by Dr. Steven G. Minor
Church Politics Administrator
An issue is to be worked out (still a healthy situation)
A challenge has emerged and good-hearted members are seeking ways for constructive resolution. The focus is upon the issue and nothing more. In a mature and stable congregation, this can be a positive and even exciting time to address an issue and seek out a new direction and vision. With responsive leadership, this could evolve into a healthy wave for innovation and renewal. Fringe members of the church will have an opportunity to step up to new opportunities. Leaders must be conscious of sharing the task and broadening volunteer participation and even cultivating or mentoring rising new leaders.
But the stage is not entirely safe, because it requires something new, and might I even dare to venture the perspective to name it what it really is . . . “Change.” Although of course, perceptive leaders will never call it that with such an offensive term. Try using terms like “transition,” or a “Slight alteration in how we have done xx,” or “experiment.” Grab a thesaurus and seek out the neutral friendly words, but by all means do not actually say the “C _ _ _ _ _” word. Why rouse up opposition before it knows to be roused up? You are supposed to be a leader – this is the moment when you must lead.
Your best tools will be Facilitation and Collaboration. Patiently and calmly you must direct the discussions to stay on healthy paths through civil and respectful ground-rules. Whenever a tense issue arises remind everyone that we are only in the brain-storming process and need to think about every option – these are NOT resolved proposals being dealt with; only “unprocessed thoughts.” We are fishing right now. Some of these ideas will yield something good and some of them will go nowhere, but we will not know their value until we pull them into the boat and take a look. We might even need to go as far as frying up a few and seeing how they taste.
If the process can remain orderly without undue friction then the church will be blessed with renewal and members will find new places worth their time and energy. However, if things hit a snag and cannot find healthy directions . . .
Richard Pascale, author of Managing on the Edge: How the Smartest Companies Use Conflict to Stay Ahead (Simon and Schuster, 1990), says:
“The essential activity for keeping our paradigm current is persistent questioning. I will use the term inquiry. Inquiry is the engine of vitality and self-renewal. . . . Contention fuels the ‘engine of inquiry’ and is a cheap and abundant fuel. Yet contention carries a stigma: managers are uncomfortable with it, and it is often misconstrued as a sign of organizational ill health. This need not be the case.”
Raising the issue – What is happening here?
The insightful leadership will direct such inquiries to the very best positive and constructive venues of benefit for breaking the gridlock and unlocking nurturing venues for breaking through impasses and the joy of discovering better fields for overcoming differences and the threat of mayhem and destruction.
But note, the leadership must be attentive to inquiries in this stage (see issues of becoming a “Frankenstein Church” in this Web Site). All things are still healthy and positive benefits are for the cultivating, but you must answer every question with pertinent recoil to the immediate situation at hand. Do not allow escalation. Litter your responses with appreciation for the creative responses arising and even encourage continued innovation. The discussions/enquires could turn destructive and cheap looking for quick fixes and simple purges of undesirables to resolve the discomfort. But skill and authentic desire for the overall good of Christ’s church (versus your own ego) will win this day. Encourage the pursuits and enquiries. The risk is worth it for you may find a church waking up to its precious mission as part of God’s kingdom. A thousand times, this greater hope makes the discomfort worth it.
Failure to satisfy honest enquiries in this stage with pure-hearted answers and especially hopes will risk differences turning a very bad direction and the questions of what become questions of who is at fault and need to be held responsible. The wise leader will never allow personal pronouns to enter the differences and disputes. Do whatever it takes to diver tissues from everyone’s ego and keep discussion focused upon healthier tasks, namely the better and more effective awareness of Christ’s presence. Go ahead and speak the name of our master often, just be since, honest and authentic when you do. People will sniff a phony with heightened senses at this stage.
If the discussion slips blaming, reason will immediately be compromised because people are not looking for the quick fix of scape-goating. The slipping of reason will curse any hope of progress.
Sheltering your or any place of business may be sheer myth, from the best of mega-business to the intimate family structure. Perfect insulation form conflict is just not going to happen. In fact, it should not happen. Conflict in its healthiest expression provides reflection and rejuvenation, sparing an institution the horror of rancid stagnation. Shelter may be safe, but people and relationships are made for so much more.
Sadly the sought peace of shelter will actually produce the fertile field of conflict. The danger lies in the potential for complacency. Some people will succumb to their fears of life and cohabit their neuroses, making peace with illness rather than peace with life. Some will always know they are designed for me than the same old thing.
