Volume 9, Issue 4: Africanus
Conflict Among Missionaries
That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and loved them as You have loved Me" (John 17:21-23).
Missionary organizations are finding that this generation of missionary recruits coming out wants more and more to work together in teams rather than as pioneers stationed by themselves in remote areas. As this trend continues, the "oneness" of such teams is going to be severely tested. Anyone who has ever lived or worked on the mission field knows that conflict, discord, and divisions are not uncommon among missionaries. They exist elsewhere, but when headstrong, focused, opinionated missionaries get together, there is an enormous potential for fireworks. It is said that Christians are like manure. They do a lot of good spread out in the field, but smell something awful all together in one place. According to Scripture, this should not be so! As Christians read Jesus' prayer in John 17, they should be utterly amazed at His words. The words that He uses are astounding! Verses 21 through 23 are especially pertinent to our topic. In His high priestly prayer during the last hours of His life, Jesus' desire is that His followers have oneness, or unity. He wants us to be at peace with each other. The oneness of the Trinity is not just the blueprint for our oneness, it is the foundation. And the goal or purpose is that "the world may believe" that the Father sent Jesus. When believers are torn apart by strife and dissension, what is the world to believe? There is no better witness to the truth that the Father sent the Son, that He is one with Him, and is now in us, than when the brethren live in peace and unity. This is Jesus' prayer for us, yet it is so often not the witness of the Christian and missionary community. Peace and unity must be the fruit of the missionary. So why is this unity so often missing? Because sin doesn't work!
How do we get it back and keep it? The first order of business is corporate repentance. If we all were striving for peace as the Scriptures command us, quotes about manure would have no meaning. Striving for peace and unity must include our hatred of discord and dissension. Next we must deal with our individual sin. Whatever the sin may be - sowing discord or even secretly enjoying it, not forgiving a colleague, gossiping or even encouraging it - it must be confessed as well. Some of these sins will require restitution. For example, the sin of gossiping will require confession of the sin of gossiping to the persons gossiped to. Concerning keeping the peace, the Bible has much to say. Perhaps the most obvious way to deal with conflict, whenever possible, is to overlook the offenses of others (Prov. 19:11;1 Pet. 4:8). This does not mean filing away these offenses mentally for future reference. It means forgiving as God requires (Col. 3:13; Eph. 4:32). It also means expecting the best of others and putting them in the best light. This will often correct our interpretation of their behavior. Many other conflicts, however, will require confrontation. In our modern American culture, people do not like to confront others. We seem to have the motto "if he minds his business, I'll mind mine." The problem is that we say and think this, but we very often do not mind our own business. Rather, we gossip and slander and let bitterness put its roots deep down into our hearts. Not being at fault does not exempt us from confronting a brother in love. When we find out that someone has something against us, it is our responsibility to make peace. Scripture commands us to do this before we worship God. Scripture is also very clear in telling us how to confront a brother who is struggling with sin and when to tell it to the church (Matt. 18.15-20). When a relationship is being ruined or when a brother is clearly in sin, we must be prepared to obey our Lord and make peace. If you need eye surgery first, then do it quickly before getting any log out your brother's eye. Another not-so-obvious truth to get down in our hearts for dealing with conflict is found in Romans 8:28. God is sovereign and will not let anything into our lives that He will not work together for good. That means conflicts that are beyond our control, like working with a difficult person or suffering insults, are really refining fires or testing grounds for our character. Finally, living in unity does not mean living in the absence of disagreements. Differences of opinion and personality are natural and sometimes beneficial. God has explained in Scripture why such conflicts occur and given specific instructions when and how to deal with them. Missionaries who fail to take the Word of God seriously concerning unity in their own ranks are missing perhaps the greatest witness they have in communicating that the Father sent the Son - the Gospel.