Q. How can I know what to do in my church conflict when I don’t know how other people are going to act or respond?
A. Your question is a good one. It reveals a fear that many Christians have over “what might the outcome be?” in their church conflicts. In other words, many people are paralyzed by endings. Their fear of the unknown stops them from making a good beginning. Following the Bible’s pattern for conflict resolution seems too uncertain and “iffy” for many so, fearing a potential outcome they may not prefer (and one out of their control), they simply choose to adopt methods that they have had experience with in the “world” (such as exertion of power, manipulation of others, withholding money, control through majority rule, etc.). Such people can’t think about where they are now or what they are doing without being consumed by the thought of how things will end. Rather than focusing on obedience they worry about the uncertain and unknown potential result.
Worry seems to be at the heart of this dynamic. Many hundreds of wonderful Christian books have been written on worry and how the Christian is to overcome this sin. Of course, while these books may be wonderful aids, God’s Word alone summarizes them all:
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Matthew 6:27
Our Lord’s great ethical exhortations captured in what we call “The Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7) clearly and cogently teach us that we have no control through mere worry over what will happen, and, therefore, we are to abandon any hope that such a strategy may prove fruitful. And yet we cling to our fears and anxieties as if we have never heard that this is a losing course of action. We worry because we are afraid of unknown outcomes, outcomes that we think we can control, and our continual fears and anxieties drive us away from the good counsel of God’s Word toward the poor pattern of worldliness and sin. That path feeds church conflict.
If it is truly our fears that generate worry shouldn’t we search and learn all we can from God’s Word about that unproductive state of being and emotion? Is God telling us the truth when he says:
Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. Proverbs 29:25
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7
Trust, love, and care are God’s pattern and it is to be these biblical concepts that define the pattern of response for us, his eternal children, whenever we face church conflicts. Jesus said “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34). Matthew Henry commenting on this verse states:
“Let us mind present duty, and then leave events to God; do the work of the day, and then let tomorrow bring its work along with it. It is the will of the Lord Jesus that his disciples should not be their own tormentors, nor make their passage through the world more dark and unpleasant, by their own apprehension of troubles, than God has made it by the troubles themselves.”
I would add, don’t let those worries about what might happen tomorrow stop you from doing today what you know is the right thing to do today. Doing the next right thing demonstrates your trust in God, your love for your church and its members, and the care you have been called to offer in times of trial and hardship. Those are all elements of redeeming church conflicts and you can, by God’s grace, make that good beginning unfettered by doubts of the outcome because “ His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who has called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).