STAND in the crossfire
We shouldn't think that unity always exists in the church. We differ. We shouldn't allow people to hide these differences in order to create a false front of unity. We should rather handle our differences. The sign of a faith community is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of a spirit of reconciliation. True Biblical unity doesn't happen naturally. It should be built purposefully.
In spite of our focus on unity, there are a few 'non-negotiables'. Biblical disloyalty is at the top of this list. We can't dilute the clear teachings of Jesus Christ. We should defend the authority of the Word and live the teachings of Jesus. It is important to practically live the Bible's teachings every day. Another non-negotiable aspect is verbal discipline during confrontation. We can't shout at each other. Beware of statements containing the words 'always' and 'never'. Don't be sloppy with facts. Keep the volume of the discussion low. If people do shout at each other, we should leave and give them a chance to cool down. Then we can return for a controlled, accurate and constructive discussion.
How do we handle conflict?
Realise that conflict in unavoidable.
If (rather than when) it happens, you have a Biblical responsibility to resolve it.
Go to the individual that you have a problem with and try to resolve the conflict. Don't use gossip to convince others to take your side.
If you expect people to suppress conflict, you may cause more conflict. If you suppress conflict, it goes underground and poisons a congregation. Eventually it hurts everyone. Public conflict is better than a mask of unity.
Positive solutions to conflict are only possible if you create an atmosphere where negative information is accepted. To convince people to differ from each other in a fair manner, is an ongoing process. Church leaders also have feelings, and we should remember this when we criticise and differ from them.
Some people are more prone to causing damaging conflict. These people are often emotionally unhealthy. They also often create the type of conflict that is difficult to resolve, because they often internalise all differences. Look for people who have handled their pain and suffering in positive ways. Unhealthy people often say 'yes' when they should have said 'no'. They say that they will do something, but because of pressure at work they never manage to do it. Unhealthy people also struggle to accept constructive evaluation. Therefore, evaluation should be handled in a sensitive way. If people are afraid or hostile to the evaluation process, there is often an underlying problem that needs attention.
Another way to prevent unnecessary conflict is to side-step anything that undermines confidence. If you suspect that someone is stressed, go to him and ask if everything is okay. The more interactive you are, the more conflict you will avoid. Get people to talk before the conflict goes underground. Conflict can be a constructive part of the creative process.
How we react to conflict depends on whether it is aimed at our ideas or our person. If conflict is a personal attack – doubt about your integrity, reliability or motivation – it is difficult to handle. Such a conversation requires maturity. The person making the accusations should be mature enough to realise what he is doing; the person under attack should be mature enough to not retaliate immediately. Conversations like these involve a high degree of vulnerability.
The most difficult part of handling conflict is to listen – not to hear, but to listen.
If you swim in the sea, you can be attacked by sharks or by guppies (a small Caribbean fish). Forget about the guppies.
Handling conflict correctly requires maturity. Leading a congregation towards Biblical unity begins with its leader. Every time you try to avoid conflict, your skin grows thicker and your heart becomes harder – and the distance between you and the people around you increases.
Two questions that nominal Christians can't answer
Tim Keller proposes two questions. They focus on a growing relationship with God. It's about proof of God's presence in your life. How real was God in your life this week? Are you sure of his forgiveness and Fatherly love? Do you really feel his presence in your life?
1. Is there proof that the Word is changing you?
Do you find that the Word is alive and active in your life? Do you find the Bible's promises valuable and encouraging? Do you find that God challenges or calls you through something his Word?
2. Proof of an increasing appreciation of God's grace
Is God's grace more powerful in your life than in the past? Are you aware of a growing sense of evil in your heart, and in reaction to it, a growing dependence and understanding of God's grace?
Keep your brain sharp
The brain weighs between 2 and 3% of your total body weight, but uses 20% of your body's energy. It grows fast from your birth to your mid-twenties. It all goes downhill from there. You can implement simple steps to keep your brain sharp despite the process of ageing.
As we grow older, some brain processes are unavoidable.
After the age of 40, our brain's volume decreases by 5% per decade. The brain can resist this deterioration through the so-called cognitive reserve.
Dendrites at the ends of brain cells (think of the roots of a tree) deteriorates from our twenties. The more branches our dendrites have, the better our brains can process information.
The grey matter (brain cells called neurons) deteriorate from the mid-twenties.
The insulation myelin (folded around the tail of the neuron) thins out with age. The thicker the myelin, the faster electrical impulses can travel along the neurons. In the brain, faster is always better.
The receptors for the neuro-transmitter (dopamine) decreases. This transmitter plays an important role in attention and learning.
What can we do to build up our cognitive reserve? Here are five 'use-it-or-lose-it' steps:
Learn, learn, learn. Be curious. Challenge your brain. Learn new things. Read books and magazines that challenge you. Look at courses for adults. Many online courses are free.
Prioritise friendships. Friendships keep your brain sharp because we learn new things during our interactions with others – different perspectives that stretch our minds.
Exercise your brain with brain games. You won't only get better at playing the games, they will also improve your brain power and cognitive reserve. (An example is Brain HQ).
Get enough sleep, because beta-amyloid is removed during sleep. This is the substance that accumulates in Alzheimer's disease.
Learn a foreign language. When we learn a new language, we increase the proficiency of our brain. It improves the brain's ability to reinvent itself.
What we do with our lives and what we feed into our minds, can change our brains. There is yet another important issue: keep your worship strong. At the ends of chromosomes are telemeres (they resemble the plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces). Those who reflect often, have longer telemeres. Daily quiet time keeps your brain sharp.
If we take care of our brain, it will serve us well. The brain is part of the body, and therefore we need to pay attention to Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your bodies.