It was a warm, peaceful, loving church. Our business meetings usually lasted 30 minutes at the most. There were some disagreements at times, a few "parking lot business meetings" when small groups disagreed with decisions that were made. And of course, there were those people in the group who just didn't like each other. But they avoided each other and kept the peace. But on this night, something ugly bubbled to the surface.
It was really just an interpersonal conflict. A mother thought that one of our children's programs wasn't as effective as it ought to be. Rather than go personally to the man who led the program, she chose to bring up her concerns in the open forum of our business meeting. Soon, she was venting her frustrations in a way that was very hurtful to this faithful man, who was present that night. Others were standing up to defend their friend and counterattack this woman who had defamed him. I as pastor and moderator of the meeting should have put a stop to this (Oh, how I wish I could go back in a time machine and respond differently) but the whole thing was so unexpected, so out of character, I just stood there, dumbstruck as my church members bickered back and forth.
It was over fairly quickly. Since this mother's issues with the program were merely a matter of leadership style and personal preference, we didn't make any changes. I thought that was that. Then a few days later, while attending a high school baseball game in town, a man who wasn't part of our church approached me with a smirk and said, "I heard y'all had a hum-dinger of a fight at church the other night."
No one had ever commented to me about the number of new believers we were baptizing, nor the new mission work we were doing in an impoverished nearby community, nor the dozens of peaceful meetings we had every year. But when we had an ugly spat, everyone suddenly knew. And everyone in town, apparently, was talking about it.
Here at WBC, we believe a great church does three things well: We love God through true, heartfelt worship. We love people outside the church through outreach ministries. But third and equally important: We love each other through establishing true community. For much of my ministry career, I thought that just meant keeping the peace. But the world doesn't need to see churches that just smooth over their conflicts. It needs to see people who truly love one another. That's what God expects of us.
This Sunday, we'll continue our look at what God expects from each of us as members of His body, the local church. In Romans 12:9-16, He shows us how to build true community, how to defeat the Enemy Within--those ugly conflicts that would seek to tear us apart and render us ineffective in the world.