The musical term “dissonance” means, “a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements1.”
Basically, when two notes are too close together it results in an uncomfortable, colliding sound. A way to think about it is like hearing a fork scrape across a plate or fingers running down a chalk board; the instant shudder you receive is the result of dissonance. However, a normal, harmonious sound – such as birds chirping or chimes playing from a bell tower – gives our bodies a natural reaction of comfort and delight. We were made for harmony. Unfortunately, dissonance sometimes makes an unwanted presence in a church, and it certainly presents challenges among God’s people who are all striving to fulfill his will.
We encounter ministry dissonance as believers when individual callings over-step their bounds and encroach on other ministries, whether it be time, resources, or people involved. And you don’t have to be a part of a ministry very long before it happens. Romans 12 sheds light on our individual responsibility of encouraging harmony among believers when conflicts arise.
- Remember why you serve (Romans 12:1-2).
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
We do not serve to please others but to please God. And even though we know that our minds have the tendency of placing too much concern on the present at the cost of the eternal. However, when we choose to view a situation through the lens of mercy everything changes. In fact, this is the very same lens for which the Lord renders us innocent. How can we not extend mercy to other believers when we consider what Christ did for us? It’s so disheartening to be misunderstood or disregarded, but if we can use our emotions as indicators instead of letting them run our lives we will be in a better place for God to use us. This is part of transforming and renewing our minds: letting the earthly reasons we serve be overpowered by the godly reasons. So ask yourself, “Why do I serve?” This question will help us examine whether or not our motives are out of whack. And incorrect motives certainly do not set us up for an honest evaluation of a tough situation. First and foremost we need to submit ourselves to God and his purposes. Before we can address faults in others, we must be fully aware and on the road to victory with our own problems. Remember your gratitude to Christ for rescuing you from a miserable life of sin and eternal separation. We can only be ready to battle spiritual conflicts if our hearts are humbled before an omniscient and merciful God.
- Prepare your heart (verses 3-8).
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
Part of preparing our hearts includes identifying how others contribute to ministry. Sometimes we can be influenced by the assumption that our calling to service is more influential or important than others’ callings. This is such a dangerous way of thinking if we want to encourage harmony! Valuing other believers’ contributions to ministry is vital in defeating church dissonance. It sure takes a lot of humility to identify the good happening in a ministry when you feel personally attacked, but the Lord will help us. Will we cry out to him for strength and guidance? He is there waiting to show us how to navigate tense situations if we will only trust his plan and be obedient to his word regardless of how we feel.
- Put love to action (verses 9-13).
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
Sincere love is hard. Even when we are in good standing with someone it takes serious effort to honor them above ourselves. But the Lord tells us to sincerely and patiently love others even through affliction. In order to do this we have no choice but to rely on him for strength. God’s word tells us to choose love, zeal, hope, and faith. So how do we put those qualities to action? I think of it this way: By doing the opposite of our sinful nature. For example, if I desire to stamp my feet and throw a fit, then I know putting love to action means remaining calm. Or if I adamantly want to gossip behind someone’s back, I know speaking kind words is the appropriate response. As we act on obedience and deny fleshly desires it will become easier to display love. However, this does not mean we neglect to address the issues or become doormats. When we deal with conflicts in the church the way scripture prescribes (e.g. Matthew 18:15-20) then love is truly on display. This is sincere love; love that does whatever it takes to reconcile ourselves and others to Christ. And we are capable of sincere love because the Spirit of the Living God has already given it to us.
- Choose a godly response, not an earthly reaction (verses 14-20).
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’”
We are not exempt from sin and selfishness simply because we are church leaders. Yet in the event of someone’s unwillingness to collaborate with other believers we should be ready to extend grace instead of participating in combat. And this is so hard to do! One of two things typically happens to an uncooperative ministry leader: they either accept the Spirit’s conviction for repentance or become such a hindrance to the gospel message of Christ that God himself removes them from their position. Either way, such believers will be chastised. It’s easy to jump to a reaction when we feel hurt, but allowing God to show us the suitable response is more likely to keep dissonance at bay. Meekness will start filling our lives if we will simply be obedient to God’s word. We have to decide to be Christ-like regardless of how other believers act because our positive example could be used by God to draw a dissenting brother or sister back to him. And isn’t that worth letting our “enemies” think they’ve won the battle? Certainly!
- Overcome evil with good (verse 21).
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
When we do all the aforementioned things we will overcome evil with good. Satan’s attempt to ruin our testimonies, or the testimony of the church, could never stand up to the saving power of grace given to us by Jesus Christ. Harmony is achieved by allowing the Spirit to move within a situation instead of getting even with someone. Discord is broken when we give up our right to “win,” and instead allow ourselves to be used by God. It’s tough to keep serving when we’re at odds with another believer, but remember our true worship: “…to offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” We can do it, friend! The Lord is with us, and together we will stand in obedience to continue reaching a lost world for him.
1 Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com, 21 October 2015