Disagreements are an inevitability of life, but that does not mean we know how to properly handle them when they arise. This past week a preacher friend of mine received an anonymous letter in which he was told all the ways he was failing in parts of his ministry.
Rarely our failure to disagree well is this overt. Oftentimes, we disagree poorly without even knowing it! Hurt feelings, buried emotions, and cold shoulders are all indicators of disagreements gone wrong. Thankfully, the Bible lays out for us several good principles when it comes to how Christians should handle disagreements, principles that, if followed, lead to relationships that are strengthened not shattered.
Christians Need to Realize Disagreements are Inevitable
Wherever two or more are gathered, a disagreement is surely around the corner. Christianity is made up of people with differing backgrounds, experiences, biases, and baggage and though we can normally agree on a few things, agreeing on everything is rare, if not impossible.
Sometimes though even a little bit of agreement is hard to achieve, just look at the Corinthians who needed an entire book written to them to address their many divisions (1 Cor. 1:10-11) and the Philippians who were having their church torn apart because of the disagreements of two women (Phil. 4:2).
Though these disagreements are bad, they aren’t the end of the world. Do disagreements need to be resolved as quickly as possible? Yes, but the fact that they are happening in your church doesn’t mean that your church is headed for a split. When disagreements arise, Christians need to stay calm and level-headed and remember that disagreements cannot be avoided, even in the church.
Christians Need to Talk To Each Other
The following three points stem from an interaction between Paul and Barnabas on one of their missionary journeys together. When Acts 15:36 begins we see that Paul and Barnabas decide to turn around and go back through to visit all the churches they’ve helped strengthen throughout their journey together.
The disagreement occurs when Barnabas says “let’s take John Mark with us.” Paul didn’t want to bring John Mark because he didn’t like his work ethic, and Barnabas wanted to bring him along because, well, Barnabas is an encourager. That’s it. That’s the argument.
I imagine their conversation was much longer than the few verses we have here. No doubt, Barnabas and Paul both stated their cases as to why John Mark should or shouldn’t go with them on their return journey. Ultimately they couldn’t come to an agreement about Mark and decided to split ways.
Once we’ve embraced the inevitability of disagreements, we have to choose how we’re going to deal with them. You see, the first significant part of this exchange is that it happened in the first place. All too often, we try to sweep disagreements under the rug, a practice which delays the emotional explosion and often makes the eruption even worse. Christians can’t stop disagreements from happening, but they can stop them from destroying relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ. When disagreements arise, we have to be willing to talk through them, otherwise we risk destroying relationships and even Christ’s church.
Christians Need to Allow Time to Cool Off
After their “sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:39), Paul and Barnabas decide to separate. Sometimes common ground can’t be found in a disagreement. Sometimes we’ll wrestle with each other only to find that we can’t find or can’t create a compromise. In times like that, separation can be a good thing. Note, this separation isn’t permanent, but temporary.
Often, when emotions run high, it can be hard to sit back and reason your way through arguments and perceptions. Time and distance create space for temperatures to cool off so that cooler heads may prevail. It needs to be said that this time of distance is not a time to slander the other party. Paul didn’t talk to Silas about how wrong Barnabas was and Barnabas didn’t talk to John Mark about how wrong Paul was. They couldn’t agree, so they took time to separate and cool off.
When disagreements arise, sometimes those involved need to give themselves a little breathing room to relax and come back together with a clearer head ready to listen to the other side.
Christians Need to Continue the Work of God
As this section ends, we see Paul and Barnabas going their separate ways only to continue the work of God (Acts 15:39-41). Disagreements between Christians should never result in people leaving the church. As Christians we have the responsibility to do the work of God, and though we may not always agree how that work should be carried out, we should do it all the same.
In the case of Paul and Barnabas, they agreed on the method, but disagreed on who should be involved. Often times our disagreements arise from belief in method. If one believes door-knocking to be more effective for evangelism than internet evangelism that’s fine, but don’t be surprised if not everyone agrees with your point of view. That being said, both groups ought to do God’s work as best they can. When disagreements arise, don’t let that be an excuse to end your work as an ambassador for Christ. Continue reaching out and bringing others to Christ.
Christians Need to Work Towards A Resolution
There’s a fascinating verse tucked away in one of Paul’s final letters. In 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul writes:
“Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.”
The “Mark” mentioned here appears to be the very same Mark Paul wanted to leave behind in Acts 15. We don’t know exactly when they made up, we just know that they did.
Presumably Paul and Barnabas found a resolution with each other later on in life as well.
When disagreements arise, Christians need to work towards a resolution. This can sometimes take awhile, and that’s okay, just be sure to pursue the mending of those relationships.
Christians may not be able to avoid disagreements, but we can keep them from damaging the church and its reputation among those around us by looking to the Bible and following the principles it lays out.