In the sixth chapter of Acts the early church has come to a point of organizational changes dealing with conflict resolutions. The apostles are called upon to help organize the church to take care of the widows in the fellowship. Demands are placed upon the apostle’s to create what will become the first deacons of the baby church.
These changes of the early church are tests for the new leaders. John Maxwell says that the “test of a leader is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.”1
In moments of change and transition, organizational conflicts are very common. Although these conflicts are common, Albrey Malphurs says that, “Scripture is replete with examples of how God raised up strong leaders of change to lead his people in a crisis.”2
In the book of Acts this is such a case. The first organizational conflicts for the church birthed the ministry of deacons--a ministry which the Apostle Paul expounded upon in his letters to Timothy.
Breaking Race Barriers: Peter’s Vision
In his book Eating the Elephant, Thom S. Rainer says that the avoidance of conflict in the development of the church leads to what he calls the “passive pastor.”3 In dealing with the growth and expansion of the church it will be necessary to deal with conflict. Peter knew that the taking of the gospel to those who were not Jewish would create conflict within the church.
The taking of the gospel to those outside ones race is still a major challenge for many Christians. John Maxwell says that “the size of the person is more important than the size of the problem.”4 However, there are many congregations that are still working through race issues.
The call for the Christian and the Christian Church is to “change their perspectives and not their problem.”5 The call to grow beyond racial and ethnic barriers can produce challenges and conflicts for any congregation.
Disagreement on the Team
The conflict in dealing with personalities is probably one of the most common conflicts in the church today. The type of leadership style which the Apostle Paul possessed was one that was not always agreeable with those he worked with. The conflict between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark gives a strong support to the statement “Leadership demands persistence and moving people out of their comfort zones.”6 Although this is a fact that cannot be avoided “this type of leadership can engender conflict.”7
There can be little doubt that Paul and Barnabas were involved in an adverse situation over what should be done with the young John Mark, however, as a result, two teams evolved. Leith Anderson believes that such an event is an opening for the work of the Lord. He says, “Adversity is often the window of opportunity for change.”8 The challenges faced by controversy and disagreement can be opportunities of expansive growth.
“Don’t resent the tough times. Don’t mark off the days until the problem will be over. It is in hardship that we learn endurance. It is in difficulty that we become stronger."9
Criticisms Within the Fellowship
In chapters fourteen and fifteen of Romans, Paul addresses the conflicts which arise from differing opinion concerning such issues as
- what to eat or not eat vv. 1-4
- what days are holy days vv. 5-6
- how to give thanks for food v. 6
- how to behave as a believer with other believers
Although these issues may be of little importance to the modern congregations, these issues were causing conflict within the church of Paul’s day. Carl George sees conflict and disagreement as inevitable. In fact, George believes that conflict which can develop within the church fellowship can be a catalyst for growth.10 He says that conflict is “inevitably to arise.”11 How we deal with conflict can be destructive or productive. The choice is ours.
Conflicts Caused by Spiritual Immaturity
I Corinthians 1; I Corinthians 3:1-3
One of the challenges before any congregation is that of dealing with the spiritually immature. This is nothing new. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, had a clear understanding of those who were still infants in the faith. It is a challenge to be patient with adults who should be more mature than they are.
One of the greatest tasks of a leader is that of encouraging and nurturing the immature. Ken Hemphill says, “Love demands that we employ our gifts in such a manner that they enhance community relations.”12 The conflicts which evolve from the immaturity of others calls upon the maturity of those who lead. “Love is the mark of an authentic spiritual person.”13 This spirit can only be found in the mature believer.
Divisions in the Congregation
Like many congregations today, Corinth was suffering from “cliques.” There were divisions in the church at Corinth which seemed to be at odds with one another. Carl George calls cliques within the church the “Sand Dollar Syndrome.”14 George defines this syndrome in this manner:
“Like the sand dollar’s star embossing, a series of overlapping cliques of people are found within a church durably bound together by post experiences, common interests, and family ties. The rest of the church occupies the space outside of this close, clannish structure of friendships and alliances. These peripheral, marginal people are participants in the sub-congregation, or sand dollar, but they know they’re not insiders.”15
George goes on to say that “newcomers who attempt to assert themselves find that they have to fight for acceptance.”16 The sad conclusion when this type of behavior is part of church life is that newcomers cannot “forcibly break into a clique.”17 These new people will either force themselves in or withdraw after a time.
When Lies Are Being Taught in the Church
One of the greatest challenges that a leader has is that of telling God’s truth and not man’s assumptions. With the extreme varieties of worship styles and congregational development there may be a temptation to alter and even do away with the pure preaching of God’s word. This would not only suppress the effectiveness of the work of a fellowship, it would also encourage this type of behavior among the immature Christian discussed in I Corinthians 3:1-3.
Lyle E. Schaller says that “one source of destructive internal conflict is when the pastor and the volunteer leaders cannot agree.”18 Of course Schaller is referring to organizational matters of the church; however, this certainly would also apply to the doctrinal foundation of the fellowship.
A congregation which does not have a clear understanding of the premise upon which the church is founded is inevitably headed for destruction. This is especially true if lies and untruths of any nature are used in the development of the congregation.
The value of trust is greatly diminished when the truth is suppressed. Paul spoke directly to Timothy when he said that he should not give attention to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes (I Timothy 1:3-4). Lies within the fellowship cause extreme conflicts.
These basic principles can help resolve conflict. The New Testament is a great resource for conflict resolution.
- John C. Maxwell, Developing the Leader within You (Thomas Nelson Publishers; Nashville; 1993), page 81.
- Albrey Malphurs, Pouring New Wine Into Old Wineskins (Baker Books; Grand Rapids; 1993), p. 114
- Thom S. Rainer, Eating the Elephant (Broadman and Holman Publishers; Nashville, 1994), p. 38
- Maxwell, Developing the Leader Within You, p.77
- Ibid., p. 77
- Thom S. Rainer, High Expectations (Broadman and Holman Publishers; Nashville, 1999), pp. 169-170
- Ibid., pp.169-170
- Leith Anderson, Dying for Change (Bethany House Publishers; Minnesota, 1990) p.198
- Ibid., p. 193
- Carl George, Prepare Your Church for the Future (Fleming H. Revell Company; New York, 1991), p. 100
- Ibid., p. 100
- Ken Hemphill, Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall: Discovering Your True Self Through Spiritual Gifts (Broadman Press; Nashville, 1992), p. 78
- Ibid, p. 72
- Carl George, Prepare Your Church for the Future p. 64
- Ibid pp65-66
- Ibid, p. 66
- Ibid, p 66
- Lyle E. Schaller, The Interventionist (Abingdon Press; Nashville, 1997) , p. 137