Church conflict happens; learn how to engage it


Editor's Note: Fourth in a series.


Commentary By Embra Jackson

Administrative Assistant to the Bishop


Life is full of conflict. As true as this statement is, so many in our churches seem unaware of this fact. Whenever conflict occurs in our churches, many of us either withdraw or take sides. 

One of the A2 Indicators defines a healthy church as one exhibiting low levels of conflict. We should remember that this indicator does not say “no” levels of conflict but rather “low” levels of conflict.


Conflict is a part of our lives. As such we can choose to retreat from it or we can use it as a means of moving us into greater community. Conflict, if properly addressed, may lead us to growth, learning, healing, love and transformation. How is this possible?  It is possible if we engage conflict from a Christian perspective. Here is a suggested outline to follow when we find ourselves engaged in conflict:


Pray – Prayer is the response that the Bible gives to us in all circumstances, including in conflict. Prayer is our connection with God. When Jesus was confronted with those who sought to betray and to kill him, he prayed so hard in the Garden of Gethsemane that some Biblical sources say he sweated blood.


Even in the face of conflict we must be open to the guidance of God’s spirit. This is often revealed to us through prayer. Whenever there is conflict within the church the leaders should institute a ministry of prayer. Ephesians 6:18 states, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (NIV).


Forgive – We are reminded in the Lord’s Prayer that we must forgive those who trespass against us. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus establishes one of the major criteria for being a Christian, and that is forgiveness. This was no idle talk for Jesus as evidenced by the fact that as he hung on the cross he cried out, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do!” Mark 23:34(a). 


Follow God’s guidance – Many times when conflict occurs, each party wants to lead a charge of those on their side and to “go to war” against those with opposing views. Psalm 23 reminds us that the “Lord is our shepherd.” We should allow God to lead and direct our path, even in the midst of conflict. When God directs our path we are assured that we can go through the valleys and shadows of conflict to the bright sunshine of reconciliation and peace.


When conflict occurs we should take only one side, and that is God’s side. In a healthy church a person can disagree with another member without the disagreement leading to a war.   


Be open – Our Igniting Ministry theme is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” This reminds us that even when faced with conflict and disagreement we must be hospitable. As Christians we are called to welcome all to God’s table. This invitation is extended even to our enemies.  How many times do we welcome those with whom we disagree to have dialogue with us?  


Each Sunday at Anderson UMC in Jackson the congregation tells visitors to “be at home.” What a wonderful statement. When we allow persons to come to the table and to fellowship with us we are helping to create an atmosphere where conflict is less likely. 


Read God’s word – The Bible contains many references relating to conflict. One that relates directly to congregational conflict is 2 Corinthians 2:5-11. This text serves as a guide for congregations that find themselves engaged in conflict. 


The ministry of God’s Word must be the driving force for our churches. Our churches and leaders must make God’s Word the foundation on which all else is built. Like a house that is built on a solid foundation our churches must be built on the solid rock of God’s Word. The ministry of the Word must be shared from the pulpit, in Bible Study, small groups, etc. The word of God reminds us that the Gospel is about Christ and not about us. When we are helping to fulfill our Biblical mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ” (Mt. 28:19) we are less likely to be engaged in non-productive conflict.