Turning Theology into Church 03: Embracing Conflict

Conflict is the last thing anyone wants from their “church experience.”  After all, we go to church to feel better, to get a little uplift to face the week, right?  It’s the one place where we don’t have to deal with the typical human foibles of self-interest, pettiness, passive-aggression…right?  I mean, sure, we may have minor disagreements, but the unspoken rule is that they remain unspoken!:  “I promise not to mention what I can’t stand about you and there is nothing not-standable about me!”

But how could this possibly be true??? And think of the pressure it places on a community – to pretend that genuine conflicts aren’t a normal part of life.

To be sure, some conflicts are rooted quite obviously in our selfish interests and preferences, our pet peeves and sensitivities….  And to the degree that we can grow in love, such upsets will be quickly recognized and contained.

But conflict also exists because each of us brings genuinely different core values to our most intimate relationships.  We each have perspectives we hold dear, values that are guaranteed to conflict with the values of others (who do not share our unique experience of life).  We call them “values” for a reason:  we value them deeply!

In any truly intimate community (as the church should be), conflict is inevitable.  Passionate disagreements (and the emotions that go with them) are not always a sign of failure.  Indeed, conflict can be a sign that deep bonds are forming (I now care about you enough to want you to share my values!).

If we recognize this, we can transform conflict from something to be avoided at all costs, to a genuine an opportunity to grow – to expand my experience (even if I don’t come to share the value).

Truly healthy churches – or any kind of relationship – are not those where conflict has been avoided (buried, denied, ignored…?), but rather places where conflicts of values do not become caustic to those involved.  In this episode, we explore how the people of God can become sal and light in the world by learning and then teaching how to passionately differ, while being united in a love that transcends our differences.


This is a sermon that was originally presented at Canvas (a Presbyterian church in Irvine, CA), November 2, 2014. To learn more about Canvas, click here!

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