aggravations, you don’t have a ministry.” Spurgeon, who knew much about conflict, wrote, “The Devil never beats a dead horse.” Ian Murray chronicles Spurgeon’s three great conflicts in The Forgotten Spurgeon. The last, The Down-Grade Controversy ended Spurgeon’s life and ministry prematurely.
In Galatians 2, Paul had conflict with Peter and Barnabas because of Peter’s doctrinal compromise. This conflict took place in Acts 12:25 after Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch. In Acts 15:36, Paul had conflict with Barnabas over a third party (nephew John Mark). In 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, Paul had conflict with the Corinthians because of their carnality. Paul dealt with conflict between two church members in Philippians 4:1-2. Vance Havner cleverly put it this way, “More harm has been done to the church by termites on the inside than woodpeckers on the outside.”
2. We Need To Deal With Conflict.
Paul confronted every conflict in 1 Corinthians. Conflict is like cancer, if you ignore the cancer, it only gets worse and eventually becomes incurable. John Maxwell teaches the 24-hour policy. If there is a conflict between you and someone else, try to resolve it in 24 hours. If you delay, anger and bitterness only fester and finally explode. Bob Jones Senior noted, “You must have little problems to avoid bigger problems.” Jesus taught us how to deal with the little problem before it becomes bigger in the steps He laid out in dealing with conflict in Matthew 18:15-17. If there is a conflict between you and someone else you don’t get on the phone with an urgent prayer request or spill your guts on Facebook. You go to that person “alone.”
3. We Need to Respond Properly when Rebuked in Conflicts
Peter showed his humility when rebuked by Paul in Galatians 2. Peter was not bitter with Paul as evidenced in 2 Peter 3:15, “Our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him.”
After the conflict in Acts 15:36 over taking Mark on the church’s second missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas are mentioned together by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:6. Mark eventually won back Paul’s confidence in 2 Timothy 4:11. The Corinthians also properly responded to Paul’s rebuke according to Romans 15:25-26.
Charles H. Spurgeon once had a church member who on every Monday, sent Spurgeon a card listing all the mistakes from the previous day’s messages on Sunday. How did Spurgeon respond? Did Spurgeon become defensive? No! Spurgeon corrected his mistakes and benefited from the church member’s criticism. Hence, Spurgeon preached better sermons. What have we changed in our lives because someone has pointed it out to us in the last six months? Spurgeon gave this advice to believers who are being criticized:
Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be. If he charges you falsely on some point, yet be satisfied, for if he knew you better he might change the accusation, and you would be no gainer by the correction. If you have your moral portrait painted, and it is ugly, be satisfied; for it only needs a few blacker touches, and it would be still nearer the truth.
4. We Need To Grow in Conflicts
Paul teaches us not to retaliate in Romans 12:17. About Christ when He was wrongly accused and treated, Peter wrote, “When he was reviled, reviled not again” (1 Peter 2:23). Jesus taught us to “pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Matthew Henry wrote, “There is a strange paradox in Christianity, you have such a humble Savior, and proud saints.”
On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger and its crew embarked on a mission to broaden educational horizons and promote the advancement of scientific knowledge. The most outstanding objective of the Challenger 51-L mission was the delivery of educational lessons from space by teacher Christa McAuliffe. A lesson was, indeed, delivered, but not one which anyone expected.
Just 75 seconds after liftoff, tragedy struck. Before a watching world the shuttle suddenly erupted overhead, disintegrating the cabin along with its crew. The debris of metal, blood and bones plummeted to earth, along with our nation’s glory.
What had gone wrong? That was the pressing question everyone asked. As teams of researchers examined the wreckage, the specific cause was soon found. The problem was with the O-rings (circular rubber seals), which had been designed to fit snugly into the joints of the booster engine sections. Evidently, the O-rings had become defective under adverse conditions, and the resulting mechanical failure led to the tragedy. Was that the whole story?
The truth eventually got out. The New York Times put it frankly: the ultimate cause of the space shuttle disaster was pride. A group of top managers failed to listen carefully to the warnings, advice and criticisms given by those down the line who were concerned about the operational reliability of certain parts of the booster engine under conditions of abnormal stress. Just think: heeding criticism could have saved seven human lives (The Spring 1999 issue of The Journal of Biblical Counseling, (Vol. 17, No. 3) by Dr. Alfred J. Poirier, former Chairman of the Board of Directors for Peacemaker Ministries).
From C. J. Mahaney’s writings on the subject of criticism:
- A leader can expect criticism because of his own sin, which will inevitably be present in his heart and service, no matter how mature or well meaning he is (James 3:1, 2).
- A leader can expect criticism because there are limitations to his gifting, meaning there will always be weaknesses in his leadership.
- A leader can expect criticism because we often perform below average. (After one sermon, a guy asked me, “So where do you work during the week?” My sermon apparently gave him the impression that preaching wasn’t my vocation.)
- A leader can expect criticism because people can be proud and ungrateful.
- A leader can expect criticism because, well, it is a sinful and fallen world. The world is filled with armchair quarterbacks.
- A leader can expect criticism because it is part of God’s sanctification process—a tool that he uses to reveal idols and accelerate the pastor’s growth in humility.
Over and over again in Proverbs, wisdom is linked to responding to rebukes: Proverbs 9:8: “Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.” Proverbs 19:25: “Reprove one that has understanding, and he will understand knowledge.”
Mark grew because he responded humbly to Paul’s correction. He became a helper to Paul again and then also to Peter. He finally was privileged to write one of the Gospels in the New Testament.
One of my favorite quotes from J. Oswald Sanders is my conclusion to handling conflict: “No leader is exempt from criticism, and his humility will nowhere be seen more clearly than in the manner in which he accepts and reacts to it” (Spiritual Leadership, page 177).