No one likes church conflict. What does your church do when two members can’t seem to get along with each other?
Pretend with me for a moment. You are a member of the Sunnyside Christian Church and participate in your Women’s Fellowship, called the “JoyBells.” Don’t shake your head—yet! Church conflict is about rear its ugly head.
Your group has decided to hold a Mother’s Day tea. Two strong leaders–Helen and Pauline–seem the natural choices to co-chair the committee. Five minutes into the first meeting, you decide that was a mistake. A BAD mistake. There’s a loose cannon in the room, no, change that, TWO loose cannons in the room.
Helen walks in, still in her workout sweats from her daily two-hour session in the gym. Pauline arrives five minutes late, touting her 32 ounce to-go cup of Mountain Dew and showing off her latest bargains from Macy’s.
The conflict builds from there.
These two women definitely have different ideas. Behind your agenda sheets, you dub your fearless leaders, Healthy Helen and Party Pauline.
Healthy Helen, a connoisseur of healthy living and organic foods, views the Mother’s Day Tea as a teachable moment. What a perfect opportunity to teach women how to respect their bodies as the Temple of God. A healthy array of food would allure a niche section of the community. Why, she knows of several women at her gym who would come if the right food were served. She proposes that the committee serve protein shakes, bran muffins, and an organic fruit salad, and that the tea should feature a speaker on maximizing the use of Fitbits.
Party Pauline, on the other hand, loves all things beautiful and fun. She wants to create an environment of rest and relaxation for tired moms. The tables will be set with china tea pots. We’ll hire a chamber music group to play soft instrumental music. She knows this exclusive bakery that sells croissants, petit fours and a double fudge chocolate brownie pie that’s to die for.
Not a chance, Healthy Helen undertones. Eating that food is downright sinful.
Healthy eating is okay for you, counters Party Pauline as she slurps down her Mountain Dew, but you shouldn’t force your eating habits on the rest of us. Women love a chance to party. Providing a party atmosphere is the way we can befriend newcomers. We need to turn them on to Jesus, not turn them off.
And the fight is on.
Don’t go spiritual on me yet. How do our human tendencies say to handle this?
- Ignore it.
- Take sides (you already have, haven’t you?)
- Talk about the women behind their backs
- Worry about the outcome
- Cancel the whole stupid thing
- Sit back and watch the fireworks. Sell tickets. Pass the popcorn. Not my circus, not my monkeys.
The apostle Paul once dealt with two women in conflict.
I have a tough time pronouncing the names mentioned in Philippians 4:3 so I’ve called them Helen and Pauline. I often think of Philippians 4 as a wonderful chapter full of reminders to pray instead of worry and to find joy in everything. But that lifts those verses out of context. The backstory is how to deal with two dearly loved sisters-in-Christ, equally dedicated to God’s work who aren’t getting along with each other.
Sound familiar? Sadly, more true than any of us care to admit. Change the names. Change the character traits. Change the situation. It exists in every church.
Here’s the good news.
Paul outlines what we should do. In fact, verse 3 tells us we are to get involved. Paul doesn’t leave us holding the Mountain Dew. We are to help those who disagree with each other. He gives several** guidelines on how to weather the conflict created by Healthy Helen and Party Pauline.
- Recognize their worth (v. 3). These women do love Jesus. They are not sinful reprobates just because they can’t get along with each other or because they hold a particular view. Their names are in the book of life.
- Rejoice in the Lord (v.4). Focus on your intended purpose for this tea. Look at the bigger picture. Your purpose is honor and magnify Him to the ladies who attend, particularly outsiders.
- Let your gentleness be evident to all (v. 5). Avoid harsh judgement. Don’t get sucked into the argument. Respond with love and respect. You can be gentle by redirecting, using a calm voice, and refusing to get sucked in either side.
- The Lord is near (v 5). God is present. He’ll show up at your committee meetings and at the party. Plan now to set a plate for Him. Since He’ll be there, what do you suppose He would want the thrust of the party to be?
- Don’t worry (v. 6). What would Healthy Helen and Party Pauline be tempted to worry about? What would you be tempted to worry about regarding this scenario? Paul is telling his readers, don’t succumb to worry about what’s happening between these two women. Instead, there is something better you can do.
- Pray (v 6) – Got a problem? Pray about it. Yes, I know. We usually reserve our prayer requests for people fighting cancer and parking spaces closest to the Walmart exit. This verse makes it clear that we can pray about anything, even whether to serve bran muffins or chocolate brownie pie at a church food function.
- Thank God (v. 6). How can you thank God for Helen and Pauline? This time, I’ll let you generate the list of what you can possibly thank God for in this mess! Feel free to leave a comment in the comment section of this post.
So, while we’re fictionalizing the application to this Scripture, let’s generate some solutions. Practically speaking, how can we get out of this committee snag?
Someone in my bible study group suggested a compromise. Serve Petit Fours and Fruit Salad.
Taking a thought from earlier in Paul’s letter (check on Philippians 2:1-3), think about this. What if the heart of one of these women softened? What if one of them changed their name to Grace?
Pauline might choose to leave her Mountain Dew in the car so her food choices would not be offensive to Helen.
Helen might say,
“Pauline, I love Jesus and I love you more than I love protein shakes. I’ll let go of my menu ideas and we’ll go with your plan. I’ll help you make it happen.”
I think, if that happened in a committee meeting, a tissue box might make the rounds. Twice.
If we’re intentional about putting Grace on Parade, we’ll exhibit God’s grace in such a way that outsiders can’t help but notice. That’s what Paul calls his readers to do—demonstrate God’s grace to these two women. Help them through it. Help them grow in grace so the world will know you are Christians by your love.