by Kevin Squires, Senior Director of Church Partnerships In recent months, it has been hard to watch television or scroll through social media feeds without noticing a surge in brokenness, hate, and heaviness. Long-standing wars on race, religion, socio-economics, gender, and sexuality are finding new battlegrounds, where online crusaders feel entitled to use an arsenal of no more than 140 characters to attack their opponents without ever having a meaningful conversation.
It often seems that each tweet gives birth to a new “expert.” Each “expert” comes equipped with armies of followers numbering in the hundreds, thousands, and in some case, millions. While news stations continually supply the arrows of agenda to these so-called experts, the war continues… seemingly, a war with no end.
It is important to note as Christians that before we conclude that we are always the victims or, dare I say, innocent in this war, we should first heed the words of the Apostle Paul, who cautioned the Philippians that, “…some preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition” (Phil. 1:15-17).
It is perhaps even more important to note that many Christians spend just as much time, if not more, slandering one another as they do reaching out to a lost and broken world. This type of assault is what I’d like to address here. In a world where it is commonplace to hurl darts at people who believe differently, with quick strokes on our keyboard, shouldn’t Christians strive to rise above the status quo? Wouldn’t the world have a better chance of seeing Christ’s love if they were able to get a glimpse of how we, as Christians, love one another?
As I have traveled the world over the last 20 years, I have spent time training pastors, caring for orphaned and vulnerable children, and facilitating church partnerships between churches from very different cultures. I have seen the Beautiful Church, preaching Christ from the heart of goodwill and shining its light for all to see. In turn, I have seen the Ugly Church, preaching Christ from envy, rivalry, and selfish ambition, constantly blending in to an already darkened world of conflict and hate. In retrospect, and to be completely honest, I confess to have played a starring role in both types of churches.
It has led me to wonder… As Christians, how can we better equip, inspire, and mobilize the Beautiful Church, while refusing to empower the Ugly one? How can we navigate through the complexities of our disagreements, disputes, and doctrinal differences between one another while still being “the salt of the earth” and “a city on a hill” (Matt. 5:13-16)?
To begin the conversation, here are five lessons (inspired by Mary Lederleitner’s book, Cross-Cultural Partnerships) that I have recently learned in dealing with cross-cultural conflicts. Perhaps these might help you navigate through some difficult disagreements with a fellow believer:
- Intentionally focus on what you have in common by finding any signs of encouragement.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil. 2:1-2).
Differences often jump out first, so, just as Paul suggests, you might have to dig deep to find ‘any’ ounce of encouragement. But when you find it, stake your flag in it and declare that ounce common ground for the Kingdom of God. Churches split, families split, organizations split, and racial and ethnic groups split, often from the simplest of things. The ones that survive, thrive on unity. They agree on the core truths, the importance of love, and they are successfully able to distinguish the sharp difference between unity and uniformity.
- Humbly elevate the significance of others above your own interests.
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
Control freaks, BEWARE! It’s time to relinquish it. When we approach conflict with Spirit-led humility, the Lord regains control of the mess we created for ourselves. As people, we love to measure outcomes, but as godly people, we value the journey. Lederleitner says, “Sometimes outcome-based goals might be met, but the overall toll on the Kingdom of God is worse than before the partnership began because of harsh words, hurt feelings, and lingering resentment and bitterness. It takes humility to look past our own needs and recognize the needs of others. It takes humility to realize we are not the center of the universe and our goals are not the most important ones on the planet.”
- Cast away your right to power and embrace the rewards of obedience.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of the servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:5-11).
Power can light a fire to anything, but relinquishing our right to power can distinguish most flames. Christ had every right to come to earth on a chariot, but he came in a manger. He had every right to speak with the roaring sound of thunder, but He often spoke in a still, small voice. He had every right to leave earth without death, but instead said, “not my will but yours be done,” and then embraced the cross. He simply obeyed the Father and His service was rewarded. Are you willing to set aside the outcome to trust God through the journey? Are you willing to let go and let God?
- Letting go doesn’t mean you won’t have to work at it.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).
Working through disagreements isn’t always easy, but it isn’t supposed to be lonely either. Sure it takes work, but the work is in partnership with the gospel. As a matter of fact, it’s important to understand that our desire to work out our salvation and to find peace and unity actually comes from God. If resolution were left to us, we would always end up right, whether we were right or not. Rather, it’s God’s grace and love that will see both parties through to the end.
- There’s a reason you were called into this conflict.
“Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you will shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me” (Phil. 2:14-18).
Everything comes full circle. How can we better equip, inspire, and mobilize the Beautiful Church, while refusing to empower the Ugly one? How can we navigate through the complexities of our disagreements, disputes, and doctrinal differences between one another while still being “the salt of the earth” and “a city on a hill?”
The answers are found when we understand our role. God has long placed Christians at the front of the stage in terms of conflict. Christ was constantly in the spotlight of conflict because it was there that He was able to “shine as a light in the world.” He didn’t grumble. He didn’t question. He didn’t respond as someone from a crooked and twisted generation. Rather, He held fast to the word of life. He extended grace. He leaned on the Father.
And, in the end, He rejoiced and invited us to rejoice with Him.