real-life conflict: four vignettes
The congregation I serve experienced conflict surrounding the resignation of the previous pastor. The presenting issue was how the church should respond to a homosexual couple whose house had burned down: should the church reach out and help the couple rebuild? Or was that response too supportive of a sinful lifestyle? The pastor had recently changed his views on that issue and hadn’t told anyone.
Relationships thrive on communication. However, this pastor chose to resign rather than lead an open conversation exploring his change of view. That decision ended up causing great pain to many in the congregation.
When I applied to my current pastoral position, I didn’t want to be a fixer; I had hoped the congregation was over it.” And in fact, over a two-year period the congregation has begun to heal. But I know now that though there has been healing and reconciliation, they will never be “over it.” Loss and pain never fully leave us; they simply become part of us. Yet what encourages me every day that I work with these people is the primary commitment of the congregation to respond pastorally, speaking the truth in love to all we meet.
Because of this commitment, I work hard to include the church’s leadership in all my decision making. At some point, we will have to answer the question about the couple that originally sparked the conflict. For now, we’re just learning to love and serve alongside each other. I am hopeful that in the future, we can resolve similar situations as they arise in a healthy and loving way.
CONFLICT WITH GOD
The first time I met Mark Resnick he found the energy to raise his arm and spew these words at me: “I will never believe like you do. I’m Jewish.” To my own amazement, I calmly said in response, “Well, I actually came here to talk about marriage. So can we do that?”
Mark was dying of abdominal cancer. His Gentile live-in girlfriend and care-giver, whom I’ll call Sara, loved Mark and had stood with him through a variety of setbacks and challenges over several years. She was also a born-again believer who had wandered far from the Lord during that time. With Mark’s diagnosis, Sara had returned to God and was praying for Mark’s salvation before the end of his waning life. Because Mark was interested in marrying Sara before he died, I was invited in for a conversation.
Candor and transparency are paramount in any relationship. So before I came to their home, I made sure that Sara divulged that I was a Jewish believer in Jesus. That is why he announced his boundaries upon my arrival. But I was not offended; Mark’s objections were aimed not at me but at God.
We found a basis for discussion in what God expects from a marriage, and we read the Bible together. Our discussions, and eventually Mark’s prayers, were not about what I might want from him, but what God expected.
Six months later, Mark—son of Holocaust survivors and the product of Orthodox Judaism—found the energy to surrender his heart to the savior Yeshua a few weeks before Christmas. The conflict between him and God was over.
Postscript: For the next eleven months Mark told everyone in his family about his faith in the Messiah. He died between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Before his death, he asked me to make sure that everyone at his funeral knew one thing: “I believe in Jesus just like you, Tuvya.”
CONFLICT ON CAMPUS
Two years ago, I was finishing my sophomore year of college in Michigan. Apparently because I had “Jewish” on my Facebook profile, I was invited by the president of the campus Jewish club to attend a few meetings. I was soon asked to run for vice-president. Until then, I had been scared to say anything about being Messianic, and I didn’t say anything now either.
I won the election. Before the first meeting of the officers, I prayed that God would allow me to be involved even as a Jewish believer. I also told God that if he would allow me to participate in leadership for a time, if someone then made a fuss about my “Messiah-problem,” I would immediately step down.
At that point I told the other officers of my faith. But no one seemed to care. My prayer to God was answered! Within three months, the president of our group had been impeached, and I became the new president. By then, everyone, even our faculty advisors, knew I was Messianic. Eventually, though, some started making an issue about my faith. I even received a phone call from the director of the local office. But I had forgotten the other part of my prayer to God and declined to resign. It was a conversation with a friend that brought my prayer back to mind, and as a result I did resign the position, keeping my part of my “agreement” with God.
I am still highly involved with the Jewish club, though not in a leadership role. Of the more than twenty-five people who are active members, around half are very open to talking “religion” with me. God has given me a centralized place to witness. I’ve learned that if we lift our conflicts up to God, he works them out . . . even if we forget what we prayed to him!
CONFLICT WITH THE “SYSTEM“
When you have a child with special needs, part of your job description as a parent becomes “advocate,” especially if your child struggles with verbal communication. A few years ago, my son, who has Down syndrome, received support in his classroom from an educational assistant who was a poor match for his needs. However, what seemed like a simple request to switch staff around in his best interest became a full-blown battle with the school board.
As a believer, I played by the rules. But after more than a year of fighting through endless letters, e-mails and phone calls, I made the difficult decision to do something not sanctioned by protocol: I made a call directly to the support worker, aggressively warning her that there would be consequences if she continued to work with my child. The next day, she was transferred to another school (and I was officially reprimanded by the school board).
Sometimes conflicts are not ethically cut-and-dried; it’s not always clear what type of stand we need to take in every situation as followers of Yeshua. In other circumstances, I have followed the process respectfully with success. I have learned that there is a time and a season for every response, as long as I stand on the Word, rely on the Spirit and step out in faith.
- Robert Rose pastors a Presbyterian church in New York State.
- Tuvya Zaretsky is Director of Staff Development for Jews for Jesus.
- Danny Tasman is a recent college graduate and CEO of Dorm Tshirts (www.dormtshirts.com).
- Laura Barron has served as a missionary with Jews for Jesus and is now a homemaker and mother of three in Toronto.