Businesses are especially vulnerable to complacency, failing to evolve with their culture imminent death awaits them. Unable to keep pace with the human longing for progress they will drift too far behind to retain viability. How ironic that your most faithful workers will provoke the need for remaining relevant. Hate and anger are not the driving elements in such a good potential environment. Only in later stages of conflict will such pure-hearted objectives vacate innovations.
Complacency is so ripe for conflict because the individuals are stuck with nowhere else to look but within the group. Since nothing productive is available to motivate them, negative resources are sure to emerge. The same old thing falters in its initial effectiveness and general “feel-good” experience. Comments such as, “It doesn’t feel as good as it used to” or “We gotta do something about this” will reek damage unless they can be channeled into constructive directions. These are your best signs of the organization arriving at a crossroads, if the desire for better purpose is not engaged it will evolve into dissatisfaction and conflict has arrived.
What can be done to move onto the better road once this crossroads separates the path? The perceptive leader has two invaluable resources which should have been operative anyway. They did not have to arrives at this crossroads and good hearted people should not have been asking questions of direction. None-the-less it happens and sometimes it’s not the leader’s fault they have arrived here. In some situations the leader may have needed to encourage them to this intersection as the most viable means of them facing their laziness.
Step one is Vision. Solomon nails the issue so ably that “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint” (Proverbs 29:18, c. the KJV perspective, “people perish for lack of vision”). Human nature actually requires movement to maintain good health, in all spheres – physical, social, mental and spiritual. The human soul cannot remain static or else it will begin to shrivel. Like oxygen to the lungs and blood to the heart the soul must develop itself or it becomes malignant to the system. Vision opens the door and gives the soul permission to move out. The nature of God-given free will demands its freedom and to close it off will reap bad results.
Vision does more than keep the soul of people on track, it actually preserves its ability to stay alive. It shows the way to productive living and verification of worthwhile life. When people can move in healthy directions they will experience spiritual health and revitalization. If the leadership assigns anything less than the highest priority to vision then they will risk and suffer the boring fate of mediocrity and the road of slow decline.
Vision opens up an unlimited multitude of opportunities. We want the best for those we serve, but choosing the most absolute perfect vision for your situation will probably miss the point. No matter what vision develops it will not satisfy everyone. In fact, once a good vision is selected and the church is called upon to embrace it will typically result in the loss of a few members. No resolved vision will satisfy everyone and if it is high in value the loss of a few might just signal and verify its deep value. It catches hearts and either excites them or frightens them. Not everyone likes the notion of new directions for that risks dreaded “change” (God forgive the notion).
Multiple visions is the preferred scenario, but not too many. No institution can meet every need and desire of its community, but it must provide a means for its membership to exert its ability to free its soul. What works for the older women’s sewing circle will not likely make much sense to the outward looking youth. The middle aged boomers may affirm their efforts and be most pleased with their accomplishments, even enough to increase financial support for the missions. But will their heart’s desire move them enough to assimilate and unite their soul to it? Probably not. They require another vision, or their segment will suffer the same danger of complacency that originally threatened the whole organization.
Energizing and liberating as many inner groups is the goal of multiple visioning. But please do not assume the multiple visions would not be related or even contradict another. Ideally, the multiple visions will work out to no more than facets of only one single dynamic vision. However it may work do not overlook the various segments within the whole. As long as the various paths are aimed in the same direction with interrelated blessing the process will move with health.
Step two will be sharing the vision, involving the people. If a vision is no more than the desire of the leaders’ heart then that is not vision, it’s just a personal aspiration. That’s fine, but do not expect the larger community to embrace it. Their buy-in comes only with shared ownership. That’s why vision must always arrive by detailed process – not details of wording and tweaked logos, but process of group involvement. Everyone must have opportunity to contribute or else they won’t find their reason for responsible ownership and support. If you want every member to accept the direction then they must each have a reason of responsibility with it. Bailing out is too easy and laziness might prevail unless they know this is “their” decision. If the vision is your plan then it can fail and all the better for them to have more time for other things. If the vision is OUR plan then we must support its success or that failure belongs to us.
The same is also true in the positive side of it. If your vision succeeds then it is your success. No one else has a valid right to share that, only to applaud it. If others want a satisfaction in their soul of a job well done and an impact upon their community achieved then they must pay the admission of involvement.
