Handling Conflict in a Godly Manner
Last week we identified four specific conflicts that the early church encountered regarding money, ministry, the message, and the messenger. This week I want us to note two important things that were true of each of these situations. These principles and practices helped the early church stay healthy through times of conflict.
First, church leaders did not ignore the problems nor did they try to do a “quick fix.” In each situation, they were willing to lovingly identify reality, and they were willing to seek a Godly solution. A second thing I want you to see is that the church was not hurt by the conflict, but it was actually strengthened by the Godly handling of difficult issues.
Money conflict: Before the issue surfaced we read, “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul (4:32). After God resolved the issue, “great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things. And through the hands of the apostles, many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord (5:11-12). Now stop a second and ask, “What would have happened to Ananias and Sapphira and to the church if the lie were permitted to stand?”
Ministry conflict: Before the issue surfaced, “the number of the disciples was multiplying” (6:1). After they implemented a Godly solution “the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (6:7). Believe me, if the “murmuring” of widows had been left unaddressed, they would have gotten pretty loud. Also, note that God’s solution included a ministry entry point for two men, Stephen and Phillip, who later played prominent roles in Acts.
Message conflict: This issue surfaced in Antioch when “certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” This obviously caused “no small dissension and dispute” (15:1-2). Paul, Barnabas, and certain others went up to Jerusalem and a council was formed to prayerfully consider the issue. A clear decision was made and the results were reported back to the church in Antioch. “When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement” (Acts 15:31). Dealing with the question, “What must I do to be saved” set a precedence for how the church has handled issues for centuries—through councils. It also clarified the heart and core of the gospel message.
Messenger conflict: The ink on the Jerusalem Council decree was barely dry when the fourth issue surfaced. The disagreement was so severe that Paul took Silas and headed one way while Barnabas and John Mark headed another. The immediate result was two separate missionary teams—sounds a bit like a church split to me. But of great importance, and different than 99% of the church splits I have seen, is that a few years later Paul and John Mark were able to work together (Col 4:10 and II Tim 4:11). Issues left unresolved WILL over time create a spiritual barrier between any individual or any church and God.
The bottom lines: 1. Don’t let Satan sell you the lie that any and all conflict will always end up bad; and 2. Don’t think that if you ignore conflict that it will go away. Instead, prayerfully, biblically, lovingly, and honestly deal with issues that surface in your life and in your ministry. God can and will make some great lemonade out of the bitter lemons that too often end up on your table
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.