The city of Ferguson, MO has been in the news quite a lot this past week. Since my son and daughter-in-law live only minutes from Ferguson, I have been following the news quite closely. As I reflected on the events of what has happened, I could not help but see a parallel to the local church. When conflict arises (and it will whenever people gather together), how we deal with that conflict is crucial to the health of the local church and community. Here are a few brief lessons that the church could learn from the events in Ferguson, MO.
1. People will have an opinion. Whatever the topic, people will have an opinion as to what they think should or should not be done in a certain situation. Many people throughout our country formed an opinion of what the verdict should have been regarding the shooting of Michael Brown.
In the local church, people will have an opinion on every decision, choice, and change that occurs. When making our decisions, it is important to recognize that people will be forming an opinion about our leadership based upon what they see happening.
2. People sometimes will form an opinion before they have all the facts. It could be seen from the press coverage surrounding these events that many people had formed their opinion regarding what the outcome should be – even before all the facts were made available to the general public.
So it is within the church. Many times people will form an opinion before they have all the facts. Worse yet, they may form their opinion based upon incorrect information they heard that is being passed around the church. In situations such as this, it is important to over-communicate. Communicate until you are sure that everyone in the church understands – then communicate it again.
3. People want their voice to be heard. Throughout our country this past week, people took to the streets in protest of the non-indictment of officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Throughout most of the country, the protests were mostly about people getting their voice heard.
Communication is a two-way street. Too often we make the announcements in the church and assume that everyone understands and agrees with the decision. In the church we need to have avenues for people to get their ideas and thoughts heard. Most times, people just want to know that you are listening – even if you decide in another direction.
4. Some people are not willing to submit to authority and will go to any length to get their way. When officer Darren Wilson was not indicted, people began to riot in protest of the outcome of the grand jury proceedings. Buildings and cars were set on fire, stores were looted, gunshots were heard, and rocks and bottles were thrown at police and news reporters. The rioters lashed out at and confronted those in positions of authority. Laws were broken in an attempt to both be heard and get their own way.
Far too often people in the church respond in a similar fashion. It doesn’t matter if getting their own way goes against everything they profess as a follower of Christ, they will do it in order to have things their way. We need to be reminded that this is the attitude of an immature believer who is focused on their own selfish desires instead of submitting to the authority that God has placed in the church. At its heart, this is a discipleship issue. Churches that do not intentionally disciple people into growing relationships with God are left with immature Christians filled with a lot of Biblical knowledge. Somehow, we need to teach people that what begins as head knowledge must change our hearts so that our actions reflect Christ.
5. Innocent bystanders get hurt. One of the saddest stories that came out during the press coverage was the burning of a church building. The church was destroyed by fire on the first night of the protesting. Not only was it a place of worship, but it was the very church that Michael Brown, Sr. attended. He is both the father of the young man who was shot to death and the man who called for a peaceful protest if the police officer was not indicted. How tragic that he not only lost his son, but also his church, in the aftermath of the riots.
In every circumstance of conflict in the church, innocent bystanders get hurt. These are the new Christians and people who get drawn into the conflict under the guise of “helping the church.” These people eventually make up a large segment of people today who will not attend church any longer because they believe the church to be filled with hypocrites or have had a bad experience in the past.
6. The community is devastated. In the wake of the riot in Ferguson, it is the community that suffers from the destruction left behind. Business owners and workers saw their source of income go up in smoke, people will remember for a lifetime the damage that occurred, and residents are left to rebuild the community in the wake of this destruction.
When the church is torn apart by conflict, the community is devastated. No longer will the church have the influence that it once had in the community. No longer will the message of God’s love be heard when His followers can’t even love each other. What starts out as an attempt to get their own way, ends up in driving people away from the God who loves them and has called us to reach them with His love.
7. The original concern gets lost in the confusion. The original concerns and desire for improvement of the system have gotten lost in the unrest and turmoil that followed the announcement of the verdict. The rioting and destruction overshadowed the loss of a son, the tension within a community, and the subsequent protests around our country calling for a systemic change.
Most conflict in the church can be traced back to a legitimate question or concern that gets lost in the ugliness of church conflict. What could have possibly been an opportunity for growth and positive change, becomes lost in the conflict which tears apart the church and the community it desires to serve.
What, then is the solution? It’s simple, really! Live what the Bible teaches regarding handling conflict within the church as found in Matthew 18:15-20. Focus on discipleship of new believers so that they understand that following God and the decisions in the church are not about them and their wants and desires. Rather, it is about serving God and following the leaders that God has placed in authority over them. Above all, LOVE each other with agape (self-sacrificial, putting the others needs above your own, unconditional) love like Christ modeled for the church.
Reflect on this:
1. Is there an area of your life where you are unwilling to submit to the authorities that God has placed in your life (at home, work, or church)?
2. Is there a conflict going on right now in which you could be God’s instrument of peace in helping people to simply communicate with each other?