And vision does not stop at success or failure, it must address the issue of liberating souls and sparing them the danger of a soul stagnating and dying. A vision must impart life to be truly successful. Spiritual health is a major goal. Once the soul finds nutrition of freedom and progress the people will forsake their contrary response symptomatic of a diseased soul. A heart felt vision gives them something better to do. When the vision feeds the soul then you have reached the bigger “yes” that will trump any “no” maverick antagonists might try to insert into the core.
Mediation Strategies & Progress
Good leadership will always seek progress to whatever issues may arise. The worst scenario is to avoid the issue altogether, allowing it to remain static. If an issue stagnates it becomes its own tumor in the body of the organization. Continuously and diligently move it toward a healthy solution or it will guaranteed backfire on you and cause harm. Denial will fulfill your worst nightmare. The following steps provide a road map guiding you through this process, along with alerts to the pitfalls. Invest the energy toward moving an issue stepping up through the phases and problems naturally evolve into good blessings.
1) Appeasement. The quickest and easiest way to resolve a problem is to simply give in to its pressure and accommodate the nuisance. Is “that” Sunday School class upset about the thermostat war then just give them what they want. They are happy and will quiet down for a little while. You have alleviated the discomfort of their complaining and provided yourself a short rest from the whining. However, you have not resolved the problem yet. If it’s a “war” over the thermostat then you have only satisfied one side. You have probably just compromised your credibility and sincerity with the other side.
Accommodating the differences when they become charged and frustrating is to virtually avoid the deeper problems. If people are staying with your church despite unresolved differences then you must give them the chance to demonstrate their pure-heart concern for the church’s wellbeing. It’s only later, after the friction has escalated egos and magnified perspectives that power and control may emerge. Conflict will naturally evolve into harmful degrees, it never drifts to passive levels, except in the rhetoric. Don’t fool yourself, just under the surface hostility is festering and seething just waiting for the chance to pounce and prove its position and power.
2) Punishment. The strong hand has asserted itself and what irritation may have reeked its stench has gone away. If enough retribution has been rendered then maybe it has learned its lesson and will stay away. If the ego stroking of such sweeping power is enough then this strategy might satisfy you for a while. If you have too many members in your church and you need to trim down your rolls then a side benefit has also presented itself. However you also must consider Newton’s Third Law of Motion that every action has a re-action. What will the repercussions produce?
Maybe the issue had been such an irritant that everyone else will rejoice with relief to be done with this pain, but are you sure enough of this reality? Wounded souls have a way of remembering its pain. Moses’ counsel, “know this that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23) could become your own self-fulfilled curse. The action is just this simple, is it worth the price?
In the early church, a troublesome couple devised a disruptive plan that made them look wonderful, a virtual lock on model Christians of the year (Acts 5:1-11). They made a big real estate sell off and prepared to demonstrate their noble sacrifice in church by giving not only the profits from the land, but even the whole buy off. Despite Jesus’ warnings about making a show of your communal sacrifices (Matthew 6:3, don’t even let the other hand know your intentions) they had the show rehearsed and ready for the full catastrophic drama.
One big problem, neither Ananias nor his wife Sapphira anticipated the church leadership to be so naïve and gullible to accommodate the show. Peter had to question the nature of the hefty contribution. Have you ever heard of such a process, that a large bequest would actually be questioned? His discernment proved true and they paid for their hypocrisy with their lives; God struck them down on the spot. Embattled ministers love reading this story over and over again. They examine and rehearse the steps with deep agonizing prayers, “Oh God, just one more time . . .”
Death! That is a rather severe case of “Punishment.” Be careful how far you take this biblical precedent. Remember that God is the one who does the punishing. Jesus cautioned our abiding attitude of forgiveness, but . . . if it should happen to work out like that, please give me a call and I will put a whole revision together on this scheme.
What were the consequences? People knocked off the foolery. A well-to-do couple dying during worship service is difficult to overlook. The message God sought to get across to the congregation came through loud and clear. Any who thought otherwise were free to leave. Surely they had at least a few friends despite their snobbery and if so we could understand their being offended. They may have whimpered about “hurt feelings” and being treated with less than Emily Post etiquette, but the harsh truth of God’s will abides – shows of righteousness does not impress him. In fact, alert observers might even draw the lesson together that they down right torque him off. The consequences came through positive because the church continued to grow in favor of everyone, the supposed friends of the offended party to the contrary.
