All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 New International Version (NIV)
A clergy colleague and I were walking through the town of Beaver, past the church that I serve. Our church is large for a small town, and our building is beautiful. As we passed, he stopped and said, “What I wouldn’t do to have your problems.”
I laughed out loud. “Are you kidding me?” I asked. I asked how many people he worked with in his congregation. When he told me, I said, “then multiply your problems by 12, and you have mine.”
Many pastors leave seminary with bright visions of making a difference for God, inspiring future Christians, leading their churches to glory. They soon learn, what I tell all persons going into ministry: “If you’re not good at conflict, then stay out.”
Conflict occurs on so many levels in a church that I could write a substantial book on my experiences. There is overt conflict, like power struggles and committee disagreements, factions representing an idea or person(s), pitted against others. There is underlying conflict, such as unresolved conflict and simmering bitterness. There is the conflict of the church itself, and then there is the conflict of those who attend, in families, among parents and children, among siblings, among neighbors. There is conflict that arises from suffering, conflict that is driven by wants and desires. I spend a significant portion of my time addressing conflict.
Conflict is why some people walk away from the church. I hear, “the church is full of hypocrites” fairly regularly (my response? You have no idea)
Conflict is why the apostle Paul wrote the above verses. Notice how the words “ministry of reconciliation” feature. Jesus, who reconciles us to God, gives us the ministry of reconciliation. “Us,” in these verses, is every follower of Jesus Christ. We either engage in reconciliation, or we exacerabe the problems.
Reconciliation is what occurs when two offended/ing parties work out their differences, genuinely forgive each other, and move on side by side. Reconciliation, when truly resolved, indicates a deep change of heart, a willingness to admit wrongdoing. And most importantly, reconciliation, when practiced, is what the church preaches. We preach the gospel of Jesus Christ—that through Christ, we are made right with God even though we are the offending party. So when we work at our relationships with each other, we show that we “get it.”
Jeff Arnold is the senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Beaver, PA. He lives with his wife Karen in Beaver, PA. They have three grown children.
First Presbyterian Church is an Evangelical Presbyterian Church located in Beaver, PA. They have four worship services on campus, two that are more traditional and two that are more blended contemporary. They have active ministries for all ages.