They knew that it would be a difficult meeting. They were prepared for the fact that some of the people present wouldn’t agree with the direction that the leadership team was suggesting, (not everyone likes to change.) What they didn’t expect was what the psychologist Milton Freidman calls the herding practice. Herding is when someone gathers a group of others to take her or his side against the other side. And it is usually presented that way, as an us against them type of disagreement. Very rarely are those who have been herded into a disagreement fully aware of all sides of the conversation. They only know what the person who recruited them has told them, and because of their loyalty to that person, they may accept that what they have been told is true.
It is a painful thing to walk into a church meeting, where disciples of Christ have made the decision to handle their disagreement in such a way as to cause division. The reality is that Christ-Followers are in a unique position to find ways for differences to be a cause for strength rather than a cause for division. Difference of opinion, a variety of perspectives provide an opportunity to learn and grow. In order for differences to bring strength there must be a commitment to seeing the best in the other; there must be a commitment to unity and love.
In 2018 David Field wrote an interesting article in Ministry Matters1. It was an excerpt from his book, “Our Purpose Is Love: The Wesleyan Way to Be the Church.’ In this article Field seems to give us directions about how to approach differences in perspectives in a way that is more transformational, and less conflicting.
We can open ourselves to the transforming power of God only as we realize our brokenness and failure. The starting point of our journey to a fuller realization of what it means to be the church is the recognition of our own reality and our dependence on the power of God. Recognition must then lead to two further actions: The first is repentance. In repentance, we confess our sinful contribution to the state of the church. We are part of the problem. The failure of the church is not the result of others who are in the wrong; it is because of us and our sin. It is the recognition that sin clings to our best motivated actions and words. The second is lament. Lament is identification with the church in its brokenness without ascribing blame. It is the deep awareness that, even with the best intentions, because of our human fallibility and finitude, we have contributed to the failure of the church.
Following repentance and lament there must be thanksgiving. Thanksgiving arises out of the recognition that, despite our failures and brokenness, God has been at work in amazing and unexpected ways. God has used transformed lives. God has used the church to bring healing, hope, reconciliation, and justice in our world. Out of this recognition we ought to turn to God in praise, affirming God’s amazing grace. Thanksgiving leads us to recognize that God can transform us and the church to a renewed faith in the power of the Spirit. Repentance, lament, and thanksgiving give birth to a new hope, which motivates us to cry to God to pour out the Holy Spirit on the church to convict, transform, and renew it.
The struggle present in our country today has a lot to do with the fact that so many seem to have lost sight of a more Christian way to handle differences. We have great difficulty in recognizing, much less admitting, our own part in creating the problems that exist. We want to believe it is someone else’s fault, so we find ways to shift the blame.
Field’s article has some interesting things to say about transforming conflict in the church, but I want to tell you there are some statements in his article that I can’t fully accept. Field writes that the task of transforming conflict is God’s work, and God’s work alone. If I thought that were true, then I might have to wonder why we have conflict at all. For me, the struggle arises from the fact that people are human, and as humans we make our choices based on our own criteria. You and I have a part to play and we can choose to tear apart or tear down in order to build up.
Here is what I want to say in this article, as the people who follow the way of Jesus, I do believe we are uniquely positioned to model for the world healthy ways to disagree with one another. It matters how we view one another. It matters how we view the situation at hand. It matters how we choose to take steps to bring about change. It seems recently I have been having lots of conversations where I invite people to re-frame a conflict into a statement of the problem in a way that is not blaming of judgmental and speaks of a hoped-for future. It is a first step in transforming conflict and preserving relationships along the way.
This week, as you go through your daily life, I invite you to consider the ways in which you engage when there is a difference of opinion or a difference of perspective. Reflect on how you think about, talk about the people who may believe differently from you. Consider if your approach to resolving the differences is a call to transformation or a call to take sides. Then I invite you to spend a few minutes journaling. Here are a few Bible passages that you may want to consider during your self-reflection time:
Every person, every system, every organization has practices that shape how things happen, how people relate to one another. As Christ-Shaped Leaders, let us model for the world how differences can and will cause us to be stronger, calls us to be better. Let us love one another into new life. It is the way of Christ.
Your Sister on the Journey,