Put two humans together and there is bound to be conflict. As a result of the Fall, conflict is in our DNA. If you put a whole bunch of humans together in a local church the potential for conflict greatly increases. If the conflict escalates, the church can experience an internal battle that should not take place.
In a rock tumbler, the impact of stone upon stone in the presence of grit wears off the rough edges of the stone and brings out the beauty of the granular structure of the stone.
In the same way, by being in relationship in the local church body, we are bound to bump up against those with whom we don’t agree, or whose personality is out of phase with ours. God calls people into relationship with himself including some we struggle to get along with. The beauty of this is that by interacting with the other person, my shortcomings and sin get exposed, and I grow as a result.
If rocks had feelings I suppose that they would not like to be forced to bump up against each other and endure the polishing process. I don’t always like it either, but the Church is how God has chosen to operate in the world and prepare us for eternity. The polishing process can be painful, but it is necessary.
Conflict is inevitable, but when the response is appropriate it can lead to growth and reconciliation. Love is best demonstrated when the object of love is not lovely.
But there is another type of conflict that is not healthy and is very destructive to the church and body life.
In the forth chapter of his letter, James indicates that little conflicts can escalate to “wars and fights” (NKJV). Wars and fights are not healthy or helpful for any church. War is destructive and there should be no place in the church where these conflicts are tolerated.
A few verses later, James identifies the source of the wars and fights. They come as a result of selfishness and self focus. When the focus is on me and my pleasures, nothing good can come of it (James 4:3).
Paul gives us the antidote to this selfishness that results in wars. It can be found in Philippians 2:5-8, where Paul points to Jesus as our example of love being demonstrated through humility. If we respond to others in the church (even those who are not loving or lovable) by following Jesus’ example, the problem of wars and fights goes away. It takes two to fight. If one bows out or gives in, the fight ends.
The point is not that we should waffle on doctrinal issues. It is not necessarily wrong to be grieved or angry at the actions of others in the church. The point is that any response to the wrong doctrine or behavior must be rooted in love and guided by Scripture. Remember Paul’s injunction to “be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).
The only correct response I can have to any such conflict is to repent of my part in escalating it, seek forgiveness of God and the one I’m in conflict with and forgive the other person in return. If all those in the body responded in this way when problems arise, the burden upon the church leadership would be less.
If this response was practiced, you might also find that your church is a place where people want to be because they feel nurtured and loved. That would indeed be a Biblical church growth program.