How to Navigate Church Conflicts

MEGAN HILL|GUEST

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Phil. 4:2–3)

The Philippian church began well. Under Paul’s ministry, a prominent businesswoman and faithful prayer-meeting attendee came to Christ along with her whole family (see Acts 16:13–15). She was soon joined by a girl who had been set free from her demons (see vv. 16–18) and a corrections officer who, along with his family, was both hospitable and joyful (see vv. 32–34). From the moment of its first assembly, this little church committed itself to the spread of the gospel (see Phil. 1:5, 27–30).

But it was not a perfectly peaceful church. Paul starts the fourth chapter of his letter to Philippi with these words: “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord” (v. 2).

Church Conflict is Common—and Hard

Like many of our churches, the Philippian church experienced congregational conflict. We don’t know the source of the trouble between Euodia and Syntyche. Was it the church budget? The way they were each educating their children? Their convictions about eschatology? Their desires for certain styles of worship music? Did they argue because of personality or preference or principle?

Whatever their issue was, it was affecting the entire congregation. In language that assumed that everyone knew the situation, Paul called out their disagreement in a public letter and added an appeal to church leaders to help them resolve it.

Perhaps you are familiar with the whole-church turmoil that conflict between members can cause. What begins as a matter of conviction spills over into anger, selfishness, and unkindness. Gossip and factions aren’t far behind. It twists my stomach in knots just thinking about it.

Thankfully, Paul demonstrates three priorities that we should have as we navigate such storms:

1. Focus on Christ

First, Paul focuses on Christ. Rather than take sides, he calls the women to “agree in the Lord.” When church life gets tense, we can be quick to align ourselves with one person or the other. Instead, because of our union with Christ, we must seek alignment with the Lord.

2. Recognize Church Members’ Worth

Next, Paul acknowledges the dignity and value of the arguing believers. It’s easy to think dismissively of church members who are acting abrasively, but Paul reminds us that Euodia and Syntyche (as well as the people in our own churches) are our fellow workers in the cause of the gospel and have souls secured by Christ’s blood.

3. Act with Optimism

Finally, Paul acts with gospel optimism. By asking his “true companion” to intervene, he demonstrates his confidence that conflicts in the church can be resolved. The Lord delights in unity among his people (see Ps. 133:1–2), and his Spirit can change hearts and minds. As church leaders—often, our own husbands—work for peace, we can live in the hope that the Lord will give it.

Reflect. Think of a conflict that is taking place in your church. Which of Paul’s three priorities are you apt to forget as you consider the situation? What happens when you don’t think biblically about conflict?

Pray. Read Psalm 133. Ask the Lord to bring peace and unity to his church, because it is good and he says it pleases him: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!” (Ps. 133:1–2).

Act. Put Paul’s priorities into practice as you encounter church conflict. Keep Christ in focus. Remind yourself of other believers’ true identity. Cultivate hope.

This article is adapted from Partners in the Gospel: 50 Meditations for Pastors’ and Elders’ Wives (P&R Publishing, April 2021). Used here by permission.

About the Author:

Megan Hill

Megan Hill is the author of several books, including A Place to Belong: Learning to Love the Local Church and Partners in the Gospel. A PCA pastor’s wife and pastor’s daughter, she serves as an editor for The Gospel Coalition and lives in Massachusetts where she belongs to West Springfield Covenant Community Church.

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