What’s the purpose of the church? Is it well-ordered worship or support for the needy? Is it caring for seniors or providing programmes for children and youth? Should our priority be reaching out to the community or looking after “our own” or caring for global refugees? What type of music should we have and with what instruments, drums or organ? How important is the building? Is it vital as a part of our identity and a gathering place or is it a means to an end and sometimes like an albatross that weighs us down?
In answering these questions we take sides, as though there’s a yes or no answer, a right or wrong. That’s one way to get into trouble. Then when we add the stressor of not being able to do it all, for after all resources are limited, the trouble deepens.
In the days of the Apostle Paul, back in the 1st century, the church in Corinth was arguing about what was most important – and who had the spiritual gifts that mattered most. In response, Paul wrote about the church being like a body: eyes, hands, feet, head. No one part can function independent of the others, he said. In 20 centuries, neither the debate nor the truth of Paul’s response have changed. To be church, the full breadth of priorities and talents are needed. The response to the above questions is not to treat them as opposites, which makes one answer right and the other wrong. Rather I’d invite us to regard them as representing polarities. Polarities are differences that compliment one another and are meant to be held together in a tension through which each adds value to the other.
What this polarity framework means is that no one is dismissible, nor is her or his position. Every one of us is important. We may want to cut ourselves off from those with whom we disagree, from those who hurt us with their harsh criticism, from those whose priorities are different from our own. Paul reminds us that isn’t how to be church. Each of us matters and each of us brings necessary gifts to the whole.
So how do we learn to get along? To accept one another – not despite our differences, but even because of them? To do so is an essential part of belonging to a community of faith. After all, who am I and what can I do without you – without who you are and what you do, without what you care about and what you believe? And who are you without me? The wholeness of the body of Christ requires our interdependence, especially when we differ.
This post is courtesy of Pegi Ridout
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Jason is in the business of helping churches move from conflict situations to creative solutions. He has particular skills in conflict management, social media, and leadership development.