Can You Handle the Truth About Your Church’s Conflict?

December 21, 2010

Tuesday Re-mix –

I’m a bit of a movie buff, I’ll admit.  It’s been over 20 years since I’ve seen a movie with an “R” rating, so I have definitely missed a few otherwise good movies since then.  Nevertheless, I’ve seen plenty of great ones.

My favorite “lawyer” movie?  That’s a tough one for me because there have been some really great ones.  12 Angry Men, The Verdict, The Juror…to name a few truly great ones.  But my favorite single cross-examination scene is a no-brainer: Tom Cruise cross-examining Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. (I apologize for the profanity at the very end of this clip…I do not endorse that portion of it, nor do I know how to edit it out).  Remember this scene?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5j2F4VcBmeo&hl=en&fs=1&rel=0]

So often in church conflicts, one side or the other (or both) fight under a banner that says, “We just want the truth to be told.”  Maybe you have been a part of that group before.  It seems right enough.  After all, only a guilty party would be against telling the truth, right?  “We just want the truth told about the pastor.”  “We just want the truth told about that group of people.”  “We just want the truth told about us.”  Etc., etc…you get the picture.  But here is what I have learned about pretty much every church fight (including yours): there is the very shallow truth involved in your particular issue, and then there is a much deeper, more profound, larger truth about your conflict.  And in so many cases, a church either cannot or will not handle that larger truth.

The larger truth about your church’s conflict is an ugly truth about the relationships in your church.  They are not what God wants them to be.  The larger truth is, you have a difficult time finding Christ in one another, even though He is there.  The truth is, the enemy (i.e., the real enemy) has blinded you to the truth about yourself or about your brother, so that you literally cannot see it.  The truth is, you have forsaken your testimony to a faction of your church because you have stopped caring what “they” think about you.  The truth is, there is little or no spiritual accountability in your church, a fact that plays out in the rampant gossip which has been permitted on these issues.  The truth is, your conflicted congregation has lost its focus and no longer has its eyes on Christ…rather, it has its focus entirely on silencing this group or that group or on making sure the truth gets told about this person or that person.  The truth is, it has been a while since everyone in the church has truly had their focus on Christ.  These are the larger truths underlying your conflict.

What church leaders and peacemakers must do in the midst of conflict is discern which truths to pursue first.  They all come at a cost.  Some will cost more than others.  It is a balancing decision…a question of priorities.  Rest assured, all truth will come out eventually.  But which truths should we address first…the smaller, petty ones or the larger, spiritual ones?

In my experience working with conflicted churches, when we pursue the smaller, petty truths first, it almost always does irreparable harm to the unity of the body, making the larger truths almost impossible to pursue together.  What results is a bunch of permanently damaged relationships, a divided church, and a whole lot of regrets.  But when we pursue the larger, spiritual truths first, bringing them to light and beginning to address them, the smaller, shallower truths (the truths which we all thought were at the heart of the conflict) have a way of working themselves out…or at least become much more manageable as we work them out together.

So, when in the midst of conflict you find yourself crying out to God for the truth to be told, stop and consider His perspective on you and your request.  He might just be saying to you, “You want the truth?  Really?  Do you think you can handle it?”

© Blake Coffee

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