Recently I wrote an article entitled “Dr. Gray, Why Don't You Like Paul Chapell?” I have received amazing responses from that article. Perhaps it's because people are encouraged when they hear an explanation regarding supposed strife between certain leaders.
As I have read the comments and thought more about my article I have come to believe that strife between good men is often inevitable. Throughout Christian history good men have experienced strife. I could tell of some of my own heroes who experienced strife with each other. It's not new. Even the apostles experienced strife among themselves.
To think that there will not be strife is foolish. You are setting yourself up to be disappointed by those you admire. There are men I admire and love with whom I have experienced strife. I did not stop loving them, nor do I think did they stopped loving me. Yet at times strife happens between sincere and good men.
What causes such strife? Perhaps the best way to understand strife is to admit that we are all different. We have different ideas. We have different personalities. We have different strengths and weaknesses. We have different influences and heroes. We have different methods. We have different trials and challenges. We have different backgrounds. Differences often cause strife. We also have different followers.
It was not strife between Lot and Abraham that caused them to separate. It was strife between the herdsman. Upon further study you see that the strife was because they were competing for the same land and resources. In ministry we are often competing for the same audience or the same students, and sometimes that causes strife. Most often that strife begins between the followers, not the leaders.
So what should we do when strife comes? Let me give several suggestions.
1. Do not allow strife between the herdsman to bubble up to leadership. Be careful not to allow those who follow you to influence you against another leader. If there is a seed of truth to what the herdsmen are saying then refuse to turn it into a mountain. Never assume what you hear or even read from a herdsman is true.
2. Don't be an idealist and pretend that there is not strife. I am amazed at how angry people get when they discover that I do not agree with someone they admire. I can write an article without mentioning a man's name or referring to him in a personal way, and the next thing I know, I am being attacked from all sides. I should expect that. There are going to be differences between leaders and often the followers will assume that it is personal when in reality it is philosophical. Don't be disillusioned when you discover that strife exists.
3. Don't turn strife personal. There are those with I disagree in their methods. I will often speak out against those methods. I must be careful not to speak out against the person. I have done this before and I wish I could go back and change it. Most of us have done it. The best thing to do is to explain our differences without attacking the character of the individual.
I am not referring to someone who is preaching heresy. I am talking about someone whose methods I may think are faulty or too worldly. If they step over the line of doctrine then I reserve the right to expose the person. However if it is a philosophical difference I must be careful not to attack the person.
4. Sometimes separating is the best thing. I am not a believer in total unity. Most unity in the Bible refers to the local church. Unity is impossible. Sometimes the best thing we can do as leaders is to quietly separate. That does not mean we attack the other person. However, to do what Abraham and Lot did makes sense at times. Sometimes our differences are too strong for us to work together. What should we do? Prayerfully separate, and go your own way. Don't be a jerk about it. Don't rip the other person.
If you can't work with someone because of their ideology then quietly separate from him. Dr. Hyles separated from men who he dearly loved. He separated from men with whom he preached for many years. There came a time when he felt he could no longer work with them so he separated from them. He did not turn against them but he did separate from them. At times we should do that.
5. Sometimes what appears to be separating is mere distancing. Don't miss this. There are times when I distance myself from a man and it appears that I am separating myself from him. I am merely being careful. It is not a total separation. I am not breaking off with him. I am not turning against him. I am merely distancing myself for ideological reasons.
If you read Genesis 13 you will see that even though Abraham and Lot separated there is this interesting little phrase, “...the Canaanite and the parasite dwelled then in the land.” Although Abraham and Lot distanced themselves from one another they were still on the same team. Later when lot was captured by enemies it was Abraham who came and rescued him.
When Sodom was about to be destroyed it was Abraham who interceded with God on behalf of Lot’s home country. Sometimes I distance myself from someone but I am still pulling for them. I may not like their methods, but I still wish God's blessings on them and their ministry. Sometimes it is not really separating but distancing that takes place between men.
6. Contend but don't be contentious. There is not a man alive who is a contender for the faith who does not struggle with this. If you are not at times contentious you are probably not contending. Passivity creates non-contentiousness. I cannot be passive. I contend for the things which I believe are important. At times I may appear to be contentious in my contending. Sometimes I will be contentious on purpose, but sometimes it is on accident. Men who are passive about their beliefs are seldom contentious, however they seldom do great works for God. If you want no contention, do nothing.
7. Don't be so sensitive. Perhaps this is one of the most important things. “Great peace have they which love thy law and nothing shall offend them.” If we are easily offended it is a sign that we do not love God's Word. We love our opinions instead. I have often been attacked by other Christians. Some of the attacks have been personal and vicious. I have been often hurt, but seldom offended.
To be offended means that I place my feelings above the feelings of God. The work of God is far too important for me to wear my feelings on my sleeve. It always hurts to be attacked. But that hurt should not slow us down from the work of God.
And so, I contend that strife is a part of Christian work. It will always exist and it always has existed. Those who think that there is more strife today than there was in past generations have not read their history books well. They have not studied the biographies of great men.
There has always been strife. There will always be strife. It is a part of life even in the Christian ministry. So, let us expect it, accept it, and respond to it as best we can. Oh, and if you don't agree with this let me tell you what you can…… oops, sorry, I didn't mean to become contentious.