After six years of grad school, I turned in my last required assignment on Thursday March 29th! I’d completed all my biblical, theological, historical, and practical coursework before this semester. That left me free to choose a ministry elective for my last course. I chose Communication and Conflict Management in Churches and Christian Organizations. Wow…
Twenty-four lectures on conflict were given by professors Kenneth O. Gangel and Samuel L. Canine. Something that struck me was how universal this kind of difficulty is in the Christian community and yet how caught off guard most of are by it, including me. It is, after all, throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
In seeking to define conflict, Gangel and Canine addressed two common misconceptions about it. The first is that conflict is abnormal. With this mindset, those at odds can think that something is wrong with them since “normal people don’t have conflict.” This proves to be untrue as conflict is common in almost every social setting. It is unrealistic to expect otherwise. Perhaps the presence of conflict isn’t what’s at issue but rather how we choose to deal with it.
Second is the view is that the presence of “conflict is the admission of failure.” This implies that all conflict is bad or wrong. People with this view try to ignore or downplay relational rifts. Much of our dysfunctional comes from this kind of reaction. Though some conflict is the result of sinful attitudes (James 4:1), this is not always the case. Sometimes it serves a good purpose (1 Corinthians 11:19).
Gangel and Canine’s working definition of conflict is “a situation in which two or more human beings desire goals which they perceive as being attainable by one or the other, but not by both.” This push and pull affects the church at every level, both as an organization and as an organism. The miracle of being in a functional church is that we actually do get along with each other as well as we do. Thank God that conflict, even though it does occur, does not dominate the atmosphere in which we live.
Jesus’ said “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” – John 13:34-35 (Msg.). Let’s hold onto this command as we work things out.
Even though Jesus prayed for unity, the history of the Christian church is one of division. Maybe, by the grace of God, we can be a small exception. Maybe we can “agreeably disagree” on small stuff but stick together around and fight for the big ideas for which Jesus gave his life.