One thing that all of us working overseas invariably run into is conflict with teammates based on theological differences. An exception to this might be found in teams that are sent from a denominationally based organization, but most organizations are para church and thus para denomination. Our teams are centered on shared convictions that are central to the gospel, but on secondary issues we may differ significantly. As mentioned, this will eventually lead to conflict; but, conflict is not inherently a bad thing. A friend and mentor of mine (who specializes in peacemaking) likes to say, “conflict is a gateway to intimacy”. In addition, as we are unified in the gospel of Christ across our differences in other areas, our testimony grows stronger. But those things (intimacy and strong testimony) only come when we handle these differences well.
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend my organization’s bi-annual global forum a few weeks ago, and at the gathering our President and CEO stood up to share about how to work with people of different convictions. Our organization is made up of people from a broad range of theological backgrounds, so effectively working with people who have different biblical convictions is essential for our effectiveness. He had some wise perspective to share on this point, and since this is something many of us Goers deal with, I thought I would take the chance to share some of what I learned here.
Ephesians 4:1-6 reads “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call - one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (ESV, emphasis mine). The fist thing we must remember is that we are called to unity, and that we need to WORK to be UNIFIED. There are a few things we can do to promote unity when we encounter coworkers who have different convictions than us:
- Sow respect for coworkers with different convictions than yours. This means no talking trash (behind their back or to their face), no demeaning/degrading/devaluing, and no condescending.
- If and when you have an opportunity to teach in a diverse context like this, be willing to acknowledge that believers hold different views on a given subject. Don’t teach a doctrine as if it were the only rational way to view a topic.
- Refrain from insisting that others must change their views to be more like yours. Unity is not uniformity. It is okay to differ on secondary subjects.
- Be open to changing your point of view. James 1:19 says “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (ESV). To presume we are right is a dangerous amount of pride to carry. We must acknowledge that since God is infinite we cannot presume to know Him fully, and that another perspective may be true, or at the very least valid. This means that on many secondary issues we should strive to “think in gray”, instead of black and white. Thinking gray does not mean that we don’t hold personal convictions, but that we acknowledge that other convictions may be sincerely held by true believers based on their reading of the scriptures.
Some tips on how to think gray include approaching an issue with humility, truly asking yourself where you got your opinion, and striving to get all the facts about both your perspective and another. It is important to remember that we should walk lightly on subjects that godly people differ about, and remember that other sincere believers may hold scripture based beliefs that are different than ours. And if we are willing to work to be unified across differences as the body of Christ, we can grow in intimacy, strengthen our testimony, and glorify Him.
Again, much of this is repeated from what I heard from my org’s President, not my own musings. But it was helpful to me, and I hope it might be helpful for you.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash