“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).

The Body of Christ is a blessed place, a community, a family to be in and a part of. Paul shows us, though, throughout his letters that church conflict is unfortunately normative. We are still sinners, awaiting the return of Christ and desperately needing his grace in the meantime.

My home church recently toiled through some ugly conflict. The pattern is sadly typical in our lives as Christians. Feelings get hurt, we want control, pride is injured, or perhaps we do not understand proper biblical leadership. We hold grudges, we gossip, we act out, we point fingers. We harbor unforgiveness or cling to our personal preferences and nurse our wounds rather than bringing them to the table in vulnerability. We are all guilty of these things at certain times and places.

How can we avoid church conflicts, then? What should we do? As a sheep, watching other sheep, I think there are some glaring biblical truths that we must pause to meditate on before the angry email ever gets sent to the pastor or the “wounds” are spoken of to too many ears.

  1. Practice forgiveness…biblically. Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother 77 times in Matt 18:21-22, referring in hyperbole to an unlimited number. We are believers, forgiven by our God in Christ, as Paul writes in Eph 4:32. When we are offended or hurt, we HAVE to forgive, for God commands us to, but he also will not forgive us if we withhold it from others! (Matt 6:15). Unforgiveness is a poison that only kills you in the end and divides the Bride.
  2. Communicate. If something happened that you don’t understand, or if you are hurting about something, pick up the phone and call your pastor/whomever to meet with him/her in person! Explain your hurts, or ask questions to clarify. Christians are all humans too, and no one has ESP to know you’re upset if you don’t talk to them about it. Show love, be honest, and be respectful.
  3. Trust your leaders implicitly. Your pastors/elders were brought to your church and/or raised up in leadership because, most likely unless someone goofed, the Lord made it clear to do so. Eph 4:11-15 states that God GAVE teachers and apostles to the Church so she could grow and be equipped to know him. These men shouldn’t be treated like your employees at your beck and call, nor should they be viewed guilty as proven innocent. They care about the flock, otherwise they would be spending their time doing something else! If there is a concern, then you should talk with them about it! See Comment 2 above.
  4. Know what the Church is for and about. Do you act like your local Body is a social club? Do you seek to plug in, engage, and serve? Do you have a proper biblical understanding of the point of the Church and how she should operate? Doctrinal issues abound when church conflict arises, and having a deficient ecclesiology only creates havoc.
  5. Humble yourself. It’s not about you, and it never was. In Phil 2:3-5, Paul writes to do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but to think of others as better than yourself. Are you offended no one asked for your opinion about the new paint colors? Personal preferences can derail a local Body when they command the vision and direction instead of Scripture and a team of trusted, qualified leaders who are submitted to Christ

It’s so hard to watch people be deceived, broken, and left hurting from conflict. Satan is only doing a happy dance when we insist on our own ways and don’t submit to the Word of God–what he says about leadership, the point of Church, and how to behave towards others. As Paul pleaded with Euodia and Syntyche, he pleads with us today to agree with one another in the Lord. May we be the “true companion[s]” who come alongside, intercede, and gently steer one another back on course when conflict trips us up before it breaks apart local bodies.