It was an interesting year, last year. For one reason or another I spent quite a lot of time thinking about leadership, my personality type and how I and others work together. It wasn’t that I’d not thought about some of these things – in many ways I think I’m quite self aware. Part of that has come from having a Spiritual Director and making my confession (fairly) regularly over many years. Doing that and talking to somebody about my relationship with God, my prayer life, my inner and outer life and by confronting the ‘sin which clings so closely’ (Hebrews 12.1) has enabled me to know something of my strengths and something of my weaknesses.
It was a really good and helpful year as one set of training and discussion built upon another. But whatever I did something that I know that I’m ‘guilty’ of became clearer and was constantly confirmed – I am conflict averse.
There are some people who love a good ‘dust up’, we all know them and there are others, like me, who will tie themselves in knots to avoid a fight. When I see conflict approaching I try to deflect it, avoid it or solve it before it arrives – and I wish I did more of the last of those things than in truth I do. The problem with deflection or avoidance, as we well know, is that problems become even greater if not dealt with honestly and often creatively as soon as they arrive.
This week I will be sharing in something else which I hope will further help me not just to know even more clearly that I have to have the courage, under God, to address the conflict that confronts us all in a whole variety of circumstances but also how we might deal with its reality as a community.
One of the things that Archbishop Justin has been encouraging us to do is to imagine what ‘good disagreement’ looks like in the church. And we should know what that is like from our history. Any reading of the scriptures makes you quickly realise that disagreement, if not outright conflict, has been part of the story of faith. On occasions we read how this has been dealt with well and it’s reading that which has to be an encouragement to us today.
I love the account in the Acts of the Apostles which tells of Paul and Barnabas coming back to Jerusalem to address the meeting of the Council. The message had got back that the uncircumcised were becoming part of the church but that didn’t fit well with those who in those early days were trying to maintain historic Jewish discipline on certain issues, such as circumcision, with membership of the Christian church. It was a fundamental dispute, the same kind of dispute that we see being played out by Christians today, not least within the Anglican Communion.
The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. (Acts 15.12)
In respectful silence the whole assembly listened to what was being said and in that environment of prayer and discernment Peter and James spoke. A decision was made and a letter sent to the gentile Christians which is powerful and which delivered such good news
‘It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials.’ (Acts 15.28)
The church both listened to the Spirit and also had the confidence to make a decision – ‘it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.’ We can easily imagine that those opposed might not have been wholly convinced but with good disagreement the church moved forward in mission and ministry. Indeed, the issues that confront us today are in a similar way around purity and faithfulness to the tradition and openness to the promptings of the Spirit – not that the two should always be seen in opposition.
So I’m excited about this week. If it gives me further insights into my own leadership, all well and good, but if it gives me confidence to work positively and creatively to create good disagreement, without being frightened by that, even better. And wherever disagreement exists – in our communities, in our relationships, in our workplace, in our local church – I’m sure that there are lessons to learnt that can help us to help peace and reconciliation flourish in good ways.
as you faced conflict
and transformed it,
give us the courage
to confront disagreement
where we find it
and to seek your will
in all things.