By DEBRA WHITE SMITH
PALESTINE — QUESTION: I am disturbed about my church. We have been in a building program, and now there seems to be friction over some of the decorating choices. It appears that two factions are polarizing over, of all things, what kinds of countertops to put in the fellowship hall. There is so much friction in our church that I can barely breathe in the church services. I want to do something to stop this mess, but I feel powerless to stop the downward spiral I see our congregation sinking into. Do you have any suggestions?
ANSWER: First, understand that the problem isn't over the fellowship hall countertops. The problem is most likely about control. The fight over the countertops is a surface manifestation of a bigger problem that very likely has been in existence for quite some time. When these issues manifest themselves, there is usually one core group in a church that has been used to controlling most or all aspects of what has happened for years. When new people come in with new ideas, then the existing control core often feels threatened and will go into what I call a control crouch. They resist everything and hold out for their way on all points. They feel that if they compromise on even the smallest detail then that will begin the erosion of their reign.
Examine the current situation and determine if these control elements are in existence. When you have recognized the core issue, the next step is to begin to pray. Sometimes we sigh, “Well, all I can do is pray,” as if praying is the least thing that could help. However, prayer in such situations is the first thing that should be done. But the main issue is first to determine the root cause.
Once you have a clear direction on what to pray for, next focus on how to pray. God loves both sides of the countertop conflict. His bigger concern is for unity than that the church get a particular type of countertops. Therefore, begin by praying for a spirit of unity in your church. Next, pray that the pastor will have wisdom not to become part of the fray. Too many times pastors get sucked into fighting for one side or the other. However, that often leads to a church split and a lot of hurt feelings and wounded spirits. Third, pray that God's will will be done for your church.
Often, those who perpetually insist upon their own way are a hindrance to church growth-spiritually and numerically. And it's not God's will for a church to be stagnated by a controlling faction. A wise evangelist once told me he had learned to pray a simple prayer in such situations: “Lord, either deliver them, or move them to a place where they'll be happier.” The prayer can and will reap miraculous results because you are praying for something positive for all people concerned. God is love. Love is positive. God answers positive prayers.
Finally, be careful that you don't get sucked into the conflict yourself. Remain open to speaking about the issues, but only if you know the Lord is prompting you to speak. In such situations, feelings can run hot and high; only one word from you at the wrong time can catapult you in the middle of a hot debate. In such situations, I often rely on the power of prayer and the faith that the Lord will do what humans can't. Many times, I have seen Him change the hearts of men and women; but just as many times I've seen him move troubled folks to a place where they can be happier and can grow spiritually.
The author of 54 books, Debra White Smith holds an M.A. from U.T. and is the featured relationship specialist on the Fox News Radio Show, “Plain Jane Wisdom.” She and her husband, Daniel, co-pastor Palestine Church of the Nazarene. For more information, visit www.debrawhitesmith.com. Got a problem? E-mail Debra at firstname.lastname@example.org