Thursday, October 06, 2011

Most Church Conflict Has Underlying, Systemic Theological Roots

More from my slow-reading of James Van Yperen's Making Peace. He writes:

"In these and many other cases, the leader often works alone instead of building an interdependent team. Often a pastor will resist building a team because he is easily threatened by others who may be gifted in areas he is not. When these pastors do assemble a team, it is often made up of people who pose no threat to the pastor because they either think alike or are less gifted than the pastor. So our churches grow and suffer in direct proportion to the strengths and weaknesses of one person. These leaders model autonomy, not community. The church easily falls into conflicts and cults of personality." (p. 40)

Real community is not a collection of "Yes" men and women who follow threatened leaders. If you have a group of 10 core leaders who always agree with you, the leader, then nine members of the core group are unnecesary. (This is the pastoral-leader-as-Robert Mugabe. See, e.g., The Allure of Toxic Leaders.)

I'm still early in this book, which moves on to give solutions for resoving conflict in churches. Van Yeperen assumes that, to resolve conflict, we must identify the root of it. That root, he writes, is a spiritual one. (40) "Many of our churches are sick and dying because they are pretending to be the church. Worse, many of us are invested in our dysfunction. We do not really want to be well; we just want to feel better. We want the problem to go away. But we do not want to pay the price. Our identity has been formed around our pathologies. The pagan world looks on and sees no viable contrast, no difference affected by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Cross is robbed of its power." (41)

Real community (koinonia) embraces love, understanding, humility, and truth. We "speak the truth in love" with one another. (The best book I know on this is by David Augsburger.) This is grounded in our mutual love for the same Lord. "This is not news, of course, but it is rarely practiced." (42)

Chapter 1 of Making Peace is excellent. I would like to quote the entire thing! Van Yeperen gives a two-point summary:

  1. Conflict is always a complex interaction of cultural, structural, spiritual, and theological forces. Most conflict surfaces and displays interpersonal symptoms that have underlying systemic, theological roots.
  2. The theological problem stated above is the deepest root. Theology drives all the others. All church conflict is ultimately theological. God wants to change the way we think about the church so that we might become His people.
"Like frozen water pushing under the surface of a road, the only way to resolve and redeem church conflict is to identify its spiritual, cultural, structural, and theological roots; and then to address them. Pray that God will reveal what lies under the surface in your church." (46)