What should we do when church people disagree?
And I’m not talking about a small dispute over whether the truly authentic Christians are Dodgers fans or Angels fans. (They’re Dodgers fans, obviously.)
But I’m talking about major disagreement—as in a “what color should the new carpet be?” or “should we throw out the hymnals?” kind of disagreement. I’m talking about the kind of disagreements that make for some long and deeply uncomfortable church business meetings.
When influential leaders in a church come to an impasse, it can be devastating. In mild forms, disagreements can make for some tense moments. When disagreement is severe, it may even cause a church split. Feelings can be deeply hurt and relationships can be strained.
So when the conflict comes (and it will come), what are we to do?
In Philippians 4, Paul gives some helpful advice.
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:2-3, ESV)
Disagreement among church people is as old as the Church itself. Here in the first century two influential church women were at an absolute impasse. Their names, which I cannot pronounce, were Euodia and Syntyche.
We don’t know much about these women, but from what Paul says about them, they were church leaders—fellow laborers in the gospel. These were not women with impure intentions. These were faithful spiritual leaders who both wanted the best for the church. They just couldn’t agree on what that looked like.
Given the impasse, Paul asks his “true companion” to help these women to come to a consensus. In the following verses, he offers some insights as to how.
Here are three ways to respond when we find ourselves in conflict.
1. Don’t Freak Out.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.(Philippians 4:4-5)
When disagreement comes, don’t lose your lid. The issue is likely very important. But in your passion, don’t forget that the person you so vehemently disagree with probably loves Jesus just as much as you do.
And even if your frustration makes you suspect of their love for Jesus (because if they actually loved Jesus they’d understand why you’re right), remember something very important. This is not your church—the Church belongs to Jesus. And he’s not uninvolved. Christ will build his Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).
He has called you only to serve his purpose, and to serve with joy. Rejoice that Jesus has always, and will continue to, powerfully work in the midst of imperfect people.
2. Pray it Out.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Disagreements are stressful. They are emotionally exhausting. They can cause a great deal of anxiety. You just want what’s best and you can’t imagine why this other person would get in your way. That’s hard.
It’s in these moments that we need to simply take it to the Lord. If you don’t know how to come to an agreement with another believer, take it to God. Pray it out.
Prayer is powerful. Connecting with Jesus will guard your heart and mind. It will keep you from acting foolishly or stubbornly. A prayerful person is a more peaceable person.
Oh, and God answers prayer. He can provide a peaceful solution that was humanly impossible without him. It’s far more profitable to consult God long before we consult the church constitution or the gossip brigade. Prayer ought to be our first impulse, not our final resort.
3. Think Good Thoughts.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
When we find ourselves in a disagreement, our thoughts immediately turn negative. We tend to think the worst of people.
We often continue to argue with others in our heads, long after the meeting is over. We dwell on our frustration as we drive down the road, stand in the shower, or sit in the office. And sooner or later, our negativity leaks out in damaging ways.
Flip the script. Think the best of that person. Remember that this person has intentions just as pure as yours. Allow positivity to lead you to new avenues of resolution and ingenuity.
Stay future-focused and solution-oriented. Keep it positive. Think lovely thoughts, praiseworthy thoughts, commendable thoughts. And then put those thoughts into action. If we all do that, peace is sure to follow.
Listen to and love each other. When believers love Jesus, the Church, and each other well, even the strongest disagreements can turn into an opportunity to grow.