A Brick in the Valley

Expect Conflict
November 28, 2007, 9:27 pm
Filed under: Leadership

Somehow American Christians (I can’t speak for the rest of the world) believe that if they do everything right at church, there won’t be conflict.  I guess this is true, if everyone did everything right.

But, in a fallen world, the reality is the opposite.  When a local church really begins to follow Christ, then they can expect conflict.  It is certain.  In fact, a lack of conflict, may be a warning sign!

Still, when there is conflict some say, “Something is wrong – – we must not be headed in the right direction. . .”

But, the Bible gives countless examples of how people who followed Christ faced conflict.  Reflect on the following verses:

After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you-for I will be going through Macedonia. Perhaps I will stay with you awhile, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me (1 Corinthians 16:5-9).”

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:28-30).

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe (Jude 3-5).

But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit (Jude 17-19).

When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble-burned as they are?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building-if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity (Nehemiah 4:1-4).

 And, consider these quotes: 

“Over time and through hundreds of conversations we came to recognize that change does not happen without conflict.  As we reviewed the biblical patterns, every time – – without exception – – the people of God began to make adjustments to join God in his activity, conflict emerged.” [1]  Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for the Transformational Journey

“As one pastor said, ‘All my life, I’ve judged my success by how happy everyone in the church was.  You are telling me that if I’m really on mission with God, one sign of my success will be the presence of conflict.'” [2]Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for the Transformational Journey

By this point in the book, you may be greatly inspired by the numerous stories of leaders who persevered in the midst of significant trials. On the other hand, you may be scared to death by the high cost these leaders paid to move their churches to new levels of excellence. You have already read of leaders who were dismissed, stressed-out leaders who found themselves in the hospital, and leaders who faced the wrath of those who were once supporters. Unfortunately, difficulties are commonplace in churches that move to greatness. Sometimes moments of crisis are sensed internally by those who lead the change in the church. Inevitably the crisis also takes place with many of the members. And more often than not, the members who experience the crisis blame the pastor for the difficulties they encounter. [3] Thom Rainer.

Second, virtually every leader in Scripture endured some type of conflict in his or her life. The cost of following Christ is great. We cannot become complacent with the status quo just to avoid conflict. We must lead. Yes, we must love the people, and we must console them when change becomes increasingly painful to them. But we must lead. We cannot be content with a life and a ministry that could be described in the epitaph: “This leader avoided conflict well.” [4] Thom Rainer.

But the greatest surprise was to hear of the cost of breaking out. My bias did not want this factor to be included in the study. I feared that describing the high price churches and leaders paid when they moved to greatness would deter and discourage others from taking this path.[5]  Thom Rainer

Perhaps the most significant lesson of all, though, was the realization that when you strip it all away, leaders do just two things: They create conflict and they resolve conflict. . . It’s not hyperbole.  Leaders create conflict simply by pushing people to focus on God’s vision.  That creates conflict for most people, because his vision is designed to cause change in our lives – – and most people resist change.[6]  George Barna.

It is concluded that every congregation that successfully adapted and flourished in a changing community had a substantial church fight.  Those that chose to avoid conflict at all costs failed to flourish.  No exceptions.[7]  Gene Wood.

 Don’t be surprised by painful trials (1 Peter 4:12ff); fix your eyes on the Lord (Heb 12:1-3).  It is worth it!

[1] Jim Herrington and others, Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for the Transformational Journey (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000), 8.[2] Ibid., 8.

[3] Thom S. Rainer, Breakout Churches: Discover How to Make the Leap (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 86.

[4] Ibid., 87.

[5] Ibid., 208.

[6] George Barna, A Fish out of Water: 9 Strategies Effective Leaders Use to Help You Get Back into the Flow (Nashville: Integrity Publishers, 2002), 139.

[7] Gene Wood, Leading Turnaround Churches (St. Charles, IL: Churchsmart Resources, 2001), 37.


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