Quick List for Preserving Unity
Pray for unity. In so doing you will be imitating the Lord in the upper room.
Remember who you are: brothers and sisters in Christ. No one is superior to any- one else, whether elder, preacher, custodian or bulletin folder. To the carnal Corinthians, Paul appealed to the foundational truth that bound them together, the core of his preaching: “Christ, and Him crucified.” We are blood bought brothers and sisters in Him (1 Cor 2:2).
Distinguish truth from application. We must insist on the former, but be flexible with the latter. For example, practice of the Lord’s Supper is mandated in God’s Word, but the time of day and length is not. There may be strong considerations for such logistics, but these ought not lead to divisiveness.
Develop good communication. Decisions made after hours of discussion in elders meetings cannot be communicated well in a two-line bulletin announcement. Use your best communicator to be the spokesperson. Do it often and do it well.
Identify the real source of tensions
Discernment will save much wasted time and energy in understanding what the real source of conflict is. Better to solve the right prob- lem than follow the symptoms to the wrong source. Otherwise, the problem will crop up with a different symptom.
In one church, an elder became abrasive and unresponsive to commitments he had made. Confrontation was to no avail. However, God began to work in him, and in the context of a trusting relationship he came to apologize for his behavior.
The symptoms turned out to be the result not of a selfish heart, but of much pressure in his secular employment and ex- tended family life. The humbleness that was evident resulted in a stronger, more unified elders’ group.
Disempower the scapegoats. It is easy to blame others, our evil society or the idea that we are in the “last times” for difficulties God wants us to deal with in a humble, biblical way. Sometimes it is simply our own self- centered ego that is the problem. The sooner we recognize this, the sooner we will move toward unity of heart.
Keep confidence. Love covers a multi- tude of sins. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Pe 4:8). I remember being at an assembly dinner and as it happened I was sitting near a brother with whom I had some disagreement. During the meal, I noticed him quietly getting my attention. Discretely, he indicated with a simple hand motion that I had something hanging from my nose.
Embarrassed, I quickly retrieved my napkin and corrected the situation, without anyone else noticing. My “adversary” could have made a public scene of the matter, or left me to my embarrassment. He never said a word about it to me afterwards. I was impressed that my he demonstrated true love by helping “cover up” my social indiscretion. How much more would could we help the unity of believers to “cover over a multitude of sins” of the relationship kind.
Pick your battles wisely. Don’t waste time and “relational energy” on small stuff. One brother does not like the Lord’s Supper setting where the chairs are in a circle, finding it awkward. An older couple prefers an evening meeting at 7:00pm because of their sup- per time habits, a young couple prefers it at 6 pm because of their young children’s sleep requirements. Certainly, deference is a small sacrifice in this case.
Leave the posse behind. In other words, first go to a person with whom you are having tension, one-on-one—don’t gang up on him or her. Deal with conflicts in a biblical manner (Matt 18:15).
Don’t take public swipes. If you are privileged to preach God’s Word from the pulpit or comment during a small group time, don’t use this as your opportunity to proclaim your side of the conflict. Avoid innuendos altogether. Elders should guard the public teaching from personal vendettas or self- serving presentations.
Admit when you are wrong. Cut your losses. To do anything else will damage your credibility and your effectiveness in resolving any difficulty.
Treat others with respect. Even when they are wrong, or you think they are wrong. Don’t be degrading or condescending regardless of gender, race, social status or educational background.
God desires unity in both doctrine and in heart. As leaders, we must insist on truth and love! “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. Grace be with you” (1 Ti 6:20-21).
Editorial Note: This article was first published in Elder’s Shop Notes in January 2005. It is used here with permission of the author.