“I do not ask for these only (the apostles), but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)
It probably should come as no surprise that occasionally our Baptist churches find themselves in the midst of conflict. No matter the cause – carpet color, worship style, the pastor’s sermons, or something else – as long as there are 50 people in a room, there will be 51 opinions. So, we do not deny that conflict does arise, our goal as believers should be to prevent it when possible and handle it in a Biblical, godly manner when it arises.
A ministry unique to the Arkansas Baptist State Convention is our Church Mediation Ministry. It is made up of several pastors and leaders from around the state who have been trained in the concepts of Biblical unity and processes for Christian reconciliation. What must be made clear about this group is that they are NOT moderators, arbitrators, judges, or the like. The goals for this team are to proactively promote unity through teaching and help facilitate renewed relationships between Christian brothers and sisters when conflict arises. Unfortunately, in most circumstances, they are not often given the opportunity to train until after the issue has already caused a rift and conflict already exists. The truth is that most of the time, churches or leadership wait until too late to address pending conflict until the sides are drawn and there seems to be no turning back.
The Church Mediation Ministry with the ABSC exists to help churches and leadership “find a way forward.” The main approach is to assess the health of key relationships at the center of the conflict and help foster spiritually mature, Christian communication towards reconciliation. Deep concepts like acknowledging the Christ in each other, genuine confession, authentic forgiveness, and transparent dialogue are key to this goal. At times, many of these ideas are either misunderstood or just too difficult – usually due to pride – for most people to endure, no matter how Biblical the principles may be. In these cases when people find it too difficult, the easiest path is usually taken…either they leave, or they force someone else to leave. Unless it is an obvious sin issue (Matthew 18), this is not the path God wants for His people.
Once invited in to help with the conflict, a two-person team begins the process of an initial assessment, where scope (How many people are actually involved?) and stage (How far has this progressed?) are determined. This is usually followed by listening sessions where key leaders and members closest to the conflict are asked roughly the same questions to create a narrative and discover the heart of the conflict. (It should be noted that what most people believe is THE issue, is rarely the ACTUAL issue.) A report is produced and presented to the key leadership or to the church as a whole, with suggestions on how to proceed. Once this phase is concluded, the Church Mediation Ministry team members are trained to help with individual relationships, steps to move forward, and training in Biblical unity with a small team or churchwide to help if conflict arises again. It is a process and may take some time, but the team is available as long as the invitation remains open.
In Jesus’ prayer from John 17, He prayed to the Father for help through the upcoming events that would unfold. He prayed for the apostles and his followers that they would be protected and useful in the coming days. And then He actually prayed for US…those that would believe in later times. His main prayer for us was that we would exemplify unity to the highest level. He prayed this, not just so we could be unified, but so that the Gospel would not be hindered…”so that the world would believe that You sent me.” Unity points others to Christ. How we handle conflict – our mercy towards each other, our confession, our quickness to forgive, and our genuine love for one another – can also show the world what Christ-like reconciliation looks like. It can even be a picture of what Christ has already done for us.
If your church is facing pending conflict or maybe your leadership would like training in Biblical unity, please feel free to reach out to our team for more information. We would be glad to help in any way!
Note: This team recognizes the autonomy of every local church and only reports what has been heard and only “suggests” possible actions. Any decisions to act upon the report are at the discretion of the local body and its leadership.