Where are the leaders who are ready to show some courage? Where are those who will risk losing everything for the sake of the reign of God?
People are tired of the fighting
I talk with a lot of people from around the world. Many come from churches where there are major disputes. Most Christians are sick and tired of the aggressive, disrespectful way in which debates happen. So, they want leaders who will find a way to resolve problems in the church without trying to control and remove their opponents.
Framing debates as “yes” or “no”; “left” or “right”; “liberal” or “conservative” is not helping. Forcing people to argue from the extremes is proving to be ineffective in resolving conflict. Yet people in many churches seem to be rewarded for being warriors for their extreme position. However this is alienating for people inside and outside the church.
People are looking for leaders who have courage. The church needs people who have the courage to take the risk of not fighting! People in the pews are tired of the paralysis that afflicts their church when disagreements go on and on.
What does courage look like?
Courage is being prepared to
- give up my desire to control others
- value relationships over power
- trust that God knows best and so be open to change
- believe that God desires the unity of his family
- acknowledge that I have made God in my own image when God hates all the same people that I do
- do unto others as I would have them do to me
- love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me
Please add to this list from your own heart. What is hard for you to do in support of fostering a faithful, loving, quality Christian community?
Seek relationships instead of control
The only way to get past the paralysis that comes from hyper partisanship is by seeing the other person as a fellow human being.
There are many examples of where constructive and life giving options have been generated as people stop seeking control and work on the relationship. Perhaps the most powerful and common example is in divorces and setting up parenting plans. When a couple have a toxic relationship it harms the children; makes them bitter for longer; it is destructive and costly; makes later adaptations to the plan difficult; and limits the number of options. As couples focus on the children and take time to understand the needs of the other person, they generate better solutions that are easier to live with.
It’s the same for disputes in the wider society and the church. Of course it is not easy for people to just switch off their desire for control – that’s why mediators are needed. It isn’t easy for some Christians to stop wanting to demonise their opponents and to get their way -that’s why facilitators are needed. Taking up the alternative of showing respect, de-escalating the tension and looking for alternative solutions does not come easy.
Seek relationships over control. You don’t have to change your mind on the issues in dispute. But you should change your attitude to the other person and the issue.
Will people seek relationships over control?
I like to think that the Holy Spirit will make it possible! But faith is an act of will, as much as it is a gift of grace. People have to choose to be obedient to Christ.
God has created a community through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We are incorporated into that community through trusting (faith) in what God has done in Jesus. Our responsibility as disciples is to live in this community that gathers around Christ. This community is our primary identity. It is God’s will that we be one for the sake of the witness of Christ in the world.
When we are convinced that the quality of our discipleship as Christians is more important to God than our opinions on theological and ethical issues then we will choose relationships over control. The early observers of Christians did not say “Look at those Christians – see how they agree with one another.” Rather it was said “Look at those Christians – see how they love one another.”
People will seek relationships over control when they have the courage to believe the Gospel that we are one in Jesus Christ. However, this unity is not achieved by what we do, but by what God has done in Jesus Christ.
Does it happen in real life?
It is somewhat sad, but perhaps encouraging, that most of the examples of success come from outside the church. It is encouraging because if fighting spouses, political enemies, and hostile opponents on moral issues in society can do it then Christians should find it easier.
People move from control to relationships when they:
- know that the present way of working is destructive
- have a hope that things can work better
- have a unifying principle, eg being citizens, family, fellow believers, etc
- show courage by giving up power
- habit disrupting rules are put in place
- firm structures are put in place
- thoughtful questions are offered
Mark Gerzon in The Reunited States of America, offers numerous examples of community organisations that are helping people to make the move from hyper partisan and aggressive approaches to healthy and respectful discussions. I recommend that you buy the book.
You can also look up some previous posts on this site for how change can happen, for example here. Or find examples of where and how change has happened in The Church Guide For Making Decisions Together.
Be of good courage, keep the faith, hold strong to the calling that you have in Jesus Christ.