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Conflict Among Ministers

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It may not surprise you to discover that those in ministry are not immune from conflict. I've had various conflicts with my Christian brothers and even more so with those who work in ministry. That's not to say that ministers are more difficult to get along with than the rest of the population. Conflict is inherent in human interactions, especially when the work is something as important as sharing the gospel and training disciples.

I often find that when I share my personal experiences of conflict with others in ministry, many are quick to remind me of the account of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15. For those who may not be familiar, Acts 15:36-41 shares a rather unusual occurrence:

Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Acts 15:36-41

It is easy to interpret this passage to mean that the division between Paul and Barnabas was somehow justified or even beneficial. Yet, this conclusion may be misleading.

Paul, like us all, was human and could be subject to the emotional distress of feeling abandoned, which seems to have been the case with John Mark's previous desertion. Some might argue that Paul had sinned in this moment of division. If this were true, knowing Paul's faith and commitment to Christ, he would undoubtedly have sought forgiveness and restoration when he realized it.

Evidence suggests that he did indeed reconcile and mend these relationships. It's not immediately obvious in the narrative of Acts, but if we peruse the scriptures further, we find intriguing mentions of John Mark in Paul's later letters. Philemon 24 lists Mark as one of Paul's fellow workers, and Colossians 4:10 even refers to Mark as the cousin of Barnabas, who is to be welcomed.

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers.

Philemon 1:23-24

 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.)

Colossians 4:10

This is a testament to the grace of reconciliation and the power of Christian brotherhood. The disagreement in Acts 15, while it caused a temporary separation, did not indefinitely sever the bond between these brothers in Christ. Despite the initial division, we see reconciliation and continued cooperation in ministry between Paul and Mark, suggesting that Paul did, in fact, resolve his feelings of hurt and abandonment.

Our human nature often leans towards division and conflict when hurt and disappointment strike. Yet, our call as followers of Christ is to love one another fervently, from the heart (1 Peter 1:22). We are called to bear with one another, forgive each other just as God in Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).

So, what lessons can we glean from this?

Conflict will happen. You may not respond the right way in the heat of the moment, but when you spot the error of your interaction, don't resist admitting it, seeking reconciliation, and making peace.


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