Resolving Church Conflicts
The Lord’s plan for his church is flawless. As individual members of his body, however, we are in the process of growth; we have not reached a state of perfection. There is no such thing as a flawless family or perfect work environment. Nor is there a perfect congregation.
Problems will arise within a church for a number of reasons. For instance, individuals will have different opinions. We must “speak the same thing” in matters of doctrine (1 Cor. 1:10; cf. 2 Jn. 9-10), but there must be latitude in other areas. Different stages of spiritual development, personality differences, misunderstandings — all of these things can contribute to tension. While we recognize that personal friction is inevitable, the New Testament commands us to work towards the resolution of all conflicts.
In Philippians 4:2-3, Paul exhorted the church at Philippi. He wrote:
“I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yea, I beseech thee also, my true yokefellow, help these women, for they labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”
The cause of the problem between these women is unknown; however, Paul’s admonition to unity contains some key aspects for conflict resolution. Consider the following points.
- The situation was urgent. The word translated “exhort” is parakaleo, literally “to call near, beside, into the proximity of.” It is rendered “appeal to, urge, exhort, encourage” (Arndt and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 617). Paul entreated them to resolve their difficulties. One must not “let the sun go down” upon his wrath (Eph. 4:26).
- Paul exhorts both individuals. “I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind” (v. 2). Problems can be resolved when both sides are willing to sit down and work towards reconciliation. Most significantly, this calls for both sides to desire resolution. Offended parties may never agree on the nature of the blame, or the offense. But their desire should be to move forward with sincerity, humility, and love. Attitude plays a major role in solving problems (cf. Eph. 4:1-3).
The principles for dealing with personal grievances are set out by the Lord in Matthew 5:23ff and 18:15-17. When a brother is aware that a spiritual sibling has something against him (i.e., a genuine concern), then that brother is obligated to initiate contact to resolve the problem (Mt. 5:23).
On the other hand, the person who has an actual complaint (i.e., not a petty grievance) against a brother, is obligated to remedy the conflict as well. The stand-offish gripe, “he didn’t come to me,” is neither biblical nor practical. Both the offender and the offended are required to seek out the other so that these types of situations do not remain unaddressed.
- Paul looks for intervention. “Yea, I beseech thee also, true yokefellow, help these women” (v. 3). Paul encouraged this faithful member of the church in Philippi to give assistance. He did not recommend that either member fire a shot of accusation, followed by a membership move to another church. Although this tactic is faddish, it resolves nothing.
Noteworthy is the fact that Paul addressed this mediator as a “true yokefellow” (i.e., an authentic co-worker in the Lord). Similarly, in Galatians 6:1-2, Paul advised the spiritually minded to restore those overtaken in a trespass. Some people are more capable in dealing with volatile crises. Others may get caught up in a “feeding frenzy” of excitement and controversy, assuming the worst of the elders, the preacher, or other members. A qualified person can assist in problem-solving by focusing on resolution. He will not become part of the problem. As the apostle Paul indicated, a capable intermediary may be able to make a positive contribution in settling a conflict.
- Paul notes that the souls of people are at stake. “Yea, I beseech thee also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life” (v. 3). The work of the church suffers as problems go unresolved. Attitudes of hostility and resentment have no place in the Lord’s church. We all are trying to live for Christ. Can we not maintain that perspective?
Christian unity is the product of Christianity in practice. Through prayer, and the application of texts like Philippians 4:2-3, God’s people can all work and worship in unity; the bond that holds us together is love (Col. 3:14). We will have a perfect environment in heaven. Until then, the Lord expects us to work out our problems — staying focused on heaven.