There are always problems within the church because the church is people. The problems create conflict and that is neither right or wrong, it’s just reality. Two or more people can’t participate in community with each other without encountering conflict. The question is how will the said conflict be handled, for that will determine whether the conflict becomes a good thing or bad thing… healthy or unhealthy conflict.
Churches pursuing missional renewal will encounter conflict as they try to move forward, changing what appears as wrong and pursuing what is right. I believe part of the trick is understanding that churches form as organizations. While churches generally begin in an organic manner, such as people just coming together for dinner and Bible study in someone’s house, as churches begin to grow they must organize with leadership, structure, and practices. Hence, churches become an organization. We even see this formation from organic to organization within the early book of Acts as this community has been formed organically by the Holy Spirit. The organic church takes on certain practices, including meeting the daily needs of others, but eventually more leadership is necessary so that the church may adequately continue the practice of meeting daily needs with food (cf. Acts 6:1-6), becoming an organization.
The challenge is that at some point in a churches history, something about the way the church is organized becomes the problem. Maybe the church has lapsed into an unhealthy practice for dealing with conflict, lost a shared vision of who it’s called to be, etc… Whatever the case may be, this is where problems that have been simple aches and pains to the body increasingly become like catastrophic illness. However, adding to the problem is a failure to recognize the issue as an organizational problem and instead blame certain individuals or a small group within the organization (cf. Andy Stanley, et al., Seven Practices of Effective Ministry, p. 58). By pointing the finger at people rather than the way the church participates in life together as an organization, the real problem — which is likely organizational — is ignored. When this happens, I doubt very much that the church will find the renewal it hopes for.
As the church pursues renewal, perhaps the best course of action is to slow the process down. The faster the pace, the more anxiety there is and the greater chance of people pointing fingers at each other instead discerning together. In doing so, there are several things I believe are also necessary:
- Have Conversations: For smaller churches, pulling chairs up in a circle and having a dialogical conversation is probably the best format. In larger churches where more organization is still necessary, having something like a town-hall meeting with an open mic for anyone to ask questions or make comments. In either case, some moderation will likely be necessary.
- Remain Patient: If you’re like me, you want every problem solved yesterday. The only problem is that God doesn’t operate according to our time schedules. Finding renewal is a process, not a single event and as someone told me the other day, churches must be willing to engage in the process as long as it is necessary.
- Offer Grace: As churches pursue renewal, there is anxiety and in such a context, people are bound to say and do things that are wrong. Most likely, they’re not trying to be malicious. So if necessary, speak to them about whatever matter it is but be willing to forgive just as Christ has forgiven you. Besides forgiving each other, believe the best about each other rather than assuming the worst. Without grace, the process of renewal will become ugly and will likely fail.