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William D. Bontrager, J.D.

1710 C.R. 121, Hesperus, CO. 81326

970-259-3384

wdb@frontier.net

SOME THOUGHTS ON SMALL GROUP CONFLICTS

Why do we have so much conflict in the Church -- so many denominations competing with one another rather than working together in harmony; so many beliefs, rules and regulations which we use to divide?

Yet, as bad as it is on the large scale, it seems even worse at the small scale -- within an individual church or ministry. And within those, the small group environment produces more than its fair share of conflict.

Why?

I could simply cite James 4:1-4 -- but we really don't want to consider that it is lust for personal power, position and prestige which is involved. Well, then let's look from another vantage point.

We fail to take the time to understand the gifts of one another, and then to defer to the other in the working out of their gift(s). Instead, we have to do it all ourselves. At the heart of this is the unwillingness to trust Sovereign God to work through another common clay pot -- but we think He can work through our clay pot, to a super-human level, with a marvelous result.

Try this for a moment -- just assume that you took your eyes, ears, and brain and stepped out of your body. Then assume that Jesus takes over the brain cavity. Now a finger moves in a certain way, and a toe calls out, "Stop that. Its against the rules. You are going to mess things up. That is not the way it should be done. Here, you had better let me do that."

Ludicrous, isn't it. Here is the Lord of the Universe directing the parts of His body, and some part of the body is yelling at another part. It would never happen, would it? But it is exactly what happens within the Body of Christ that we call the Church.

Toes watch and try to control fingers instead of simply being toes under His guidance. We forget what Christ said to Peter: "Peter, what is it to you if I call John one way, and you another? You do yours, and let John do his." Well, I think it is a fair paraphrase of John 21:20-22.

We came together -- denomination, individual church, a ministry, even a small group -- around some piece of the Gospel. It was a theological truth, or a recognition of a need for service, or a shared vision of ministry. Then we begin to organize -- rules and regulations. And, worst, we start to acquire assets -- that means more protective structure (we call it "stewardship"). But He told us that if we try to keep it -- theological truth, sense of need for service, shared vision, or assets -- we will lose it.

And then we create offices, titles, boards, committees -- all based upon power -- until we look more like an American For-Profit, Land Acquiring, Mass-Media Advertising, Product Selling, Corporation than a gathering of humble servant-givers. And He told us that when we talk of power and rule we are going the way of the gentiles (Mark 10:42-45).

Do I have your attention?

You see, if you do not know -- way down deep in your gut -- that you are nothing but a sinner incapable of producing any fruit except by allowing the Lord Jesus to move you like a puppet, then you will never hear what needs to be done about conflict. And unless you know -- way down deep in your gut -- that Jesus can work miracles through that other person you keep watching so that they don't foul up the program, you will never hear what needs to be done about conflict.

The bottom line is that the vast majority of our conflicts will never take place if I work on my life, my call, and the work of the moment the Spirit leads me to, instead of working on the life, call and work of another, or struggling for power, position, title, prestige, or fighting to hold on to money or property.

Well, if I have your attention, we can begin to consider what to do about conflicts in small groups -- for even if I do all of the things in the last paragraph, there will still be conflicts. The cause of conflict is always the same -- I am a proud, arrogant, rebellious, self-seeking sinner, as are you, and the closer we come into contact the more we will rub against one another until there is so much friction that a fire of conflict results. So it will happen -- one or the other (normally both) will see to it.

The fact that it is a small group setting changes nothing, for our God, Who never changes, has a way for us to deal with conflicts which way does not change based upon our peculiarities, the peculiarities of the conflict, or the peculiarities of the other party. Nor does it change based upon when we wake up to the fact that a conflict exists. His Way remains true -- it is our faith in His Way that is the issue; our willingness to follow the path set forth.

So, on to an examination of His Way. For that, see The Path To Reconciliation and the other writings linked to it as you read it.