Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit

Making Peace

I recently read Jim Van Yperen’s book, Making Peace: A Guide to Overcoming Church Conflict. This is a premier work for church leaders. A notable feature is Van Yperen’s view of conflict. He sees it as an opportunity for God to work. Resolving conflict is not about making people happy. It is an opportunity for the church to regain its authentic role.

Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into truth and to give you discernment. Ultimately this book is not about conflict as much as it is about the church, about what we have lost and what God desires His people to become. (Loc. 119)

Van Yperen is convinced that we (as leaders) often condition churches for conflict. We teach people that church is about their needs, their desires. We promote individualism.

All individualism leads to consumerism. When self is center, the world exists to meet one’s personal needs. “Hey, I’m entitled to this!” A culture of consumerism will always value individual needs above community life. “You’re important to me so long as you serve my needs.” When a church focuses on meeting the needs of individuals, Jesus and the Bible become a personal, need-meeting machine. The church becomes a collection of individuals who are fundamentally at competition with one another—competing to have their needs met. (Loc. 338)

He continues to describe how this plays out.

To address these concerns, some churches offer solutions that only compound the problem. The answer, they believe, is targeting ministries and services to specific demographic or life interest groups who have the same concerns, desires, or needs. This keeps people happy for a time but further fragments the body. The attempt to meet selfish needs tends to reinforce selfishness. The worship wars are a good example. In many churches the style of worship pits believer against believer. Coalitions form to lobby a point of view. Members are too busy counting how many hymns and how many choruses are sung in each service to actually worship God. (Loc. 346)

As we become accustomed to this approach to church, the soil is ripe for conflict. Conflict is a result of a broken church.

The church becomes a shopping center where we pick and choose what is good for us. We are not a community being formed by God’s Word and Spirit. We are individuals shaping ourselves. This strips the Gospel of its power—leaving people in their selfish individualism rather than inviting them into a transforming community of faith. (Loc. 361)

As I reflect on Van Yperen’s work, I am sure that I have been a part of preparing soil for conflict; I repent. May we yearn to form authentic communities of faith, a counter-cultural people. May our people hold a strong aversion to individualism, consumerism, and selfishness. And as we learn to function in this way, may our communities live in peace.