3) Submerging. Ahh!! Here is choice #1 of modern American churches. Propose an appearance of appeasement, while harboring full intentions to leave them all hanging. Let them cool their engines on this. Propose good rhetoric that their involvement and attitude is important to you, like a senseless customer service recording, but keep the original plan firmly in place to prevail once the tensions have subsided.
The benefit is a quick one. Everyone is happy and can leave the board meeting feeling victorious. A brilliant plan came through and everyone is happy, at least for a little while. Maybe it will be enough for the enmity for awhile, if the matter is not too serious, and they avoid thinking about it and are willing to support the charade, and they have a short memory, and they do not mind being made fools of. Yeah, we are dealing with a real long shot on this one.
Once the offended side figures out how they have been unduly snookered, the situation will probably delve into magnified pain and unrelenting urges for vindication. But the losing party is left without a clear forum to resurrect the matter. Their offense was “officially” addressed and the fearful majority will not want to hear it again. So how will they gain their revenge and restore their estate in the community? They will wait. They probably will not consciously declare it, although if the difference was severe enough they may. In all likelihood these hurt feelings and wounded egos will surface as soon as another similar situation arises. The losing side will eagerly jump onto whatever side sets itself against the governing agency that was “supposed” to deliver their justice in the first place. What the new issue may be is secondary to the hurt feelings actively seeking the next round for the satisfaction of their seething brooding.
A convenient and subtle quick fix temptation is through scape-goating. Find someone that the blame can be attached to them (no Teflon personality will work here), and stick on all fault and undesirable sins that can be affixed. The book of Numbers, 16:20-23, lays out the purpose of scape-goating that the priest places all the sins of the people onto the innocent goat and sends it out into the wilderness to the mercy of Azazel (here in Arizona it reminds one of the dark side of Kokopelli, the demon of the desert wilderness).
Such a plan may work for a while, but the results are terrible. Only a desperate and diabolical leader would venture such an option and the abuse of an innocent will not go unnoticed by God. As David arranged the murder of Uriah to cover his own sins with Bathsheba, so will you be guilty of shedding innocent blood. The court prophet Nathan will corner your deceit eventually and you will pay far more than what you might currently owe, for now you are a deceiver and seen as one with dark motives to cover your faults. The punishment will destroy you as it David by tearing apart not only his family but his entire kingdom as well. The consequences will never justify scape-goating. You will discover the haunted warning of Numbers 32:23, “and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.”
The short-term victory, or more accurately – stifling – has now grown to vigilant escalation. The resentment is just waiting for a reason, regardless of how petty it may be, to re-launch its pain. You may have won for one night, but from now on you walk a tight line between ruin and heated battle. Submerged conflict is repressed pain and it will never go away until its obligation is paid in full. If it remains repressed in the Netherlands of a wounded ego it will magnify to such an extent that mere “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” justice will not be enough. The skewered perspective will demand much more than the original snubbing warrants. Yes, that short, one night satisfaction will cost you devastation in the long run.
4) Intervention. If you are done worsening this situation, it’s time for experienced help. No offense is meant, but if you yourself are experienced in daily confrontational conflict for such experience then unless your job is mediation you are probably doing some things very wrong! Hostile, escalated conflict should not be part of a typical day. Experience of combat-like conflict marks a scarred life style. Get over it soon because you are stripping years from your life’s quality on a daily basis.
The sooner intervention is sought the better the prospects of healthy resolution and for the pure-hearted, prospects of even better things than merely resolution will be in store for them.
If the situation has grown into enough pain that you no longer want to come to church then you have a problem. Church is NOT supposed to be a forum of egotistical sparring. Church is supposed to be a resource and refuge of healing and peace. The spiritual stakes are too high to allow such a painful atmosphere to abide. Seek help.
If the differences are realized soon enough, a local objective business person may satisfy the role for arbitration. Let them in on the differences and if they hold enough trust and discretion, trust their integrity for a suitable compromise and truce to allow a return to the finer virtues of the church’s mission as an outpost of God’s kingdom. If you believed enough in your church’s role and God’s expectations for the behavior of his people then you will do this. Failure is only a sign of shallow love. If you truly loved your church you would take the steps to assure its safety and continued effective growth.
