Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. (1 Corinthians 1:10, NRSV — whole passage here)
Not too long ago someone asked me if I took any kind of a class in seminary to help deal with conflict in the church. As it happens, I did! It was a great class, taught by someone who really knew the topic, a seminary professor who also consulted with conflicted churches. I have the books on my study shelf, the ones that explain some mean or troubled people can be “clergy killers,” and I remember reading them, but I also know, from personal experience, that when a pastor feels threatened–when I do–the heart pounds and the breath gets short and it’s very hard to sort out what you did wrong (or whether you did) from how other people feel and what other people think.
And most of us tend to spring to our own defense.
Come on, you know you do.
It’s very hard to find that place inside yourself where you can be completely honest and non-defensive and yet not take blame you don’t deserve either.
I suspect it’s like parenting. By the time we figure out the right way to do a particular part of it, by the time we master parenting a particular developmental stage, the child has moved on to another, and the next child will probably live it out differently, anyway.
Paul calls on us–well, on the church at Corinth–to be of the same mind. I hope what he means is to get over arguing about things that don’t matter so much. He couldn’t have envisioned arguments over paint color and carpeting and hymnals. There was no institution to support. But it’s part of the human story that we squabble and align ourselves and change teams and just generally make a hash of things, at least some of the time.
In my new setting, I know more about the struggles of the past than of conflict in this moment, which sounds weird. Maybe it’s because we’re still in the honeymoon phase. And certainly it’s because I am not inclined to whip up conflict in the first six months! What would it mean for your church to be in the same mind? What’s the most important unresolved issue or disagreement in your church life?