Confession: I meet with a group of believers who have no pastor, preacher, priest, or clergy set aside from or above the rest of the church. There is not a designated human leader. Our heart is to let Jesus himself be the head of the church. Everyone in our meetings is free to participate in sharing with the saints and in leading the saints as the Spirit leads them.
However, that’s not really the point of this article. I want to focus on something that I’ve observed happening because we meet and live together in this way: we all have to deal with each other.
When there is a specific leader in a group and a problem arises, the tendency is to expect the leader to deal with the problem. So if one person hurts someone else’s feelings or wrongs them in some way, they go to the leader to get things sorted out. The leader is expected to mediate everyone’s disagreements and arguments.
Interestingly, Jesus speaks of going directly to someone who offends you and working to sort things out privately (Matthew 5:23-24, 18:15).
This is pretty much what happens in our little body of believers. We all have to deal with each other. We have only Christ as our mediator, and sometimes a wise saint or two to help. As various issues between saints come up we each learn practically how to live with each other with love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and peace despite disagreements, arguments, and hurt feelings.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15 ESV
These court cases are an ugly blot on your community. Wouldn’t it be far better to just take it, to let yourselves be wronged and forget it? All you’re doing is providing fuel for more wrong, more injustice, bringing more hurt to the people of your own spiritual family. 1 Corinthians 6:7-8 MSG
In short, we learn to bear the cross with each other. We learn to lay down our lives – our needs, plans, desires, preferences, ambitions – for our brothers and sisters. And without someone in charge to keep things in check, there is plenty of opportunity for learning these lessons. Though there are sometimes scars left behind, I’ve seen much maturity and wisdom bloom from these trials.
Some people consider this messiness of life together something to be avoided. Honestly, I wasn’t too excited about this part of life together; I’m really not a fan of confrontation. And wherever people are rubbing up against each other, you can count on conflict arising and the need for confrontation. However, I’ve seen that this is the process that God uses to fit his children together into the spiritual dwelling place that he desires to have in this earth. I’ve seen this process produce exactly the characteristics that Paul encourages us to put on, as long as we are willing to put on the character of Jesus. Disaster ensues when we approach conflicts still wearing the old man who always defends himself above others.
You may be in a church that does have a designated pastor, but you can still experience this maturing process by trusting Jesus and dealing with conflicts directly and privately whenever possible. But remember, as Paul wrote, to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, forgiving each other. Remember that Jesus tells us to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. (Matthew 7:12)