Jesus teaching about mediation has the ultimate goal of preserving and even nurturing church unity (Matthew 18:15-17). If someone sins against you, don’t put it off; don’t pretend and nurse an inner grudge that will gnaw your spirit away, even when you do not realize the malignant work of such a spiritual cancer. Go and talk to them, just between you and them. You will be surprised how many times the offense is quickly resolved simply by “clarifying” perspectives.
However, not always. Sometimes you will need help. Expand the situation to one more person with some expertise in peace-making who might confront, clarify, expose and even arbitrate a difference. Such a matter becomes most challenging now, but if love of relationships mean anything to you then the risk must be taken.
And if even this proves futile, do not hide the matter. Make it known to the fellowship that the difference could not be mediated. Differences remained too deeply embedded and common ground has been lost. This final step is painful and shocking, but the warning of Hebrews 12:15, “that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Confrontation may ruin a relationship, but avoidance and resentments will ruin an entire community! Take on courage and vision of the broader goal of the church and step into the unknown risk of settling a difference.
Intervention has limited goals. Damage control is a primary motive for settling a hostile situation that has escalated with irrational intensity. Boundaries must be implemented to instill a clear truce among the seething pain. Once peace has been accepted a skilled arbitrator may redirect energies to focus upon productive possibilities. The differences may be corralled and subdued back into reasonable control by all parties, but bear in mind that only behavior modification has been addressed so far. If your energies are depleted this may suffice for a while. Retreat and regain energy. Prepare for the hope of healing stages that must follow at some future point.
The first half of this process has focused on settling hostilities and upholding peace. In business settings this may be enough since mere functionality is a high enough goal which will yield good success and noble rewards. However, the church has a higher calling. Our Lord holds higher expectations than mere functionality. As a king, he maintains rights to excellence of his kingdom. Not perfection from people who have proven their imperfection, but a passion for noble grace and dignified love to fuel and nurture transcendent, spiritual community
5) Negotiation. The rally toward fully engaged solutions encompassing not only behavior but reformed hearts and souls has sounded. Whereas previous stages sought civility (a very good cause, by the way), the next half will enliven courageous churches to find solid and positive faith to solve differences and energize the power of godly unity. Unfortunately, only the brave churches will be able to proceed through this challenging portal. The rewards are remarkable, but since most churches have not been here, or it m ay have been so long ago, that powerful faith must energize the courage to proceed. A better way is closer than you realize.
Negotiation will offend hardened egos flourishing in their pride and arrogance. Their lust for power will demand naïve goals of being “right” and there is little more to consider. “Right is right,” right? Only if you are a tyrannical despot or a hermit spinning your own sense of reality apart from the reality in the rest of the world. The power of negotiation with a godly heart may yield great healing and tame the restless and unsatiated quest for power.
Compromise is the intimidating factor that inflated egos fear. When one’s ego is wounded, they want retribution and expiation and better yet pure revenge, not settling for the consideration of others involved, especially those blamed for the wounds. Yet compromise bears the essential keys to the possibility of genuine Christian community.
What compromises are we thinking about here? Relax, faith issues are not in question; we are not asking anyone to compromise any capacity of spiritual life or devotion to God. On the contrary, these are the ultimate goals of where we are heading, which will hopefully lead us to new possibilities. The question of compromise has to do with our perspective of personal power and control. These are not to be discounted, not at all. They are necessary ingredients for a healthy soul. Sound mental health requires the ability to maintain control of your surroundings and situation of life. Without some sense of personal control the doubting of self-worth would stunt your hope for spiritual wholeness. It would be much too stifling. You need some control over your own life, but if you have desire to be at peace with other then you must learn the rule of give and take. You cannot have it all (again unless you are a cruel despot or a hermit). Schoolyard politics taught us long ago that some rules of sharing and taking your turn must be promoted and upheld, or you will pay a cost.
Healthy compromise will probably require a good counselor especially in mediation theory and practice. A central premise of Roger Fisher and William Ury in their extraordinary book, Getting to Yes, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1992) is that mutual interests are always sought. Scratch beneath the surface and get to the fueling desires and a skilled mediator will find and lift up the areas of mutual interest. These will probably not canter around the right thermostat temperature, but it will move to the real issue of comfort. Hopefully thermostat police will not be required, but sweaters or choice of seating may suffice the differences. And when the matter turns to deeper issues of respecting the needs and personal values of the “colder” congregants, if the warmer side furnishes the sweaters it just might be enough to resolve the double issue of goose bumps AND some measure of control and say in the regular functions and life of their church.
