Conflict and a Parting of Ways in the Church

By Joe LaGuardia

Being Christ’s Church is no easy task.  As far back as the New Testament, churches have been dealing with weighty matters from Bible interpretation to theological wrangling so much that we should not be surprised when some churches fight and split.

Scripture provides us with a blueprint for how to manage conflicts in church.  The question of gentile inclusion in Acts 15, for instance, reveals a process of discernment that promoted communication, testimonies, Bible interpretation, and compromise that produced healthy church growth.

A later incident in Acts 15 describes what happens when people in churches have irreconcilable differences that discernment cannot overcome.  What happens when the only solution to disagreement is a parting of ways?

Acts 15:36-41 recalls a sharp disagreement between Barnabas and Paul on whether to bring John Mark on a second missionary journey.   They did not come to a compromise and they arrived at an impasse.  Paul and Barnabas parted ways.

A close reading of the text reveals four effective strategies in managing a church conflict in which irreconcilable disagreements did not spell the end of friendships but exposed a new season of ministry inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The first strategy is that Paul and Barnabas keep their focus on God’s mission and don’t make the conflict personal.  The Bible clearly outlines that Barnabas and Paul had different personalities: Barnabas was a bridge-building who longed to keep everyone together.  Mark was family, so there was a willingness to give him a second chance.  Paul was all business.  He was not as forgiving, and God’s mission was at stake.

This strategy shows that when churches do conflict resolution well, they emphasize the mission of the church rather than resorting to personal attacks.

Second, Paul and Barnabas valued communication.  Paul could have easily went along with Barnabas only to flirt with resentment if things went sour later in the journey, but Paul was honest with his friend.  He trusted Barnabas with his concerns, and the “sharp disagreement” shows a deep sense of honor between the two men.  There was mutual respect, and in Paul’s later letter to the Corinthian churches (1 Cor. 9), Paul still considered Barnabas his peer and equal after the division–they may not have agreed, but they still affirmed each other’s mission.

What we should emphasize is not the conflict, but what Paul and Barnabas have in common–a zeal to share the Gospel” – St. Crysostom.

A third strategy is to have an understanding of God’s sacred time: there is a season for everything.  What may appear to be discomfort, disagreement, or discord to us may simply be the Holy Spirit’s way of inspiring a new season of ministry.

In this season of ministry, Paul recognized that Mark was not the right guy for the job.  Later, after Mark matured in the faith, Paul recruited him to minister to churches in Colossae as Paul remained in prison (Colossians 4:10).

The focus remained on the mission and Mark was not necessarily the problem–sometimes the problem is with our sense of timing.  When seasons of ministry shift, change and discomfort result from that restless anxiety that tips our hat to the movement of the Spirit.

In times of discomfort or disagreement, we need to STOP, LISTEN, and ASSESS where the Holy Spirit may be at work to break us into a new level of revival, mission, zeal, or ministry.

Last, in parting ways not by discord but by effective conflict resolution, Paul and Barnabas expanded God’s mission.  God’s mission does not collapse or implode or falter.  When we resolve conflict by our own strength and design, churches split and bring some ministries to an end.  When God’s mission remains our focus and we make decisions because we are in tune with the Holy Spirit, God replicates and multiplies church communities.

As a result of their parting of ways, Barnabas and Mark ministered in Cyprus while Paul began a second missionary journey that ventured as far as Macedonia.  St. Crysostom wrote about this text, “What we should emphasize is not the conflict, but what Paul and Barnabas have in common–a zeal to share the Gospel.”

When conflicts arise, our first step as Christians should be to put in place a process of spiritual discernment that seeks to bring reconciliation and restoration in the church and the church’s mission.  When irreconcilable differences occur, however, we must put in place a process of a different kind; yet, our concern should always be the same: Are we living deeper into God’s holiness and are we proactively reaching the lost with every decision that is made?

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A Thousand Little Things Make the Difference

walking-on-the-beach

By Joe LaGuardia

This post first ran on the “Pastor’s Blog” of First Baptist Church of Vero Beach, Florida.  Find the original article here.

