If you’ve been attending church for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed--or even been a part of--a conflict in the congregation. It could be over something as important as theology or something as trivial as what kind of carpeting should go in the fellowship hall. It’s often surprising how quickly disagreement can arise, especially when deeply held religious beliefs get involved.
Since all churches are made up of sinners saved by God’s grace, it is likely that all churches will experience conflict at one time or another. This can lead church leaders to yearn for peace and unity--certainly a characteristic of a congregation that the New Testament frequently instructs churches to pursue.
Sometimes, however, striving after peace and unity can become an idol and can actually lead to stifled spiritual growth in a congregation.
In his article “Beware the Satisfied Church” for The Gospel Coalition, pastor and author Trevin Wax notes: “[I]t's easy for Christians who have been through a season of conflict or discontentment to pursue peace and satisfaction as the goal. It's easy for churches to imagine that it's a sign of faithfulness when everyone is getting along and everyone is satisfied.”
Pastors, church leaders, and members of a congregation can easily fall into thinking that their church is exactly where it should be as long as there are no complaints, everyone agrees on the type of worship music, and no one is made too uncomfortable by the pastor’s sermon.
When this view is adopted, however, the church moves away from its true purpose and becomes more of a social club than a dynamic gathering of believers seeking to further the Gospel.
In some cases, Wax notes, being too content at church may actually signal that something is wrong.
“Yes, we are right to pursue unity and peace in the church. But we are wrong to assume that the absence of conflict or complaint indicates that things are going in the right direction,” he writes. “The satisfaction of church members may be a sign not of faithfulness, but of widespread complacency.”
This can be a fine line. As with most things in life, we seem to seek to be comfortable with a new environment (work, school, church, etc.), and then once we reach that place of comfort and security, we are often tempted to plateau and not challenge ourselves or step outside our comfort zones.
The purpose of gathering together with fellow believers in a church setting is to receive edification, fellowship with other Christians, and hear from God’s Word, but another purpose of attending church is for us to take our faith beyond that church building and into our communities where it may not feel as natural and comfortable.
“But the reality holds true: the satisfied church that isn't reaching people for Jesus is satisfied in the wrong things,” writes Wax. …”The satisfied church is not a holy congregation; it may just be a complacent one.”
Satisfaction is not a negative thing. It’s a very good thing if it’s placed in Christ! The Bible encourages us to find our satisfaction in God and not in worldly things--which can include idolized pursuit of our personal preferences and comfort.
“This paradox is important,” Wax continues. “Churches most satisfied in God will be the most dissatisfied with their own spiritual state. They want to see God's name magnified throughout their city and around the world. They will be dissatisfied--filled with holy discontent over the current state of their church, and they'll be yearning to reach more for Christ, to do more for others, to serve more in his name.”
Next time you attend church, praise God for the ways the congregation is functioning peacefully and in unity. But also, if there is conflict on certain issues, instead of being tempted to become frustrated, argumentative, or defensive, seek out ways in which these challenges can be opportunities for your growth and the growth of your fellow believers. You never know how God may be using our human imperfection to draw others to Himself and to glorify His name.
Photo courtesy: Unsplash/Ben White
Publication date: October 19, 2017
Veronica Neffinger is the editor of ChristianHeadlines.com