As a pastor’s wife, I have seen so many beautiful things happen in the local church, but the topic of peace reminds me of the needless feuds that often develop too. Christians sometimes waste a lot of energy fighting one another. This is not a new problem. Even a quick glance at the New Testament reveals how many times Paul addressed the bickering inside church families. If we aren’t careful, the watching world will roll their eyes as we run one another down.
Perhaps you’re reading this and you are not a churchgoer for this very reason. You are not alone. In 2013, our family packed up and moved cross-country to plant a church. When we planted our church in Denver, we talked to a lot of nonreligious people who were turned off to the church because of the infighting. It is sort of ironic, isn’t it? We claim to know the Prince of peace, and yet many of our churches are filled with strife.
Soon after we moved into our house, we became friends with many of our neighbors. It didn’t take long for them to open up about their feelings toward Christians. For example, one gentleman commented that a lady at work who was quite vocal about her Christian faith was also the sender of scathing emails, and, in general, the thorn in everyone’s flesh. “My nonreligious teammates care more about my life than the one who claims to know Jesus,” he said. Another woman we met had a sad story of hurt from her family’s past. Both of her churchgoing grandfathers had extramarital affairs with women inside the church, which left a wake of devastation for their families.
Keeping Peace is Mission Critical
I know, I know. Let me stop here and say that stereotyping is so unfair. However, the point still rings true: our actions do speak louder than our words. When unbelievers watch us picking on one another, they oftentimes don’t have the opportunity to see the resolution and to witness the grace extended. Keeping the peace in the church is mission critical.
Ephesians 2:14-19 is a challenge to us all. In this part of the letter, Paul was unpacking the reality that Jesus has placed Jews and Gentiles into one gospel-centered family. Paul was calling the Ephesian believers (and us!) to unite and move forward together for the sake of the gospel, regardless of the past.
What is all this “Jew and Gentile” talk? If you are new to the Bible, then these categories likely mean nothing to you. Why did the Jews have a problem with the Gentiles anyway? And why did these two groups refuse to mix?
The answer: engrained tradition. For centuries the Jews practiced certain customs, cherished particular practices, and held to certain life rhythms. All those “unusual” people who didn’t follow suit were considered foreigners (not part of the group). To the Jews, the Gentiles didn’t show enough respect for their history.
Traditions become part of the fabric of who we are and are painfully difficult to shed.
Healthy churches draw people from all traditions, ages, ethnic groups, and worship preferences. With this level of diversity in the room, disagreement is bound to happen. If you find yourself feuding with fellow church members, here are three questions to consider:
1. Have you gotten involved before giving suggestions?
At our church in Denver, I served as the director of kids ministry. Suffice it to say, I fielded a few complaints over the years. The objections most difficult to swallow were from those who chose not to serve. Sure, there are exceptions. Key volunteers also offered ideas for ministry improvement, but it is far easier to receive feedback from those who have sought to understand the processes in place. Seek to understand before seeking to be understood.
2. Is this about the Bible or is it about a personal preference?
One question we often forget to ask is this: what does the Bible say on this subject? Consider the volume of the music, the look of the building, the style of the kids programming—in each of these cases, and so many more, there is no chapter and verse to guide us. So what should we do? We pray, asking God for wisdom (James 1:5), and then we think generously and remember that sometimes we don’t get what we want. Isn’t that the case with all healthy families?
3. Are you peacemaking or peace-faking?
In his classic book The Peacemaker, Ken Sande distinguishes between peacemaking and peace-faking. Peacemakers approach others in a spirit of reconciliation, hoping to find a solution to a problem and to reach a place of peace. Peace-fakers, on the other hand, come in a spirit of selfishness, assuming that the answer to the problem will meet their expectations, even if it is not the best answer for all. Sadly, a peace-faker will often give the impression that all is well, but behind closed doors this person is stirring up discord.
This post was taken from O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, an Advent study by Lifeway Women.