After church last Sunday, I was crazy enough to do my exercise walk on the beach in 55-degree, windy weather.  The waves were breaking as far as the eye could see, almost perpendicular to the coast, and the wind was so strong the seagulls were flying backwards (or, was it that they were blowing away with grace?).

The first half of my walk took me southbound, so the wind was at my back.  I wore shorts, so I felt sand pelting against my legs.  The sand hurt, like a thousand little needle pricks on my skin.

On the walk back I had to bundle in my sweater–it took me twice as long to get back.  The seagulls and I fought the wind together.  By the time I reached my car, I felt like sea salt had settled in my lungs.

When we think of ministry–not just for a minister, but all of us–we often think of the big things we do that bring meaning to the lives of others.  Ministry and mission projects, feeding the impoverished, helping the elderly, teaching Sunday School class– those are the things that come to mind.

But I am often reminded that ministry is made up of the sum of a thousand little decisions and acts of kindness we do over the course of time.

Something  as simple as a smile can make a person’s day.  Praying for someone who “pops” into your mind while driving in the car can make a difference. Writing a short note of encouragement can move and inspire people to act in godly ways.

But the opposite is also true.  We can harm relationships and people by the thousand little ways that we prick and needle at their lives and hearts.  Words hurt, decisions not always wise can distract people from finding healing and encouragement.  We can be bad friends who are held at arms-length because we take advantage or take others for granted.

As you walk your journey path this week, consider that it is often the little things that count.  Be mindful, pray often, and keep aware of the way God shines through you!

An Interfaith Thanksgiving Blessing

By Wayne Martin, Chair, Interfaith Task Force, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia

THANKSGIVING, 2015

Nearly every day—somebody—somewhere in America…is honoring some historic day…

Observing a particular occasion or celebrating a noble tradition…whether

The “Fire Ant Festival” in Ashburn, GA, during the last full week in March…

The National “Hollering Day” on the third Saturday in June in Spivey’s Corner, NC…

The “Georgia Peach Festival” on June 6th in Byron, GA…

National holidays like July 4th…Labor Day…or certain days considered ‘Holy’. 

Today—this very day—a group of people…somewhere in our country…

Is celebrating a favorite cause…a cultural tradition…or a sacred moment long passed! 

 

The cause for the ‘celebration’ of a chosen day often becomes as much

About the ‘festivities’ of the gathering as about the ‘reasons’ for the celebration.

What is so special about Ashburn, Georgia?   Visiting the Fire Ant Festival, of course.

What is so attractive about Spivey’s Corner, North Carolina?   To go to a Hollering contest.

Why drive a 100 miles to a small town in central Georgia?  To see a Peach Festival parade.

Is it really July 4th without fireworks?  Can we celebrate Labor Day without a picnic?

How can it be Thanksgiving if we don’t have ‘turkey’ and pumpkin pie for dinner?  

Isn’t something missing in our religious holidays, if the most important things are

The  gifts of Christmas….the ‘latkes’ of Chanukah…or the ‘breaking of the fast’ of Ramadan?

 

As the years go by, we face the growing temptation to make

Patriotic holidays…sacred days of remembrance…traditional cultural gatherings

Times of fun and frolic more than occasions of contemplation and meditation!

 So, whatever our faiths…however different our traditions or diverse our cultures…

In the depths of our hearts, may we feel God’s loving care…

In the resources of our spirits, may we sense the Lord’s tender mercy and

In the corners of our souls, may we feel His guiding presence as we face these times!

 

In the Spirit of Thanksgiving…

We thank Thee—O God—for Thy presence with us in these days of fear…

We are grateful for the friendship we have with our brothers and sisters of other faiths…

Bless us, we pray, with ‘people of peace’…those individuals of different persuasions but…

Who live by the principle of ‘tolerance’…who realize the importance of ‘respect’…

Who know the power of  ‘acceptance’ and who constantly seek ways to work together       

In the building of a greater community and in creating peace among Thy people. 

In Thy great community of faith where each and every one is called to love one another…

May we rejoice in our friendship with those of other traditions and different customs…

In that friendship, may we, O Lord, discover the sacredness of ‘thy community’…

And in that friendship may we learn what it means to be part of the Family of God…Amen”

 

Rev. D. Wayne Martin on behalf of  The Interfaith Task Force of the CBF of Georgia