I don’t think anyone in their right mind enjoys conflict. Even small conflicts, such as challenging someone’s opinion or offering a counter point of view, or even revealing to someone that they have a giant “something” hanging off their nose, can make us run the other way. I’m no different. Conflict is so tough. No one truly enjoys conflict. Even those who don’t avoid it only do so because they know that on the other side of healthy conflict is healing, restoration, and unity.
As someone called to pastor and preach it sometimes feels like I’m called to live in conflict. The local church (any church) can be a dangerous place, as anyone who has ever strived with it can attest. But it’s also a beautiful place. Suffering together, striving through conflict, and submitting humbly to one another under God’s word produces a beautiful anthem that no orchestra in the world can match.
Conflict and controversy are not bad things if they’re handled biblically. In fact, there is probably nothing better for us as individual Christians or as Christians united together in a local church. We grow when we’re stretched. And we grow into a unified body when this stretching is done under the covering of the Word of God. But it can be tough. As a pastor I sometimes forget my helmet at home, so I’ve bought a few extra–one for the office, another to keep in my car, even one for a local Starbucks I frequent (you want one available at every place you may receive a call, text, or email). I’ve also found that preaching the Bible isn’t the best strategy if you’re looking to avoid conflict. In fact, biblical preaching does just the opposite–it usually is the very thing that stirs it up.
Some may object to this line of thinking with opinions like these:
“But the church should be a place where everyone is happy!”
“Unity means everyone will always agree.”
“When we hear a sermon as we worship together it should “lift us up” (meaning, “make us feel good”), not stir up any negative or uncomfortable feelings.”
“We should avoid conflict and controversy in favor of cheerfulness and yummy thoughts.”
“Anything that causes pain should be avoided.”
Look at what the Apostle Paul says about preaching and controversy in the local church:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Planting local churches, pastoring, preaching; these were things that brought suffering, struggle, toil, and affliction to Paul. And Paul says that he rejoiced in these things for the sake of the church he was leading. His preaching of God’s word served not simply to teach but also to warn (admonish) the church. What was the goal? That we may present everyone mature in Christ. The goal of preaching, pastoring, shepherding, and leading in the local church is not to make people feel good about themselves, feel content lost in sin, or even feel enthused about the organization they are a part of, the goal is to present sinful human beings to God as mature Christians. That’s it. That’s the goal.
In Feed My Sheep, Al Mohler says the following about this passage, and specifically the very real potentiality of facing controversy when you faithfully preach the Bible in the local church.
It seems that the more faithful one is in preaching, the more trouble one encounters…Conflict and controversy are always hard, and they tend to be correlated to faithfulness in preaching. The harder you work at it, the greater the risk…Indeed I will go so far as to assert that if you are at peace with the world, you have abdicated your calling. You have become a court preacher to some earthly power, no matter how innocuous it may appear. To put it straight: you have been bought! If there is no controversy in your ministry, there is probably very little content to your preaching. The content of the Word of God is not only alive and active, it is sharper than any two-edged sword, and that means it does some surgery. Cutting leads to bleeding, and by God’s grace healing then comes, but there is always controversy. Paul is emphatically aware of this dynamic…and yet he says, as it were: “Bring it on. This is what I was made for. This is what I was called to do. This is what I am here for. Let’s get at it!”
Thank you Jesus. Thanks be to God who has chosen, through the foolishness (in the world’s eyes) of preaching, to save those who believe. I don’t write this blog because of any specific instance or level of conflict or controversy in my local church. But I’ve experienced it, and I know I will again. If the Word of God is faithfully preached in any local church, controversy will occur. It will occur because when the Word does surgery on the souls of sinners (hear it from the sinner typing this right now) it can be painful.
Pastors and preachers, faithfully preach the word! And don’t forget your helmet.