Advent resources

Stop fighting

I  can tell you “Six Surefire Ways to Grow Your Church.” But they will come to naught unless you start with a seventh.

“Stop fighting.”

Yes, that’s the seventh key to building a church: stop fighting. Or conversely, a surefire way to kill a church is: “Keep on fighting.”

Conflict is destroying our churches. Conflict between pastors and sessions, within committees and leadership teams, between generations, between evangelicals and progressives.

We’ve been at it for so long that we take such conflict as normal. And conflict can release creative energy. But on the whole, conflict ranks right up with laziness as causes of our downfall.

Prospective members run for the doors when they sense conflict. Leading the charge are the younger generations, whom we need to be reaching in order to have a future. They have no investment at all in what older constituents are fighting about.

Following them out the door are longtime constituents for whom bickering is the final straw.

Besides, such conflict isn’t normal. It might be common, but it doesn’t square with any norm that Jesus set. Jesus called us to “be one.”

How do we stop fighting? Here are four steps.

1. Let go of the marriage metaphor

Clergy and lay leaders like to see themselves in a marriage. They use the language and practices of courtship during searches. They like the til-death-do-us-part sense of mutual commitment, the parental sense of teamwork in “raising the children,” and emotional intimacy. None of this is real.

2. Let go of the ownership metaphor

Too often, I hear members saying to everyone else, “This is our church!” They pay the bills and provide continuity. Ministers are perceived as transients. None of that is real. It is God’s church, not theirs. They own nothing. If anything, the church “belongs” to the next stranger coming through the door.

3. Let go of the charitable institution metaphor

Museums and other charitable institutions seek out large donors and treat them with special favor. Many churches fall into that same dance, and it kills them. Catering to the wealthy rarely brings in more funds, and the funds it does generate often come with strings such as resistance to change. Moreover, catering to the wealthy offends the non-wealthy, especially those who are actually doing the work of ministry.

4. Accept the corporate metaphor, with conditions

Corporate practices have much to teach us about accountability, customer service, quality control, branding, marketing and decision-making. We are foolish to dismiss them as too worldly. Churches shouldn’t think themselves exempt from the high standards found in a healthy business, especially when performance gaps and budget management are two prime causes of conflict.

5. Do embrace the body metaphor: many diverse parts, one body, one head.

Conclusion: Any human community will have friction. Our task is to work through it: stop fighting and start resolving, stop fighting and start compromising, stop fighting and start putting the good of the whole first.

(As for those “Six Surefire Ways to Grow a Church,” send me an e-mail, and I’ll send them to you: