I’ve fought a lot of battles in my last 20 years of ministry, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons as a result. For example:
- Some parents of teenagers are not OK with the use of clips from “The Simpson’s.”
- The only way for someone to get saved is if they are given the opportunity to walk down the aisle and ask me about it right after I preach.
- $6000 annually for donuts is a wise investment in student ministry.
- Let kids choose their own roommates for camps and retreats.
- If you like your Bible study curriculum, you can keep it: period.
- The KJV was authorized by Jesus, not James.
So when I got more than a few complaints about our worship pastor leading from the stage with his shirt untucked, I was reluctant to bring it up with him. It didn’t really bother me all that much, for very little about the church was traditional or formal in nature. The church office was in a doublewide portable building that shook violently in moderate thunderstorms. We gathered in a barebones multipurpose building that, like most “cafegymatoriums,” failed to support any purpose very well. Worship music was contemporary in style, and it wasn’t uncommon for our worship pastor to lead from behind the drum set. Taking all these things and more into consideration, the untucked shirt actually fit in better than the alternatives.
Contrary to my presumption, our worship leader wasn’t rebelling against tradition, but concealing a gun: a Glock model 22 .40 caliber in an "inside the waistband" concealment holster. So to keep the peace with our critics, he settled on a Ruger LCR .38 caliber special in an ankle holster. I was surprised to learn that he carried a concealed weapon, but I was shocked to learn that many more members carried as well. An employee of a local shooting range once commented that our congregation was the most secure in the area because so many members carried guns.
With all the “peace makers” tucked away on any given Sunday, one might expect congregational life to have been free of conflict all together. But while carrying a piece may help keep the peace, a church needs something else entirely to make peace.
It is so much more southern to keep the peace than have God turn us into people who make peace, and we have many tactics at our disposal. Some of us bully others when conflict arises. At the expense of a relationship with someone we disagree with, we use our intellect, our ability to argue, or the power associated with our position to force people into seeing things our way. Others of us go on the defensive. In the midst of conflict, we might move to justify or defend ourselves, minimizing our exposure to our own shortcomings.
Still others dodge the conflict entirely. We may divert the conversation to a different topic or attack the credibility of the person bringing the charge, but we most certainly don’t see conflict as an opportunity for peacemaking. Finally, some of us act passively. We might be very emotional about the situation, but we won’t show any signs or say any words about it to those directly involved. In these moments, we conclude that all conflict is wrong and should be endured quietly in the name of “love.” We become more interested in keeping people from being hurt than about being reconciled to God’s truth. We tell ourselves that we are holding it in because we want to protect others, but really it’s all about us and what we want.
Regardless of our tactics, the result is the same: lies and shame instead of truth and reconciliation. The southern church must learn to see conflict between Christians as a prime opportunity for the gospel to shine and have an impact on both believer and unbeliever, rather than something to cover in shame like it never happened. It all starts with an understanding of the nature of conflict.
And THAT is what I'll be writing about in my next post.
Originally published as part of chapter 3 of my book, Southern Fried Faith.