One of the reasons that God called us to form a church community instead of simply having separate individual connections with each of us is so we could have the experience of growing in holiness through our relationships with each other. We are all parts of the same body, cogs in the same machine.
There is no holiness on our own. Just as there can be no seeing without light – there is no holiness outside of our relationships with each other. And maintaining harmony is an essential part of our relationships.
It is the responsibility of each and every member of a church to contribute to the harmony of that church community. It happens one meeting, one encounter, one healthy disagreement at a time. That doesn’t mean that we keep a tense peace by biting our tongues all the time…but…sometimes that’s exactly what it means. Biting one’s tongue, in some circumstances, is a necessity; ask anyone who has been in a successful marriage over the long term.
A starting point for achieving harmony over the long haul is to expect that conflicts will pop up with some regularity. A conflict is not a sign that something has gone wrong; it means that we are in relationship with each other, where conflicts are part of the deal and the way we handle them is the mark of our holiness.
Once we know to expect conflict, we can prepare to face it harmoniously. A few guiding principles can help us to plan ahead for managing our next conflict successfully.
One principle is to listen to the other person with the intent to hear what, in their perspective, you agree with. This is very hard to do, because we all have a tendency in moments of conflict to feel like a lawyer in one of those courtroom dramas who yells “Objection!” from behind the defense table. But none of us needs to focus in order to hear what we disagree with – hearing that is as natural as breathing. Listening for what we agree with allows us to laser-focus on what values unite us and reminds us that conflict is not about winning or losing, but about together finding what God would have us do in any given circumstance.
Another principle for managing conflict in holy ways is to preface whatever point we want to make with the phrase: “You may be right and I could be wrong.” Just think of how humble and honest a phrase this is! Because I don’t know everything, I could be wrong. Because you are a fellow child of God, you could be right. Because we’re both members of this community, we both care about this church and have a right to an opinion. Myself, I would immediately feel my heart opening to a person who placed their disagreement with me in that kind of frame.
A third guiding principle is to follow the acronym “HALT” in helping us to know when not to hash out a delicate issue with others. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. When we are experiencing any of those four things, we are not in the right space for hashing out something that frustrates, offends or hurts us. We should be willing to table the conversation and come back to it when we’re feeling calmer and have a better overall perspective.
When Jesus taught us how to pray, he said we should address God as “Our Father,” the father of us all. Now, while it’s not untrue that God is also the creator and Father of each of us individually, Jesus emphasized that we approach God as members of a family.
May each of us live in a way that brings God’s will for harmony “on earth as it is in heaven.”