Life Together.3 – Dealing with people you don’t like

by admin on May 19, 2011

Reflection for 15 May 2011
Acts 6:1-7

ML: what we do best is fight.

Should churches fight? Is there such a thing as the spiritual gift of fighting?

Many people bail, leave, shy away from any religious community because of politics—read: fighting. Is that universal cry: why can’t we all just get along? Valid?

It is very significant that the Bible never shies away from this thorny issue in life. Primarily because it’s just there. Is there such a thing as conflict resolution? Perhaps a better idea would be conflict management. To even think in terms of resolution might place on the whole business the unenforceable rule that once that’s over with we can move on. Seeded within every conflict resolution is always another conflict.

Our topic: Conflict resolution—dealing with people you don’t like. This might take a long while…it might be short, too. Real question: is the way we understand and do church what Jesus and NT had in mind?

Remember the idyllic situations we talked about last two weeks—everyone got along, shared everything, and seemed to give off a rather pious and inviting atmosphere. And the numbers grew exponentially. Just give us that formula for success and we can market that.

Whenever two Lutherans get together there are always three opinions. Likewise, here in Acts is another problem presented that seems to upset this ideal model that so many reform movements have claimed to discover, embody, only to fall to reality that the complications of human nature somehow just manage to creep back in.

Things are going along pretty well for the early Jesus movement—but now there’s a clash of ethnic identity, cultural customs and linguistic differences. Those new kids on the block are threatening to upset the applecart.

In accordance with Jewish custom, Torah teaching and rabbinic/prophetic proclamation the poor and widowed were to be cared for by the community of faith precisely because there were no social welfare programs. These people were actually and literally disenfranchised from the financial world and needed help to survive. NB, 95% of ancient Palestine at this time lived in dirt-poor poverty.

The Hellenists were murmuring against the Hebrews. Those Greek speaking Jews—remember Act’s story is still in synagogue territory—saw that their widows were being ignored at the time for the daily distribution of food. Their rights were being ignored. The Hebrews were those Jews native to the Jerusalem area; spoke largely Hebrew and Aramaic, maybe even some Greek. There is a definite clash of ethnic values here. Complicated naturally by cultural and linguistic issues. It doesn’t take much imagination here to think in terms of non-English speaking immigrant trying to figure out the self serve cash registers in Kroger’s when you’re in the biggest hurry of your life right behind.

A solution is proposed from the 12—the Apostles. We will attend to preaching; let’s find some others to attend to this vital and important work. Some say that here is the beginnings of the diaconate ministry, for the word used here is diakonia. But that has many meanings some of which include: apostolic ministry and financial services.

Set forth seven men to do this and we will set them aside. Hands are laid on their heads and they get their certificate. Again, in reading these words it’s important to monitor our own preconceived ideas about what is happening and how it’s done. For many this is another proof text for levels of clergy and ordination. Neither of which is even thought of in Luke’s mind. He is reporting the solution to a conflict, and it’s a leadership solution btw. This ought to be hint as to how we might understand this story and see it’s Now What? Implications.

The story concludes in v7 summary statement like 1:15; 2:41; 4:4 calls attention to the fact that by now the Jesus community is growing exponentially and that several kinds of people are joining up. In this summary it’s members of the priestly class from the Temple.

It’s a given in Acts that HS is leading the community forward as it encounters its real world with the message of Jesus is Lord and Messiah—proven by his resurrection. How do you get that done? It calls for some form of organization and management. How do you handle growth? This is an excellent question not usually asked by churches today—they mostly inquire about how do we keep our own? How do we just hold on? Survive?

Recently I was talking with a buddy who is a church consultant and he’s working with some bigshots of a mainline denomination. He reports that their mission strategy is panic. If any organization is not structured for mission and growth the default is survival and rationing of resources.

Most church conflict really centers on this question. Most personal conflict does too do we/I take a chance or circle the wagons? Am I about engaging the other or about conserving my position? Am I all for self survival or the growth of relationship?
Three pertinent issues centered on conflict and leadership show up.

1) Problems are pretty mundane and leadership—how to respond to this—is really rooted in necessary functional needs. How can our people get fed? Most conflict gets started in the realm of the ordinary. Most couples fight over cereal boxes, light switches and toothpaste. Only after that does it escalate into something big.

