Why is the rampant loss of hope a reality in most church conflicts?

One observation Tara and I make in Redeeming Church Conflicts concerns the loss of hope among believers who struggle with conflicts in the church. We spend a significant number of words on that sad dynamic and how to respond biblically. Scripture, of course, repeatedly and clearly points to God and his Word as the only true source of our hope. For example:

  • Psalm 42:5           put your hope in God…
  • Psalm 62:5           my hope comes from him…
  • Psalm 119:74      for I have put my hope in your word…
  • Psalm 146:5        whose hope is in the Lord his God…
  • Romans 15:13    may the God of hope fill you…
  • 1 Corinthians 15:19          for this life we hope in Christ…
  • Hebrews 6:19    we have this hope as an anchor…
  • Hebrews 11:1    faith is being sure of what we hope for…

We all know that hope is one of the most enduring aspects of the Christian faith: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

With such clarity from Scripture, doesn’t it seem a bit incongruent that hope frequently becomes one of the first victims of church conflict? We profess hope as a core fixture of our faith along with faith and love but when conflicts poison the culture of the church hope seems the most vulnerable.

Why? Why the rampant loss of hope as a reality of church conflict?

I think it is because we frequently and too easily dilute biblical hope with worldly reality. That confusion is often fueled by prayers first (and ardently) for God to change “that other person” rather than for God to change me. We know God is perfectly trustworthy but that people aren’t. We know that God is perfectly faithful but that people aren’t. We know that God is perfectly consistent but that people aren’t.

So, when the people we have looked to to define our faith, shape our lives as believers, and form our experience of Christianity fail us, at that time of failure, frequently our hope in God withers too.

Loss and failure based on what we have experienced in God’s church at the hands of other believers is often confused with a failure of God. And in that confusion we then treat others not out of love but out of failed hope. Because we lose hope in the people of the church we can lose our hope in God. Further, we subsequently don’t allow the true source of hope to govern our relationships with others. Rather, we allow our shifting and misplaced hope in people, who like us, are ultimately not perfectly trustworthy, faithful, or consistent, drive our conduct and we fall further and further away from our real source of hope.

The object of our hope should never change even when we find ourselves shaken by conflict. If the object and ultimate source of our hope does not waiver should we not be able to maintain hope whatever comes? We are called to be free (and wise) in the Spirit to distinguish worldly disappointment so that it doesn’t lead to disappointment with God. Being grounded in God as our only source for hope means we can then choose to minister, serve, and have compassion and care for those who would even be the potential cause of our hope-confusion.

Rightly placed hope always remembers: And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given to us (Roman 5:5).

May you find joy in hope even in the midst of church conflict.

-Dave Edling

Advertisements

About David V. Edling

Dave Edling is an experienced Christian conciliator who has worked with many conflicted churches. During his decade of service on the senior staff of Peacemaker Ministries, he participated in over 200 mediation and arbitration cases and worked with nearly twenty thousand Christians engaged in conflicts affecting churches of almost every denomination. Dave holds several graduate degrees in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. They are: Master of Arts in Human Behavior, United States International University (now Alliant International University); Juris Doctor, California Western School of Law; Master of Arts in Religion, Westminster Seminary California; and Master of Arts in Biblical Conflict Resolution, Birmingham Theological Seminary. Dave has served as a trustee on the Board of Directors for Covenant College and Westminster Seminary California and has taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs for Reformed Theological Seminary, Mid-Western Baptist Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. In addition, Dave has been a lecturer in practical theology for several other Christian colleges and seminaries.
This entry was posted in Disappointment in the church, HOPE in the midst of conflict. Bookmark the permalink.