November 11, 2010

Got Conflict?

by Jenny Williams
Isaiah 12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

Tired of congregational conflict?

Recently I had to work with a utility company on behalf of a woman whom our church was assisting financially.  The woman was getting nowhere with the company, so I tried to help her with the process.  It took eight calls to them before I could speak with a supervisor who would hear my concerns and rectify the billing problems the customer had.  In the first five calls, five different customer service representatives each told me different information about how the woman’s situation. 

One told me everything was paid up.  Another told me that the customer had a $500 balance.  Another told me they’d ask the back office to research the issue, and I could call back in 2-3 days for an answer.  I did, and I was told that that timeline was wrong; it would take 5-7 days for the research to be completed.  After that time had passed, I called back.  That representative told me the timeline was wrong; it would take 4-6 weeks.  By the time I got to the supervisor, who was very kind and understanding, I suggested to her that some training was needed to improve consistency among the representatives.  She sighed and explained that in the last year, not only had they fired the original company to whom they outsourced the customer service calls and then hired a new company, the utility company had also begun to use a new computer system.  Balances paid during certain months were not credited to customers’ accounts, past due and termination notices were sent out incorrectly, and the new employees didn’t have much training to handle any of it.  I felt so sorry for her and said so.  She said brightly, “I’ve just learned that there are never problems; there are only opportunities.  And every morning I come to work, I am faced with all sorts of opportunities.”

Jesus tells us in Luke 21 that if we are faithful to the way of life he’s set before us, there will be some serious ramifications.  The part where we are hauled off to the civil authorities isn’t anything new to EP endorsers and like-minded Christians.  We are aware that some of the ways Christ calls us to live will come into direct conflict with the state.  If you have any questions about that, read Acts. 

But the part where he talks about faithful Christ-followers being “handed over to the synagogues” gives us pause.  If we follow Jesus, the people of God—the church—might get upset?  Yeah. 

This may shock you (note sarcasm), but even congregations might get upset when a ministry of the church aims to reach out to the same kind of people whom Jesus reached out to.  This upset can cause arguing, division, and all sort of congregational chaos.  These battles can be exhausting.  And depressing.  But when Christians are called on the carpet for extending grace or assistance to sinful people, Luke’s Jesus tells us to see this kind of confrontation as an “opportunity”—an opportunity to testify. Ugh.  When I am in the middle of those kinds of conflicts, what I want to say out loud is, “I’m hurt.  I’m tired.  I’m frustrated. Can’t we all just get along?”  But what Jesus says is “Keep your eyes open.  That’s the time to talk about God’s goodness.”    Perhaps he uses legal language to call our attention to our own sinfulness in the midst of conflict:  don’t prepare your defense in advance.  You mean, don’t prepare a speech in advance about how right I am to follow Jesus?  That might make me self-defensive and point to my arrogant self-righteousness?  Ouch.  We are instead instructed to keep our eyes open for the opportunity to speak, and when the time comes, let God give us the words.  Perhaps if God gives us the words and the wisdom, when we are challenged because of the ministries in which we engage, we’ll talk about God and not ourselves. 

Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.  (2 Thessalonians 3:13)  When the time comes for the confrontation, may we be able to take a deep breath and say to ourselves, “Surely it is God who saves me.  I will trust in him and not be afraid.  For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and He will be my Savior.”   And then, may we be able to speak to our challengers words of God’s goodness and grace.


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