Posts Tagged ‘peace in the church’

My wife and I once lived in an apartment located directly behind a prominent church in our community.  My theology professor from seminary attended there, as did several friends.

One weekend, I had a Sunday off from my own church, so my wife and I decided to visit the church behind our place – and I’ve never forgotten what happened.

The service began with the pastor standing up to announce a change in church scheduling.  He sounded hesitant … defensive … and even scared … and his announcement went on for twenty minutes.

I was so shocked by how long his announcement went that I can’t remember anything else about that service.

So it didn’t surprise me when I later learned that church was undergoing severe conflict … and that the pastor’s days were numbered.

When a church is experiencing major conflict:

*everyone can feel the tension.  More than any service I’ve ever attended, you could cut the tension that morning with a knife.  I never found out what the exact issues were.  Maybe it was the pastor’s lack of leadership … or his remoteness … or the fact that he wanted to superimpose the culture of his previous church on this one.  Whatever it was, we could feel there was trouble afoot.

*people just want relief.  Most churchgoers don’t like conflict and just want it to vanish, and they’ll do almost anything to gain relief … even to the point of doing unchristian things.

*the pastor will usually be blamed … either for starting the conflict … allowing it to continue … or not resolving issues quickly.  I don’t know what role that pastor had in making that announcement … whether it was his idea or whether it came from the church board … but he became identified with the scheduling issue in many people’s minds.

*outreach will be affected.  Nobody greeted my wife and me as we entered the worship center … and nobody greeted us as we exited, either.  I remember telling my wife, “The people in this congregation feel relationally and emotionally cold.”  Even though we lived behind the church, we never returned.

By contrast, here’s what Acts 9:31 says about the progress of the early church:

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace.  It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord. 

This is one of five summary statements about the early church in the Book of Acts.  It’s such a positive and joyful observation that when I preached through Acts many years ago, I devoted an entire sermon to this single verse.

And what is most remarkable is that the church of Jesus Christ was at peace in three different locales: Judea,  Galilee, and Samaria.  That’s like a district minister saying, “We have one hundred churches in our territory, and every one of them is relationally healthy.”  Happens rarely, if ever.

How can a church enjoy such a time of peace?

*The church must unite around Christ’s Great Commission.  A church’s priority has to be community and global outreach: “making disciples of all nations.”  Nothing unites a church more than focusing on Jesus’ final words to His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20.  When a church focuses on efficiency … finances … fellowship … social justice … or some other agenda rather than outreach … that church has started to die.  It’s no accident that this church “grew in numbers” … and those people didn’t come from other churches!  They were all new converts.

*The church must be led by authentic leaders.  These leaders … composed of pastors, staff members, and board members … must give priority to the Great Commission in their own lives.  Whenever a church isn’t growing, it’s usually attributable to two things: the pastor isn’t preaching the Great Commission … and the pastor and leaders aren’t living it out.  When they are, they’ll have so many stories to tell that their passion will become contagious throughout the congregation.

*The leaders must fear God more than their critics.  I love the last phrase of Acts 9:31: “living in the fear of the Lord.”  The leaders always did what God wanted them to do.  They did what was right, even when they were criticized by state or religious officials.  Jesus was their Head … not any government or ruler … and they were His body.  I see some Christian churches caving to cultural pressures right now, and when they do, they usually shrink in numbers.  The early church didn’t live in fear of the culture … they lived in fear of their God.

*The congregation must be empowered by God’s Spirit.  When I was a rookie staff member, I sometimes engaged in ministry in my own strength … and things almost never worked.  I learned the hard way that to be effective, I had to be filled with God’s Spirit, asking God for His power and relying upon Him for any results.  When we give ourselves completely to the Lord, we sense His smile, and we’re “encouraged by the Holy Spirit” as a byproduct.

*The believers quickly resolved their conflicts with each other.  They did not let the sun go down while they were still angry with somebody (Ephesians 4:26).  They learned to talk with anyone who had hurt them … before they went to bed … so they could live and serve in harmony.  They knew that only a church at peace can grow in numbers … and they wanted as many people to come to Christ as possible.

I once had the privilege of leading a church like this, and for several years, it was the closest thing to heaven on earth that I have ever experienced.

Is your church enjoying a time of peace?

If not, what can you do to bring greater peace to your congregation?

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