The Purpose Driven Life: Cultivating community takes honesty. Real fellowship, whether in a marriage, a friendship, or your church, depends on frankness. In fact, the tunnel of conflict is the passageway to intimacy in any relationship. Until you care enough to confront and resolve the underlying barriers, you will never grow close to each other. When conflict is handled correctly, we grow closer to each other by facing and resolving our differences.
One of my favorite verse to quote is what Jesus said in Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Quite often it would also be true to say that “wherever two or three or more are gathered in Christ’s name, there you will find people in conflict with one another.”
We are looking for unity, and what we find is people taking sides against each other, resulting in argument and discord. Paul warned the church at Corinth about this twice:
1 Cor 1:10 I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
1 Cor 3:1 But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men? 4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely men? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.
What Paul is saying is that when people take sides against each other, dividing themselves into camps with labels to identify who is OK and who is not, you recognize it by the labels: “I belong to …” this group. To do this behavior is to be like “ordinary men” or to be spiritually immature – it is never a sign of spiritiual maturity but a sign of carnal emotions, sin and being “in the flesh.” Encouraging people to take sides is the method of persons who wish to exalt themselves and gain power: identify an enemy, then rally the troops for self-defense. We need to defend ourselves instead from the tendency to label people for whom Christ died as our enemies.
There’s a very old joke about a man who was shipwrecked. The day finally came for rescue; the rowboat came to shore to pick up the survivors and the first mate walked up to the little village of three huts. “Call the others and let’s go,” he said to the man who came out to meet him.
“There are no others,” he said.
“Who lives in the other two huts, then?” the sailor asked.
The castaway drew himself up with pride. “I’m a devout Christian.” He pointed to one of the huts, gleaming and well taken care of. “That’s my church. I worship there every Sunday.”
The sailor pointed to the third hut, obviously not as well cared for and a little shabby. “What’s this hut for?”
The devout castaway shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “That’s the church I used to go to …”
All too often, this is the reality in the church: Wherever two or three or more are gathered … at least two of them are not getting along.
Jesus made some amazing promises about community, this connection between Christians that is described by the Purpose Driven Life as “Purpose 2? or “real fellowship.” Just prior to my favorite verse I listed above, you’ll find Jesus saying this at Matthew 18:19: ”Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” It is worth great effort to work toward unity in community.
Another promise of what happens when there is a community that practices what they preach – Jesus said in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” If you imagine taking verse 35 literally, Jesus is saying that if a church actually loved one another by the standard Jesus said, it would be so astonishing and remarkable that the entire world would have heard of that church. We are far more familiar with the opposite of that kind of church.
The opposite of a church that loves one another comes in two varieties. One is the church involved in open warfare, often leading to a church split. The end result is two huts on the beach, plus hurt feelings and unforgiveness that can be a lifelong barrier to spiritual growth. When I’ve been around these kinds of feuds, it is just like that: life long, unless someone begins to pray and work for peace and healing. The hurt and injustice are often all the people involved can talk about; it dominates their souls and sours their faith.
Far more common, however, is the church that is dishonest. This is described by Peck’s first stage of community, where there is little if any true community: Pseudocommunity: For many groups or organizations the most common initial stage, pseudocommunity, is the only one. It is a stage of pretense. The group pretends it already is a community, that the participants have only superficial individual differences and no cause for conflict. The primary means it uses to maintain this pretense is through a set of unspoken common norms we call manners: you should try your best not to say anything that might antagonize or upset anyone else; if someone else says something that offends you or evokes a painful feeling or memory, you should pretend it hasn’t bothered you in the least; and if disagreement or other unpleasantness emerges, you should immediately change the subject. These are rules that any good hostess knows. They may create a smoothly functioning dinner party but nothing more significant. The communication in a pseudocommunity is filled with generalizations. It is polite, inauthentic, boring, sterile, and unproductive.
There is no true community when there is no honesty. Yet, how do we communicate with honesty when we feel so strongly that any honesty will lead to open warfare? How do we practice “good manners,” in other words? How do we have “tact”? Consider the meaning of tactful communication in these quotes:
Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy. (Isaac Newton).
It is tact that is golden, not silence. (Samuel Butler).
Don’t flatter yourself that friendship authorizes you to say disagreeable things to your intimates. The nearer you come into relation with a person, the more necessary do tact and courtesy become. (Oliver Wendell Holmes).
Truth is what you say, but tact is how you say it. As Paul says in Colossians 4:6: Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one. The fact that we have truth to tell does not remove our obligation to “love one another” as Jesus loved us from the telling. Jesus told the truth, yet was able to blend honesty with love.
Proverbs 27:6 says: Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. The best definition of tact, however, still defaults to using TACT as an acronym: Tell the Absolute Complete Truth. What might harm someone is AWAYS an incomplete truth – because a complete statement of truth will include the truth of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness in our our hearts toward the other person … if that is the truth. If that sort of Godly Love isn’t in our hearts, then we have something to purify within ourselves before sharing our mind with someone else. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:3: Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
So … before you begin to speak, do a little lumberjack work and Tell the Absolute Complete Truth to yourself first. But when your heart is right, tell the truth to others as a means of loving one another: Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16).
An amazing church lies at the far end of the “tunnel of conflict” if we are willing to endure some discomfort as we tell the truth to ourselves and each other. One method God has chosen for us to grow up as Christians and become the fellowship God desires is for us to learn how to speak the truth in love to one another as we love the way Jesus loved us and spoke the truth to us. And then to do exactly that: Tell the Absolute Complete Truth, filled with love, mercy, understanding and forgiveness. As an exercise, why not review the description above of polite dishonesty known as Pseudocommunity, and then look about the faces of the people you encounter at worship, and ask yourself: is there a truth in my heart or a hurt in my heart that I am hiding from any person here? Then pray about it, and be obedient with humility, fear and trembling.
Some quotes in italics are from Day 19 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002).
For a definition of community based on M Scott Peck’s book, The Different Drum, see My Purpose Driven Life: – Day 18 – Part 6: Mercy at http://disciplewalk.com/ambidextrous/2013/03/28/my-purpose-driven-life-day-18-part-6-mercy/
An excellent PDF file on the topic is available based on a sermon by Dan Proctor, 05/31/09 Galatians 6:1 entitled: How to Handle Conflict and Confrontation; download the “Notes” at http://www.crbaptist.com/sermon_series.cfm?search=confrontation
A helpful list of “6 Rules for Communicating with Diplomacy and Tact” can be found here: http://blog.dalecarnegie.com/leadership/6-rules-for-communicating-with-diplomacy-and-tact/
The photo is from the “Addicted to Life – 12-Steppers Unite” page at Facebook.com, and can be viewed at: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=498262556888024&set=a.393734727340808.82154.393721450675469&type=1&theater