Summary: No church will be free of conflict. What makes or breaks churches is what they choose to do with conflict.

The Safest Place on Earth - Part 2

February 17, 2002


“The difference between spiritual and unspiritual community is not whether conflict exists, but is rather in our attitude toward it and our approach to handling it. When conflict is seen as an opportunity to draw more fully on spiritual resources, we have the makings of spiritual community.” (Larry Crabb, The Safest Place on Earth, p. 40)

2 reasons conflict can be complicated in church:

Expectations are high – Simply because church members profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, we expect a certain level of behavior from each other. But occasionally our expectations don’t get met.

Also, passions are strong in the church. People feel deeply.

Church becomes a very unsafe place when conflict is dealt with inappropriately. People get involved who don’t need to, friendships are sacrificed on the altar of ego, and oneness becomes a distant dream – like that tropical paradise pictured in the poster on the wall of travel agent. We’d like to imagine ourselves living out our lives in such a state, but make a mental note that we more than likely never will.

No church will be free of conflict. But still, church need not be the site of holy wars. What makes or breaks churches is what they choose to do with conflict.

It can drive us apart, or conflict can cause us to draw more fully on the resources available to us through the Holy Spirit.

Some of those resources would be:

Right attitude

Recommended approach

Resulting atmosphere

Let’s read Matthew 18:15-20

TRANSITION: First, if conflict becomes an occasion for us to draw more deeply on spiritual resources, then…


Matthew 18:3-4: 3And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The right attitude is humility

Admitting brokenness is the key. Because each of us is an imperfect, sinful human being, at times we do act in an unloving fashion. So, when approached in conflict, or doing the approaching, humility is the prevailing attitude.

Marshall Shelley says:

“All of us act out of sheer cussedness, even while justifying our actions to ourselves.” (Shelley, p. 48)

“The church, indeed every Christian, is an odd combination of self-sacrificing saint and self-serving sinner. And the church, unlike some social organizations, doesn’t have the luxury of choosing its members; the church is an assembly of all who profess themselves believers. Within that gathering is found a full range of saint/sinner combinations.” (Marshall Shelley, Well-Intentioned Dragons, p. 48)

Shelley says a safe church has some ground rules. He calls them the three P’s. They characterize the right attitude for a safe church.

Permission – disagreements are OK

Potency – allowed to state your position with clarity and


Protection – No one gets intentionally hurt by someone else – no one is allowed to inflict needless hurt.

Remember our theme verse for the year? Ephesians 4:2-3: Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

TRANSITION: Second, to grow through conflict…


There are 4 Steps in Matthew 18.

I’m going to spend the majority of our time talking about the first step for a few reasons.

Since this step is first every last one of us will undoubtedly find ourselves in a situation where we will need to implement it.

Also, most conflict among Christians can be cleared up at the first step.

AND experience tells us that often the first step is ignored when conflict arises.

Step One: A private conversation (v. 15)

Let me give you 6 guidelines that will help us when when we need to have a private conversation:

 Start soon

You may need some space to deal with your emotions, but don’t put off conflict for two weeks. Get things settled as soon as you can.

Jesus instructed his listeners in Matthew 5:23-24:

If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

To worship God is highest priority in the life of a Christian. But Jesus says, being reconciled with others takes precedence over our acts of worship. Get right with your brother or sister – then come and worship. Obviously if we need to get things straightened out with someone, that activity it would take precedence over everything else too. Appointments for work, family obligations, social plans.

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