''Pressure Points'' with Dr. Bruce Hartung (August 2004)

Two readers write of similar dynamics in different contexts:
Q:  Never again!  Points of order, parliamentary maneuvering, angry people, controversy!  This was my first and will be my last Synod convention.  If this is the church, no wonder we are declining.  You are a Synod person.  How do you defend this?
Q:  I am leaving my congregation.  There is too much in-fighting.  People, and some are my friends, are at each others’ throats.  I don’t like conflict.  It makes me very nervous.  I want a congregation where I can be in some peace.  Christians should be harmonious with each other.  Truth be told, I don’t really want to leave my congregation, but I can’t stand all the tension and the strife and the in-fighting.  What do you suggest I do?

A: I will not, nor really could I, “defend” the realities that are part of organizational life.  We live in a world that is fallen, and all characteristics that are part of that fallenness are also part of life in congregations and conventions.
At the same time, wishing to be free of conflict wishes for the coming of Christ, where all believers in Christ will be in perfect harmony with each other and with our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier God.
It is often a spiritual struggle as well as emotionally difficult to get close to the inner workings of what is really going on in organizations — even those that are imperfectly working to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here are a few suggestions:

  • Read in your New Testament, especially in Paul’s letters, where there are groups of followers of Christ who are in considerable conflict.  You will discover some of Paul’s responses — prayer for people, giving thanks for their strengths brought by the Spirit, and clear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  You will also discover that these early Christians had lots of struggles (just like we all do).  We are all in good company, as painful as that might be.

  • Keep talking about your responses to what is happening.  Treat your responses as part of your spiritual struggle.  Speak to a pastor (preferably) or other mature Christian leader who can help you see the meaning of all this for you and your life in Christ.  For at least awhile, stay away from characterizing others and become more aware of what are your responses.

  • Identify those things in you that are responses, attitudes, behaviors and the like that are not Christ-like.  As you find them, flee to the cross, where forgiveness in Christ awaits

  • Work to discover what you can learn from your experiences.  (This usually takes conversation with someone, as in my second suggestion above.)  What have you to learn about yourself, about others and about God as a result of where you have walked in the convention or in your congregation?

  • After getting more clear about the effects and the learnings, begin to pray about and talk about how you can be a more healthy influence in the organizations that are, as you see it, struggling.  You may, after all is said and done, still decide to walk away from all of it.  But you also may see yourself as a positive influence among the members of these particular groups of followers of Christ.

Dr. Bruce M. Hartung is executive director of the Commission on Ministerial Growth and Support and associate professor of practical theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.  He can be reached at bruce.hartung@lcms.org.

Posted July 30, 2004

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