As a Christian leader, we often have to deal with security issues, conflict and sometimes belligerence within the church. As a church does serious outreach and attempts to connect with cultures outside the church culture, there are more opportunities for conflict and more possibilities that violence might erupt in or against the church.
Our first impulse is to protect and defend the church community, and this impulse is good. We all want to do our best to protect God’s people and we all hate to see violence in a house of God. When these issues come to the forefront, however, we find that we are often unprepared to deal with conflict, belligerence or violence, not only because we have rarely had to deal with it, but because we have never really thought about such events happening within a church. However, churches need to think about these issues now, the more so as anti-Christian sentiment rises.
It is important for us to consider what we would do as leaders in our church if belligerence or violence occurs in our church, how we can best prevent such situations from occurring, how to de-escalate such situations and what is the best way to deal with these situations as followers of Jesus.
The Foundation of Dealing With Conflict
There are three passages that can offer a foundation for our dealing with conflict as leaders with those whom we have in our churches as guests. These ancient texts—two from Jesus, one from Paul—can help us know to deal with conflict as followers of Jesus, not in the everyday manner.
1. A Different Kind of Leadership
And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves. Luke 22:25-27
First of all, our leadership style is to be like Jesus’ not like the world around us. The world focuses on security or on how leadership can benefit themselves. Jesus says that imitating Him in leadership means that we always are looking to the benefit of those whom we are leading. A leader is not just to prevent anxiety in themselves or others, but to act for the good of those whom they lead, primarily. If Jesus is our servant, willing to accept any humiliation so that we can obtain all the benefits he has to give, even so are we, as church leaders, supposed to allow ourselves to be humiliated, even hurt for the sake of others, as long as it is for their benefit.
This is a difficult concept to accept for oneself, but it is the basis of Christian leadership. Not to do things for one’s own sake, but to sacrifice all for the sake of the other.
2. Benefiting Those Who Hurt Us
But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:27-36
Again, in general, dealing with those who harm us, we must act like God and His Son Jesus. An “enemy” is not one whom we declare to be enemies, but those who do us harm, for whatever reason. Jesus is saying that instead of giving harm back to those who harm us, we are to love. Love, simply stated, is acting for the benefit of those in need. So when someone harms us, we are to look at them as someone in need. Someone who is deficient in some way. Someone who could use our help. The question is, what is the best way that we can benefit a person who has done us harm?
Jesus then associates this one characteristic—benefiting those who do us harm—with God’s behavior that we should imitate. And He associates it with a basic characteristic of the Christian life. If all people love, then what greater command does Jesus give to those who follow Him? He commands us to love all those who are the most unlovely, to love without exception. So if someone threatens us, hits us or even shoots us, we are to consider their benefit, as well as the benefit of those whom we are protecting.
3. Not using the world’s methods
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21
Finally, Paul points out another issue that is associated with Jesus’ command to love all: that we are not to use the methods of the world against those who do us harm. It is perfectly natural to want to do harm or violence to those who do us harm or violence. As people of Jesus, those guided by the Spirit of God, we are to be led by peace and not harm. To “do evil” is to harm another, and that is not what we are to do. Instead of acting with violence, inflicting harm, we are to do good.
Overall, we can see a distinct philosophy of how we are to deal with the belligerent or violent in our congregations. First of all, we need to protect our people, but we can exclude no one from that protection, even the one who is being violent. Secondly, we are to find methods to protect all without causing harm to any. Thirdly, in order to benefit others, we might have to make sacrifices ourselves, which is part of what we accept if we take on leadership in the church.