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Conflict in the Church: The Uncomfortable Reality

Pastor John Lathrop talks about the inescapable reality of conflict in the body of Christ.

Image: Iren Petrova

The apostle Paul, writing to Timothy, said “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1, NIV). The work is definitely noble but the task is not always easy. Timothy knew that because he was in the troubled church of Ephesus at the time when Paul wrote to him. Paul also knew that the ministry is difficult. Conflict is all too often a part of Christian ministry. In this brief article, we explore three kinds of conflict that a minister may encounter in the church. Paul was experienced in all of them and so I will focus our attention on his experience.



Conflict. It seems to be found in almost every area of life in our world; it is even found in the church. The presence of conflict among the people of God is confirmed by both Scripture and experience. A simple reading of the New Testament will show that the early church experienced conflicts of different kinds among its own members. In addition, if you have been a Christian for any length of time, and especially if you have been involved in Christian leadership in any capacity, then you know that conflict is still very much with us today. In his book Body Life pastor Ray Stedman includes a humorous little rhyme that is descriptive of this challenging aspect of church life.

To dwell above with saints we love,
Oh that will be glory.
But to live below, with saints we know;
Well, that’s a different story!1

In my book, Answer the Prayer of Jesus: A Call for Biblical Unity, I say that this rhyme “may be closer to home than we would like to admit.”2

Conflict in the church is almost inevitable and it exists for a variety of reasons. In many cases it can be counterproductive and very painful; it saps our strength, troubles our emotions, and strains our relationships. At other times conflict, though painful, may be necessary for the health and wellbeing of the church. In this brief article we will survey texts that set forth three different types of conflict that the early church experienced. All of the examples that I will cite involve the apostle Paul. That being said, one need not be an apostle to encounter conflict in the church. Pastors, teachers, evangelists, deacons and others can also experience it. In fact, anyone serving in Christian ministry can find themselves involved in conflict. All of the texts that we will look at concern disputes between believers. I will not address the believer’s conflict with evil spirits (Eph. 6:10-12) or with unbelievers (Mark 13:13; John 17:14). The three areas of conflict I will focus on are: those between spiritual leaders, between church members, and between a spiritual leader and a congregation. The purpose of this brief study is to acquaint the reader with the types of conflict that one can encounter in the church, help him or her identify the issues involved, and help prepare them to handle these conflicts when they arise.

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2016

About the Author: John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written for a number of publications and is the author of four books Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers Then and Now (Xulon Press, 2008), The Power and Practice of the Church: God, Discipleship, and Ministry (J. Timothy King, 2010), Answer the Prayer of Jesus: A Call for Biblical Unity (Wipf & Stock, 2011) and Dreams & Visions: Divine Interventions in Human Experience (J. Timothy King, 2012). He also served as co-editor of the book Creative Ways to Build Christian Community (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Amazon Author page. Facebook

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