One of the observations I have made in working with churches who are experiencing conflict is that we generally don't do it very well. Conflict itself is not bad if it involves differing ideas as to how to accomplish our mission. The issue is always how we handle the conflict, or our differences. It is poor handling of differences that get us in trouble, not the differences themselves which are merely differing perspectives on what should be done. That being said, here are some principles that can help us negotiate conflict or differences in a healthy manner.
One: Disagreement and expressing that disagreement is not wrong. Some are afraid to share their opinions because they have been told that to do so is gossip. It is not. All of us have the right to share our views in the church with the caveat that we do it in a healthy manner. It is unhealthy to try to shut down discussion in the church. It is OK to talk. It OK to express our views. It is OK to differ with others.
Two: Gossip is sin. Gossip is "idle talk or rumor, especially about personal or private affairs of others" (Wikipedia). Gossip is different than sharing our opinion for it goes to the motivations or actions of others and is generally destructive in nature. Scriptures are clear that gossip is wrong. Gossip includes questioning the motives of others, passing along third party information as fact, and denigrating others. Disagreement or stating our views is not gossip, it is simply defining what we are thinking.
Three. Robust dialogue is healthy. Robust dialogue means that we can put any issue on the table with the exception of personal attacks or hidden agendas. There are differing views in congregations on any number of issues. It is good to talk about those things but to do so without personal attacks, hidden agendas or language that inflames rather than informs. Healthy leaders invite healthy dialogue and listen to those who speak.
Four: Unity in diversity is critical. Unity within the body of Christ is a high value in Scripture. Congregations are made up of different views, opinions, social and ethnic backgrounds but it is the Holy Spirit that binds us together as one. Each of us has the same Holy Spirit in his or her heart and that spirit is a spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,goodness, gentleness, and self control. If we live in His Spirit we can have differences and still remain united as one body. As Paul put it in Ephesians 4:3, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."
Five: Being able to disagree and stay in relationship is good Emotional Intelligence and demonstrates the work of the Holy Spirit. Each of us has preferences and opinions on many things in the church. What we want to be able to do is to state those positions but remain in fellowship and friendship with those who hold a differing position. This is not always easy but it is Biblical.
Six: By extension, marginalizing or demonizing those who disagree with us is bad Emotional Intelligence and does not reflect the Holy Spirit. It is one thing to disagree with someone. It is another to believe that they are bad people because they believe differently and to allow our differences to shatter our relationships, trust or to see them as evil. This does not reflect the will of the Holy Spirit.
Seven: Taking on the offense of others is foolish and wrong.My best friend has an issue with someone in the church so out of friendship I take up their offense and allow their issue to become my issue. This is foolish and wrong because I have allowed my friend to alienate me from others when I have no personal reason to do so. Nor can I resolve an issue that is not my issue. It happens in families and congregations and it contributes to greater conflict.
Eight: The church is the Bride of Christ and therefore we must display the attitude of Christ toward one another even when we differ from one another. The church is not like any other organization for it is the Bride of Jesus and His chosen instrument to reach the world. We of all people need to be His people in good times and in hard times. Paul writes in Philippians 2:4, "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."
Nine: Forgiveness is often needed when we have conflict. We need not apologize for having differing views and perspectives but we do need to apologize when our words, attitudes or actions get the best of us and we say or do things that are not pleasing to God. I have often had to apologize in times of conflict. God is pleased when we keep short accounts and forgive those who need forgiveness and seek forgiveness when we need it.
Ten: Pray diligently! When we focus on ourselves we want to be right and win. When we focus on God we start to see those who differ with us in a different light and desire God to win. In prayer, our hearts are often softened and changed, our humility is increased and our desire for a Godly solution is heightened.
There will be conflict this side of heaven. Lets do all we can to handle it well.