It was my first ministry position after completing seminary. A church that had an attendance of approximately 800 – 900, a considerable congregation for the size of the city. I was the youth minister, and the lessons I learned in the three years I served there have remained etched in my mind in the years since.
Perhaps one of the obvious lessons came when the business meetings occurred, but it was seen in other ways, too. The lesson? . . . voicing a different point of view from the one promoted by the leadership was anathema. It was an obvious, though unwritten and unspoken, rule of church life. To disagree with the pastor, the deacons or the church trustees was to condemn oneself to being overlooked on committees and leadership participation. I’ve seen similar attitudes in other churches in which I’ve served. And I’ve heard of similar experiences in other congregations. At times, when dissenting members leave a church, the term “purge” is used to describe getting the church in agreement by eliminating those who disagree.
Is this really what our Father had in mind in creating the church? I think there are several good reasons for there to be differences expressed in church.
- Doubt is healthy when confronted head on. When faith is tested because it’s questioned and valid answers are arrived at it becomes real for each individual. To accept what parents or others tell us because of their authoritative place in our lives, past or present, means we’re only accepting someone else’s belief’s without discovering whether or not they are valid for us. John the Baptist questioned. Peter struggled with his faith. Thomas has been nicknamed, “The Doubter.” Difficult times are to be seen as opportunities to grow in James 1:2-4. To be open about doubts regarding a church’s teaching and policies helps hone the individual and church to be stronger in the reasons for faith.
- Asking questions is foundational to learning. People learn more when they ask questions because they are interested in finding the answers. When told what to believe or think, most people don’t pay attention. Additionally, as differences are questioned, greater understanding is achieved among the fellowship because it allows for beliefs to be expressed.
- Honest expression of opinions frequently defuses the anger and frustration that builds when a person feels stifled. Not to have opportunity to express and explain one’s views causes hard feelings and resentment. In voicing beliefs and feelings without being judged and criticized, there is a sense of being heard. The result, whether there is agreement or just acceptance of differences, is a feeling of acceptance and belonging.
- Differences, when discussed, can build strength in the beliefs of those involved. When people are able to debate, explore and agree or disagree with other about their understanding of God’s Word and how to apply it, each person’s perspective is challenged. As consideration is given to why the beliefs are valid or invalid, one finds greater reason for or against their own position. I causes self -examination, resulting in a more spiritually stable belief system. (As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17)
- With guidance to learn to accept another person while disagreeing with the their point of view, people can become united in the commonality of belief in Jesus. What is the important issue that brings Christians into a right relationship with God? Isn’t it one’s faith in His Son, Jesus? If that’s what brings us together, isn’t it important for us to love each other in our differences as well as in our common belief? Focus on what we have in common and discuss the differences without letting the differences be divisive.
It would be highly unlikely for two people to believe exactly the same in every area of theology. Just because there are differences in mostly minor areas of how to relate to God, it shouldn’t mean that we can’t find fellowship and celebrate our common belief in God’s son. Encouraging expression of the differences in loving ways is healthy for the church’s bond when concern for each individual is expressed.
When your church is in conflict because of struggles over who’s right and who’s wrong and you can’t find a solution to the problem, call me at 225-773-8883 or contact me using the “Contact Me” information on this web site. I would be glad to talk with you about how we might find resolution for your church family.