Sigmund Freud is reluctantly accepted with his Pleasure Principle notions, that no one ever does anything without a subtle interest in personal gain. For Freud, altruism is a mere myth. A pleasant notion, but still just a myth. Look closer and you will always find a hidden agenda in those nice deeds. Hopefully the goal is God’s glory, but more often than not the driving quest is “What’s in it for me, personally?” That’s where the skilled mediator will find real progress toward reconciliation.
You seek to agree wherever possible. Providing mutual interests are upheld, affirmed and then protected, much conflict is resolved right there. Mutual respect will unlock what was once a detestable notion. Respect their interests, despite how much it seems like petty whining. Once the question of personal value is resolved you will likely be surprised to discover that the thermostat setting was a rather tiny issue after all, merely a tangible point representing the deeper issues involved under the surface. The point of difference really was petty, but the deeper issue of their heart will reveal how important this problem really is to them.
Here is where a paradox arises. The stronger party will find recourse to settle for a lesser stake in the matter before the weaker party can react. This principle may only work within a Christian community believing and living its expression of faith. Those in more confidant control with the better energy and strength might hold out longer in hostile conflict, but their better heart will enable them to delay their interests. If Christ has softened their raging heart, they will be able to assert the required strength to give up some assertion of desire that spiritual community might thrive.
Paul’s discussion of “headship” within the marriage covenant is our model. In 1 Corinthians 11:3, the husband is called upon to be the head of the marriage/family relationship,
“But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”
Among the ego driven men, this exhortation is interpreted as “power” and kingship and control. The wife must fulfill the duties of the king and . . . excuse me while I excuse myself to expel this nauseum from my mind. If one is called to headship within a Christian relationship this is not to post a rebellion and coupe over the place of Christ himself, but a call to duty. The same holds true for a stronger party in a dispute of interests. They must be ready to make the first courageous steps of setting aside personal interests. This gives the weaker party the chance to reciprocate, for they could never give ground from a weaker stance. They know they could be overpowered.
Give up the ground now, but in moderation. Don’t raise up spoiled princes and princesses, but do give them the opportunity to deal with their pain and differences. You will often be surprised, but if they respond with sour opportunism the call for a temporary stronger hand may be justified, but with temperance. Spare yourself the sin of Rehoboam (1 Kings 12), who sought pure egotistic power in his disastrous leap for control.
This amounts to an ability to delay your sense of gratification. M. S. Peck marked such an act as a true sign of adulthood (The Road Less Traveled, chapter ) , since only immature children demand instant gratification. Sometimes the exertion of a strong, yet humble hand will perform much healing within itself. By good faith, consider the possibility.
The need for such mature initiative may be seen is Paul’s concern about the workings of the selfish will (AKA, “the Flesh,” c. King James). In Galatians 5:19-21, he draws the lines for unacceptable and destructive behavior:
- Sexual immorality
- Fits of Rage
- Selfish Ambition
Out of these vices listed, notice what dominates the topic, “dissension,” which scores 8 out of 15 points, over half! Most conservative churches will put a spotlight on their own top sins, such as smoking, swearing, gambling, social drinking, tattoos, etc., and these do not even make it on the list. The sins deserving a spotlight are those which threaten church unity, because they can unravel the very spiritual fabric of God’s kingdom. Jesus urgent prayer “that all of them may be one” is not to be taken lightly (John 17:21).
6) Collaboration. During World War 2 this concept took a terrible PR dive into contemptible practice. It involved betrayal by cooperating with the enemy. However, a purer biblical model is found in Colossians 3:12-14
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Rather than face off with each other and draw sides, collaboration calls us side by side. As Jesus explains the Holy Spirit as Paraclete, literally, “Called beside,” so Christians are encouraged to a similar role to come along beside each other and see the differences from different perspectives. There’s plenty to learn about life when we view it from other perspectives. Given enough courage we may even catch glimpses of the weaknesses in our perspective and find a ready resource for strengthening our point to reach optimum decision making.
Diversity is our goal, but what an elusive goal it remains. Most groups will exhort diversity as a combatant to closed minds and the ability to remain relevant and progressive. Unfortunately the practice of diversity exposes the truer agendas. Reality often proves that diversity only exists when everyone already agrees.
