After an interim of over two and a half years, my wife and I are visiting congregations looking for a church home in our community. Each week, I am seeing church life from a PEWspective.
I went to the first church we attended with deep reservations. I knew the story of conflict within the congregation that had resulted in a serious split where many left. To her credit, my wife was not concerned about the conflict and didn’t want to know the story that I tried to share. She merely wanted to attend so I stopped trying to tell her what I knew and we went.
Conflict has always made me feel uneasy even though I have faced it head-on in my two interims. From the moment we reached the front steps, I discovered that I was in for a wonderful surprise. This was the friendliest congregation I had ever attended. People went out of their way to speak to us and make us welcome. They did not just speak, but shared their stories and one woman even invited us to attend a Bible study that she said “made a difference in my life.” The most telling moment happened when the two women on the pew in front of us were talking to each other after we had talked. They were discussing a women’s event held the day before and one of the women then said, “Isn’t it wonderful to be part of a happy, helping church again.”
Could it be possible that out of the conflict and split that the people were beginning to discover anew what it meant to be the people of God at this place? I had not expected that reaction. The two women continued talking about what it meant to be happy and helping. I immediately wondered if the people who had left might be saying the same thing–”Isn’t it wonderful to be part of a happy, helping church again.”
Conflict is a black hole that absorbs all the energy and enthusiasm leaving no time for anything else. Taking a side in the dispute is more important that listening to God’s call to mission and ministry which gets pushed to the side as the conflict escalates and is played out.
I’m sure that both sides in this conflict will face difficult times ahead but I was taught an important lesson. I was defining the congregation in terms of conflict but they taught me that conflict does not have to define a congregation. When we begin to concentrate on reaching out in our Lord’s name, we begin to move past conflict to a happy and helping fellowship of believers.