Anyone who’s been involved in church for very long has probably observed — or participated in — some sort of church conflict. Given that churches consist of people, I suppose we should not be surprised.

Surprise or no, church conflict hurts. 

It hurts badly.

A congregation in Fletcher, N.C. recently experienced conflict that hurt physically as well as in other ways: more than two dozen police helped to break up a brawl that erupted at Greater New Zion Baptist Church. The fight appears to have started when some members sought a vote to reinstate the pastor, who had recently been ousted. 

Fisticuffs may make headlines and certainly seem to be an extreme way of expressing church conflict, but they’re not necessarily the most painful. Bruises heal quickly, but spirits don’t. I’ve known far too many people who have been hurt so badly that they not only left churches they loved, but left church altogether. 

When people who claim to love Jesus treat each other with contempt, something is clearly wrong at the core of the church, and hard questions need to be asked. 

What is the purpose of being church? Is our allegiance to Christ, or to an institution? Is our primary concern the preservation of a tradition, or to doing things the particular way we want them done? Are we a community of faith, or a community of something else?

Dealing with church conflict is a thorny and complicated issue, certainly far too complex to be tackled in a blog, but I think it’s always helpful for members of troubled churches to ask themselves those bottom line questions about why the church was established to begin with. If we can somehow find our way back to Jesus and take his teachings seriously, perhaps some of our other conflicts will fall into a more realistic perspective.


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