Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Community and Relational Friction

Community.  It’s a word full of meaning.  Words like communion, commune, communal, common, commonality, and fellowship come to mind when you hear it.  The word literally means a group of people sharing common characteristics.

Pace Community Church has the word Community included in its name.  It’s there for a specific reason.  We are not simply a church for the community of Pace, we are a community of believers who share a common faith and we live in community with one another.

Living in community is one of the ways that God meets some of our deepest needs.  We are called to live in fellowoship; not to live alone.  In fact, there are about fifty-six commands you cannot obey unless you belong to a New Testament Church!  That’s how important community really is.

But here’s the hard part.  It’s not always easy getting along with everyone.  Even under the best of conditions, there’s no way to be in community with other people without experiencing friction.  It just comes from rubbing shoulders with other people.

So how do you get along with others and have them get along with you?  How do you build community with one another, and at the same time, keep the peace?

Do the Matthew 18:15 Thing.  By far the most important lesson I have ever learned about relational health is to practice Matthew 18:15.  Not just talk about it, but to DO it.  This verse is elemental:  if you have a problem with someone, go to them alone and work it out.

Sounds simple.  It’s not.

The temptation is to go to six of our friends, telling them our problem and painting the other person as a jerk and ourselves as the victim.  Our tendency is to go to someone else, instead of the person we are supposed to talk to, and share our concerns or gripes with them.

When you do that, you’ll feel better for a little while (about 15 minutes) because you’ve gotten it off your chest for the moment, but all you have done is rehearsed and cemented your anger, resentment, or sense of offense or hurt.  Ever thought of it that way?  Probably not.  You’ve just drilled your feelings of conflict deeper and set them in concrete.  And not only that, you’ve contributed to the breakdown of community by getting others to join you in your conflict with the person you are against, to feel what you feel, to be offended like you’re offended, and to be hurt like you are hurt.  Why?  Because you just spewed it all over them.  It’s a smoke screen for gossip, slander, and sowing discord.

Jesus said go to that person and that person alone.  Period.  It’s the only way to contain the conflict and bring it to a resolution.  That’s why I have included Matthew 18:15 in our Membership Covenant.   It’s really that important.  It is SINFUL when some offended person starts talking to a third party without first talking the first person.

Be Quick.  Have you noticed how big things get when they’re given time to grow?  All I have to do is take something home with me, and by the time I see the person a few days later, it has already gone through a few imaginary conversations in my mind and been magnetized so that every negative thing in my memory – real or imagined – gets attached.  When the time comes to actually to do Matthew 18:15, my rpm’s are way higher than the situation deserves.

So I have learned to be quick and “on the spot” with things as much as I can be.  If I am offended or bothered by something, instead of waiting a week, I’ll ask the person very quickly about the misunderstanding.  For instance, if I am in a staff meeting, a leaders meeting, a small group, or a social setting, and someone says something to me that rubs me the wrong way, I’ll speak to them almost immediately.  I’ll say, “Hey, I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, but when you said this-or-that it sounded like you were directing it towards me.  Were you?”  Nine times out of ten they’ll say, “Really?  I’m sorry; I didn’t mean anything like that.”  Then it’s done.

No wonder the Bible says never to let the sun go down on your anger.  When the sun goes down, your emotions ramp up.

Believe the Best.  Believe the best about people, rather than assuming the worst – especially under the influence of gossip.  That’s just a good thing to do.  Tied to this is being fiercely loyal to your fellow members, fellow staff, and church leaders.  You will often hear others attempt to tear them down – it comes with the territory.  That’s when you insist that person practice Matthew 8:15, but you also refuse to give any room to the negative seed they tried to plant in your  own spirit.

The attitude of believing the best is simply suspending judgment in favor of the person.  It means giving them the benefit of the doubt

Watch Out for Absalom.  King David was an incredible, godly, yet flawed leader.  I deeply admire him, marvel at his life, and have learned from his failures.  His biggest failure was not his sexual liaison with Bathsheba.  It was his failure to recognize the betrayal of Absalom, his very own son.  It resulted in a divided kingdom and a civil war.  David almost lost everything.  You remember the story........

When anyone showed up with a case to bring before the king, Absalom would call him over and say, “Look the king is not going to listen to you.”  Then he’d say, “Why doesn’t someone make me the judge of this country?”  Absalom did this to everyone who came to do business with the king and stole the hearts of everyone in Israel” (2 Samuel 15:2-6 The Message Bible).

There you have it.  Absalom at the gate, winning the hearts of the people with a HYPER-community, HYPER-sensitive approach coupled with an “I understand your concerns even if the king doesn’t.”  It was simply subversive.

David was a cause-driven man.  He had built the kingdom, fought the enemies, restored the Ark of the Covenant back to Israel, passionately worshipped God, and stood steadfastly by God in spite of all his flaws.  But he wasn’t the compassionate counselor.  He wasn’t the touchy-feely, in-their-home-eating-apple-pie kind of guy.  He was the warrior kind of leader, which made him vulnerable to the Absalom types.

Most leaders are.  They plant churches, reach sinners far from God, buy property, erect houses of worship, develop systems to structure a church, baptize new converts, snatch fire brands from the burning, and invade the gates of hell!  Absalom types come in after the hard work is done, and with their touchy-feely demeanor win over the people who have already by reached.

That’s why we need to watch out for these types; they destroy community.

Solution?  Don’t let them get a foothold.  Really, I don’t know how else to convey this.  If there is an Absalom in our midst, you don’t give them a platform.  Instead, you marginalize them.  You don’t even let them sit at the city gate with access to people who are coming in, where all they will do is spread dissent.

Know Where Satan Will Attack.  The word "community" contains the word unity within it.  Unity is at the very core of having a healthy and happy church where true fellowship occurs.  So this is the one thing that Satan seeks to destroy.  He will do all he can to stir up dissention, conflict, and discord.  He will attempt to drive staff teams apart, create animosity among volunteers, and encourage disloyalty in the ranks. 

Why?  Because he knows that unity is the primary proof of true Christianity. 

Jesus said that it would be this kind of unity and this unity alone that would capture the world’s attention and confirm that He was from the Father and that we are His disciples.

That’s why it matters.


Anonymous said...

This is an exceptionally-written post. It goes to the heart of nearly every instance of divisiveness. It is dead wrong and un-Christlike to gossip, to hide in corners and have private conversations ABOUT people or issues. NEVER is it appropriate for any authentic concern or complaint to be handled in that way. The biblical, Christ-like, response is to go to the person with whom you have a conflict or concern. Anything short of that does indeed break down community... EVERY TIME.
There is not one single family whose members always agree, but families do talk things out ... face-to-face ... to settle ANY & ALL disagreements & concerns. I know we practice this in our own home, and we are MUCH better at handling things in the church this way as well.

Tom Schultz said...

Your blog is not just theoretical to me, having recently been crushed from an interim leadership responsibility by a faction started by one individual and spread by away-from-the-church meetings and attacks. The plus side is that it was a personal lesson in humility and keeping my mouth shut in the presence of false attacks. It illustrated that my Master endured such treatment and his disciples can expect no less.