by Dr. Steven G. Minor
Church Politics Administrator
Discomfort, Tension, Annoyance
Subjective, a hunch that something is out of order
The first steps of “Avoidance” probably begins
Something seems out of the ordinary! Nothing in particular has materialized, but a slight tension is in the air. You can sense it in a subjective manner, but still cannot identify it and do not know what to address anyway even if you did. And besides, it might just be you – perhaps you should have skipped that extra cup of coffee this morning!
Such a stage should not be viewed as evil. You do not need to visualize the train heading for a washed out trestle, and the wreck is only moments away. The danger with responding too soon is in the temptation to stifle and even repress a problem; allowing it to fester and grow. You only delay the inevitable. If a tension point is hovering in the air, it needs to be expressed or else you push your church into pseudo-community denying it the opportunity to grow and develop authentic fellowship.
However, if you are a leader with concern for a church’s well-being, do not ignore it either. Keep a watchful, discerning eye on the situation. Intentional management can turn this into a blessed opportunity. By all means cultivate the tension that can produce right questions and social introspection. This is the one and only route by which complacent churches may redeem themselves, to break out of their lazy patterns of predictable comfort. It must start by asking difficult questions of itself and that takes distinct courage, but it must be done. Communication is the key to build innovative thinking and trust. Think lunch/breakfast settings.
Jesus attitude toward churches satisfied with themselves is not good. When John experiences his vision of heaven he beholds Jesus walking among the churches proclaiming their good and errant deeds. Twice the sin of complacency is chastised with clear disdain. The church of Sardis has the appearance of life, but Jesus sees clearly their spiritual estate that they are flat out “dead” (Revelation 3:1). What a way to describe a church that still has its services intact. The community thinks they are doing a wonderful job, but Jesus knows all too well their real condition – death. Neither does the church in Laodicea escape notice of complacency. Here Jesus exposes how wishy-washy a church can become; it is not hot on fire, but then neither is it cold as the death of Sardis. How does Jesus accept their status? He wishes they were one or the other, hot or cold, because he cannot tolerate a lukewarm church. Such a spirit in a church leaves a bad taste in his mouth and he must spit it out (Revelation 3:15-16).
The churches in Sardis and Laodicea are infected with the terrible virus of comfort and affluence. They may pay the bills on time and satisfy the customers in the pews, but their purpose has been compromised. Their fiscal year will probably conclude okay, but their destiny with God faces dire consequences. Then they will pay the hefty fiscal spiritual debt of their sinful worldly convenience.
As a responsible church leader, can you honestly allow that disastrous trek to persist? It will take much courage, planning, counsel and skill to cultivate a nurturing climate of questioning and testing a church’s goals and objectives. Comfort is their curse; you must break the pattern before anyone will step up to turn the automatic controls off and examine a better course of spiritual operation responsible to heavenly values.
And . . . do not rule out the possibility that the reality was one too many cups of coffee this morning. Your mood and demeanor really are factors in the discernment process. Pay attention to what is happening within your heart as well. Your level of objective “neutrality” is proportional to your effectiveness in the resolution process.
See “Hanlon’s Razor” elsewhere in this Web Site
Typically, people do not want the discomfort of conflict; it is entirely too exhausting and even intimidating. They will go to significant lengths to avoid and deny even the notions of something amiss in their haven of recluse from their tattered world. Forcing their hand to deal with something unpleasant is a difficult task if not downright impossible.
They come to church to get away from trouble. This is their “safe place.” Problems here simply do not compute. In fact, the sanctity they long for in church will pose an intimidating challenge to face up to the unpleasant business of conflict.
While avoidance is an abhorrent curse to those embedded in the trenches of conflict, those only indirectly connected will ride the recourse of Avoidance as far as it will ride. They will not want to get off because then they have to face the terrible reality that something is wrong in the paradise haven. How traumatic that the one place they risk the hope of escape should be plagued by problems just like the rest of the world. For many, church is their one chance to escape the tensions and fighting they endure in the secular workplace. That it should happen within the confines of the church is a sad reality they will resist.