Of course most of us also focus on the content of a disagreement while ignoring the process. That’s a no-no. I was talking with a greenhorn pastor a while back. All that excitement of entering a new assignment has evaporated. Now it’s conflict with influential members all over something dumb. What started as a simple request has turned into a major nightmare. Part of the process of attending to process is to see that the other side has legitimacy, too. The 12 did not ignore this. Those Greeks do have a point.

So, instead of eradicating problems and problem people, perhaps we might see the good they provide: a practical way for us to attend to our problem solving process.

2) Problem makers are part of the solution. People you don’t like can be the impetus towards growth that you need. What to do when the hole in your soul is other people? Since this is a fact of life what do you want to do with that fact? Rally against it? Embrace it?

A lesson in leadership is that leaders emerge from below not from above. There is no trickle down theory of conflict management here. How this gets played out depends on how you view your opponent. My greenhorn clergy friend sees the other guy as the transgressor, the passive aggressive perp, the guy who’s the fly in the ointment.

Some experts on this sort of stuff call conflict management a dance. I like that metaphor. Dancing is about partnership and even in tough negative situations there is a partnership. Takes two to tango, my mom used to say. Want to manage conflict? Look at you part in the deal and how can you partner towards solution?

It’s downright interesting to note that the names of the deacons here are all Greek names, as in Greek speaking Jews. So the complainers become the solution after the 12 invite the group to think in a new way.

3) Adapting to changing environments and needs. How many Lutherans to change a light bulb? Why change? I’ll just sit in the dark.

Adaptability has to do with mission accomplishment. Notice how the 12 keep focused on their mission: witness to the Resurrection. In order to do that other people had to meet upcoming needs. The Jesus movement’s true admirable quality here is to attend to the essential and follow the Spirit’s guidance in creatively responding to new challenges. It’s the responding part I want to emphasize. They did not react, they responded.

Here is no instant cure, no knee jerk reactivity, but a reasoned and thoughtful response to the pressing problem. No ready, fire aim. Interestingly the deacon movement here isn’t talked about again in Acts, really doesn’t appear the NT and may well have been an ad hoc response to a felt need. The early Jesus movement did not get hung up on levels of leadership, titles with special hats, and reserved parking spaces.

Conflict management is done in the context of answering the call towards mission. This will always necessitate principled leadership. What kind of leadership do you embody in the places of your life where your mission takes you? We all have a specific mission; we all have leadership relationships; we all have conflict situations. What to do?

1) Principled leadership. What are the guiding principles of your life and how do you intersect with troublesome people? Fight, flight, freeze. Here the 12 operated out of a mission mentality that was beyond personal survival at all costs. In this early church fight I can three easily grasped principles that can help to manage tight places.

• Non anxious presence. DOS I will not allow emotionality to control me. Mission centered and focused.
• Contact, not closeness.
• Watch out for sabotage. Not a paranoid position but realistic, knowing that all solutions are impermanent. Be willing to alter solutions.

2) Conflict is opportunity. Personally I hate this, but no greater challenge to the self exists than that of conflict. However, it’s the proving ground of principles. What good is all that theory if it’s not practically applied? Here practice is important. What good is knowing all that stuff about Jesus is Lord and Messiah if there isn’t ever a down to earth gutsy application of Nova’s five values: Compassion, Forgiveness; Generosity; Humility and Hope.

One of the doors opened in this opportunity is self assessment. How am I part of this problem? What’s my dance step? How shall I change it up? See how this works away from: it’s never me it’s always them; to I am the common denominator.

3) Skinning a cat. You know the saying regarding this more than one way. Adaptability. It’s significant here that the problems besetting the early church were functional. The fact that the solutions and conflict management strategies also changed is important.

Couple weeks ago we were having a problem in the garden—some left over growth from last year was getting in the way of new growth. What to do? My problem solving solution? Just yank it out—back up the truck and tie a rope and pull. Karen was more reasoned—men and their hammers, she said. Everything is a nail! There is great wisdom: most of my problems come from my problem soling techniques.

Dealing with troublesome people? Maybe the way you usually do it doesn’t work very well—consider that idea.

The bottom line in all this is: the power of Jesus Christ resurrected and alive in you.

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