Genuine diversity is far more precious than idealized rhetoric could inhibit and stifle its bounteous store of knowledge and experience. Personal values of courage, humility and a pure love of truth must fill the heart before diversity may ever have the chance to escape and energize healthy collaboration. Courage will call out one’s heart to reveal their thoughts, feelings and doubts, despite how others may disagree. That’s when humility must arise to refine the perspective for what they are, unrefined thoughts, feelings and doubts seeking reality testing. You must be willing to discard them as soon as balanced evidence arrives to expose and develop them toward better notions. However you must believe it that until these raw notions are brought out onto the table the chance for growing thought is stifled. Please believe that your opinion will actually provide necessary “transition” for the group to enhance its effectiveness. When you keep such insights, however incomplete they may be, you deprive the group the opportunity to get off the fence and evolve. By the way, your participation makes you a part of the group. It’s all about synergy (more on this in stage 8).
If your heart and motives are in a good place then a natural love for truth and the health of your community will unlock the gridlock. It will show in your striving, in what you keep aiming to achieve. If preserving your bruised ego is what you consistently try to manufacture the introspective prayer and godly counsel will empower you to get over yourself and get back to the interests and sought solutions of the community.
Strategy for cultivating mutual growth requires a humble attitude which requires leaving room for different perspectives. You can only do this by intentionally resisting the urge to put closures on your thinking, which leaves them for what they need to be early on in group processing; opinions. Leave them open ended and lacking decisions until your team/community has a chance for input and refinement. This allows them to evolve beyond mere opinion and especially to guard against eccentric escapades.
You will need to forfeit pride and the natural human desire for Power and Control. Leave room for others to have a chance to contribute to the discussion and you will eventually discover stronger conclusions and direction beyond your own limited awareness, and the greater community goal of shared ownership of a developing vision/plan. A one sided personal plan will never take on life until others share the birthing development, nurture and growth of the idea. Eventually you must let it go to become community property of processed vision instead of your own wishes and ego driven desires. Your ego will have to suffer and die before God’s spirit will empower the vision. Jesus has already warned us that effective discipleship will not occur until we crucify those personal agenda issues, “Those who would be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). This lesson of discipleship is especially prominent in the active formation of church life. Where else would you expect it to occur?
7) Resolution. The differences are settled and a mutual agreement has been reached. A good contract has been agreed upon and perhaps even signed by the parties involved. Everyone is happy and hope has been restored for better days ahead. A positive atmosphere of hope has appeared and people are confident once again that their church and community has a lively present and even a better future. Coming to church worship on Sunday mornings does not cave in your soul any more. Uttering a friendly “hello” no longer has to hang a sign of hypocrite on your heavenly estate. You are to be commended for your brave work. Good job!
Some things you will discover when you reach this stage is that you can exist in the same building with these other people and that you really do love them deep within your God-molded heart of hearts. However, . . . you may have to deal with the reality that you do not actually . . . like these people. They have done and said cruddy things to you and about you. Hopefully all can be forgiven and put into a secure “in the Past” category, but still you know that doing a long planned vacation is out of the question. Does that mean that your love is insincere? Not necessarily. It just shows that your personality types ought to limit their exposure to each other. The variety of personality types naturally incur fulfilling compatibilities and cursed differences.
Healthy teams can compliment strengths and compensate weaknesses. In a work situation this is ideal, but once quitting time arrives that sort of team needs to go their separate ways to their homes and not strain their ability to work together. Differences will slaughter their spirits outside of the managed work environment. While at work you may disapprove all you want of certain behaviors, but it is their natural innate abilities that are being applied to the work goals. You do not have to like them just get along with them enough to reach your objectives.
Some of this reality may have to be extended to church life. Accept the reality that your hearts, interests and values are simply different – not at all wrong or right, or even better; just different. Some of these different differences will probably baffle you and make such little and pitiful sense, but remember that Jesus never said we had to agree or even understand each other, just to love each other, even in all our glorified strangeness. It’s not our job to orchestrate this huge panorama of variegated spirits. God knows better than that. That’s the role of the Holy Spirit. He had to call in the big guns for this one. Who are you to suppose that your abilities would rival the Holy Spirit? Give that notion a rest along with your carnal desires to control the situations and outcomes. You are merely a participation and not the whole show. Please bring your part, but leave your power issues at home.
How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
8) Transformation. This final stage is most elusive to secular communities or even to churches who have accidentally or intentionally sold out their spiritual agenda for material objectives. Transformation calls for us to trade our interests for better and more noble causes and purposes. Here lies the secret for renewed vision toward a better direction.
At the heart of this stage lies the very nature of a New Testament concept for united fellowship known in Greek as Koinonia, which calls for far more than merely adjusting viewpoints and perspectives. Such radical togetherness changes the whole fabric of community, starting where it matters most; inside out. Koinonia begins with inner change, reshaping the heart and even our core values and priorities. Before the issues are debated and argued, this spiritual change has already begun to alter their course and spiritual, heavenly values shape the parameters of considerations.
Glimpses of Koinonia can be observed in the early church, recorded in the book of Acts. These marvelous snapshots portray not only the capacities of how a church community should function, but surely they model godly expectations of how a church community is supposed to function. As a church, we are different from IBM or Pepsico. Why do we value such worldly standards to set the pace for what we are divinely called to become?
44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.
What prohibits the modern 21st Century church from such behavior as this? Why have churches sold out for anything less than radical care for one another? Such marvelous communities still happen, but finding them requires much effort. Living such a community life requires brave practice. Sacrifice is the initial step, to give up selfish ambition and let some things pass on by when they would promote worldly standards of fame and success. For the humble heart that trades in worldly objectives for heavenly treasures, it can happen. True, in the grand scheme of eternal matters, they are not fools to give up what they cannot keep anyway in order to gain that which they cannot lose in heaven itself. Sacrifices in this world cultivate corresponding rewards in heavenly estates. Recall Jesus’ warning, “What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul?” (Matthew 16:26). Sometimes we need to set aside the temporal business best sellers long enough to regain our right perspective on what Jesus expects from his church.
Popular mediation strategies end too soon, although they have likely ran their expected course and exhausted their understood resources. This final stage just might be restricted to those trusting a transcendent source of energy beyond those methods commonly taught and services rendered. That differing groups once locked in degrading conflict, even combat, might surpass their pride long enough to taste an experience wholly new and wholly satisfying, which just might energize them toward a completely new experience/level of spiritual unity.
It’s the height of Christian Koinonia, wonderfully modeled by our Lord’s choice of disciples. Imagine sworn enemies sitting at table together having forgotten their past hatred and grudges. Can you envision Simon, a zealot once sworn to kill Roman collaborators, passing the gravy to Matthew, a Roman collaborator? This mix was not an accident. Jesus selects the most radical members to model the reality that it can happen. Contrary and hateful personalities can be changed into cooperative parties. We can barely imagine the healing power required for such a miracle. We can only witness and experience it happening because it requires divine intervention by the Holy Spirit to change hardened and devious hearts toward fully converted disciples of Christ. Our part is fervent prayer to 1) Make sure it happens in us first and 2) Plead, beg, barter, promise, whine and generally pester God to bring on such radical transformation. If you truly desire such community transformation, try an experiential study of fasting – if you dare!
Transformation is usually an alternative a conflicted community had not anticipated. Such spiritual pursuit is the normal pursuit from God’s perspective, which always surprises his people just to prove who is really in charge of any given situation. It even defiantly contradicts our own planning in order to prove God’s hand, depriving us of any chance to boast about our smart sense of goodness. God’s ways are usually well above our own sense of judgment.
‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Neither are your ways my ways,’ says the Lord.
‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are my ways higher than your ways
And my thoughts than your thoughts.’
If you only read such a passage in purely geographical terms, as though heaven were no more than cloudy residence, you will miss the remarkable alteration of perspective. God’s ways do not simply bounce upon clouds as light and frivolous notions, but they operate by an entirely new paradigm. That Isaiah opens the reality to us would serve no purpose to snub us and show us up as inadequate, but to inspire the possibility of new ways of thinking about life, community and what a church might look like once it renounces material paradigms and courageously seeks out new ones through faith and trust in the one who calls us to new ways.
Issues have arisen to process and work out.
In fact, this can be a very healthy process as a church or local social group arrives at the need to grow, develop and adapt to new challenges which have fallen upon their path.
A skilled leader will need to step up with courage and vision to guide this stage through a healthy development. Positive transformation may become a rich blessing, but without careful regard circumstances may hijack the hopes into bad places.
Pay attention. It’s time to dismiss the naïve assumptions of our dreams.
. . .