Help from the distracted masses will not be coming anytime soon. Abandon hope from that sector which is so painful for those embroiled by infighting and conflict because this is the precise group that can resolve the matter quickly and with force, once and for all. But that resource will have to overcome its own resistance to losing what it supposed to be exempt from worldly ego-struggles and the shocking reality of abusive e fighting within their cherished church.
Besides all this, their tender ego must be preserved.
The Hope of Conflict Prevention
When is the best time to effectively deal with and manage conflict? Before it begins when everything is calm and safe. After it already starts may be too late. However, how many churches successfully approach conflict with this strategy? I do not have a number for you, but I can assure of the precise answer – only the wise ones who love their unity and fellowship enough to protect it.
Surely everyone loves their church. So why aren’t members taking the necessary steps to assure its well-being? Because when things are going well, everyone wants to enjoy and cherish the comfortable harmony and peace. Proposing attention to conflict arouses thoughts of violence and hate. Would not such images produce a pure insult to the happy unity we currently experience? This is the common course vulnerable churches choose. Things are nice so let’s not think about things being un-nice.
Yet this is the very thinking that leaves church so vulnerable to the devastation of conflict. It essentially preserves a shallow course of church fellowship overlooking the potential pitfalls of what the world will throw into the path of a church seeking a healthy environment for its members. And that nurturing environment is so important. Where else but in the church can people find refuge from their challenges in life that cause them harm? The church must provide the positive atmosphere for spiritual growth to take place – to even preserve the possibility for spiritual life to take hold in out lives. Does that not make the purpose of the church valuable enough to take steps to protect it?
The assumption is that only a morbid person talks about bad times when they feel so good. True, gloomy people always see and expect the worst in any given situation. If it’s not bad now then just wait long enough and their depressed agenda will arrive. But we need a different kind of person to bridge the thinking, a stronger leader with long range vision that breaks out of complacent ways to assure the church of long range survival. Our churches today have plenty of managers supposing to fill visionary leadership roles. Finding our way to a strong foundation to provide a strong future requires more than simply designating people to make sure things work the way they have been working. Prophetic leaders are needed to confront the “business as usual” mindset and address our need for developing strength. The task is not motivated by depressed anticipation, but by a heart that loves unity and fellowship enough to protect it and assure its flourishing future.
When environmental or community disasters strike our only recourse is “inter-vention.” We cannot get ready for a hurricane to cause x amount of damage and so we need y amount of relief to deal with the z crisis. Such a scheme would burn out any and every compassionate group wanting to help. We can only deal with disasters “after” they strike and intervene in the resulting consequences, even though we all know that levee was ready to break.
Church and other social groups have the luxury of taking steps of “pre-vention.” Although conflict can become a devastating storm if not carefully managed with some degree of awareness and skill, it does not have to become that. Strengthening a group’s cohesion while it is learning to become functional and effective will equip it handle conflict when it arrives in its earliest stages where it can be effectively managed and guided into positive effects.
Since all groups must make decision for its effectiveness, we are in control of at least initiating its direction. Some of the repercussions may well surprise us when others respond to the consequences of the decisions, but we are still the ones initiating the activity. We have an obligation to also follow through with these decisions to monitor their effects and refine their growth. Whereas the weather and deranged terrorist bombers may not be under our control, group planning and decisions are our responsibility. We can maintain that control and anyone with a well-defined sense of responsibility will see it through.
We have the opportunity to plan actions. We must also assume the responsibility to plan their effects on the whole group. Both initiation and managing ideas are under our control. That is why “pre-vention” is a viable and necessary component of any intentions of progress. If a group makes a decision then it must also assume the responsibility of that decision.
It’s all subjective, so far, but hunches and wonders arise that there seems to be other things happening behind the scenes, out of your view. Hidden agendas are forming, but they are still beneath the surface. Even the antagonists may not yet be aware of what the are really feeling.
The first steps of “avoidance” begin and those intuitive hunches are brushed off for other excuses not as painful as to suppose that difficult things are forming or perhaps “returning.”
“The propensity to become irrationally tribal about obscure matters”
“Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years”
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The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
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