Conflict and Ministry

In my ideal Christian world, all those I like and admire would be in perfect agreement on every matter of importance. This is not the real world I inhabit, of course. In the real world, good Christian men and women disagree over a great many things, and sometimes the disagreements can become sharp conflicts.

How should we deal with these situations, especially when the conflicts revolve around ministry, and involve our leaders? I was helped by a John Piper sermon called "Barnabas: The Weakness of a Great Leader". I'll highlight a few of his points, and add some comments of my own.

"The ministry is made up of many judgment calls, and we will have to learn to disagree on some things without rancor or bitterness or resentment"

One unfortunate tendency is for conflicts over ministry style to descend into character attacks. It's not surprising - we care deeply about ministry, and we get upset when it is done in a way that we consider unhelpful or wrong. It is easy to become frustrated and start feeling that the other person is being intransigent or even malicious. As Piper says, we need to remember that there are a lot of judgement calls in ministry. The other person is not being deliberately obstinate - they simply have a different opinion, and that needs to be respected. We need to learn to disagree in a mature fashion, always assuming the best of those we are at odds with. And if we decide a ministry is not heading in a direction we want to support, we need to depart in a way that, as much as possible, preserves goodwill on all sides.

"Every strength has its corresponding weakness"

A ministry partnership can be a bit like a marriage. There may be a honeymoon-like period where we are dazzled by our partners outstanding qualities, but over the course of time we will become increasingly aware of their shortcomings. This awareness is made more acute by the inevitable periods of stress. In a ministry partnership, as in a marriage, only a charitable spirit will enable us to resist disappointment and disillusionment.

It's worth realising that personal strengths very often have a corresponding weakness, and the greater the strength, the more pronounced the weakness will be. One man might be a very gentle pastor, but lacks the courage to challenge anyone on moral issues. Another might be a bold evangelist, but lacking sensitivivity in one-on-one interactions. The better you get to know someone, the more you will see their flaws, and the more grace you will need to extend.

"Therefore we need each other's different strengths and mustn't envy one another but rather give thanks for God's wisdom"
It follows that we should be careful about judging the failings of others, because we all have our own weaknesses. If they don't seem as great as the weaknesses of others, that's simple a failure of self-perception! It is a great foolishness to stand in judgement over our brothers and sisters, deciding who is and who isn't "fit" for God's work. The truth is that we are all broken and weak, and we all stand by God's grace alone. Your brother is doubtless a very imperfect vessel for ministry - but then again, so are you! We need each other's strengths, and if our brother is weak in an area, perhaps it is our gifting to make up for that weakness, just as he may do likewise in turn. God in His infinite wisdom has made us as a body, and the different parts complement one another. We should stop judging each other and instead give thanks for our diverse strengths, and be ready to help each other in our areas of weakness.

"The cause of God will triumph through all the weaknesses and failures of his people."

Conflict in ministry can be a cause of great despair. It is really disheartening to see a ministry go belly up due to a falling out, and at such times, we may well question if God is at work amongst us at all. But we should take heart - through all our fighting and fearing and failing, Jesus has promised to build his church, and nothing will prevail against it. The future is absolutely assured.