From the Pastor
A Message From Pastor Miranda Denler
On June 21st, I gave a sermon in our series on Philippians from 4:9-10. While I knew this sermon was hard for me to write and even harder for me to record, I didn’t realize the full impact it had on you as a congregation. At the time, I received only a single positive comment on the sermon. Recently, it has been brought to my attention that some of you have felt confused by this sermon on conflict. So, I want to take some time to address your concerns with a more in depth look at conflict from the perspective of Paul.
I want to begin by saying that anything and everything I include in a sermon is the result of prayer and study. Each sermon is determined by the Scripture itself and how the Spirit leads in my study of it. You may have noticed that even when I give a sermon based on someone else’s video series or a book, I still choose a Scripture on which to base the sermon and let that Scripture dictate how much of the author’s views I share. This is highly intentional. When I approached this text in Philippians and then did the study of it, the Spirit led me to focus on conflict. While there were other topics in the text which could have been the focus, the Spirit specifically led me to address the two women Paul mentions. As a reminder, we were reading through the book of Philippians together from the perspective of being a church. That meant that while the text has something to say about our individual lives, we were focusing more on how the text speaks to us as a church body. It was for this reason that the discussion of conflict turned toward Northwest specifically. The example Paul gave of how to deal with conflict between two individuals within the body of Christ was simple: do not allow conflict to grow but nip it in the bud. Here’s the part of the sermon where I addressed conflict directly:
As your pastor, I have something to say that may surprise some of you. Northwest has a lot of interpersonal conflict. This is not to say that other churches don’t, but it’s not a contest. I can’t even count the number of times someone has told me that so-and-so is angry with so-and-so for some reason. Rarely have these instances involved the same person in conflict repeatedly. I am not trying to start a gossiping session and I am not going to brazenly call people out like Paul did. But I am going to ask you to seriously search your own heart. Do not assume that you are not a part of a conflicted relationship. There’s actually nothing wrong with conflict in and of itself. We can disagree and are even allowed to have thoughts than others within our congregation. What Paul is saying is unacceptable is when we allow that conflict to keep us from spreading the Gospel. When we make our disagreements the center of our relationships with others, we fail to see the larger picture in which the will of God should be the center.
It’s time to repair the conflicted relationships in our church and move on. If you need help, a mediator, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I will be more than happy to help two individuals face their conflict and find a way forward. At the same time, I am not open to gossiping about others within the congregation. It is helpful for me to know about conflicts within the congregation,but we cannot solve other people’s problems by discussing them when they’re not in the room. If you know someone in conflict with another person, encourage them to work it out. Send them to me to discuss a path forward. For us to continue to consider what God is calling us to as a church post-COVID, we first need to solve the problems between us. We must seek unity through humility.
In recent conversations I have had with those concerned about this sermon, the idea that conflict existed at Northwest seemed to have surprised them. There was also mention that conflict used to be much worse. God has already done amazing work through Northwest to bring you to a healthier place as a church. I am so grateful to be serving in such a time as this. I only have the perspective of being your pastor for a year, so while I can more clearly see the need for growth as opposed to the growth you’ve already had, that does not mean that how far you come should not be celebrated. And so, we rejoice as Paul has instructed us to in this Scripture! And yet, celebrating success should not replace self-reflection, but the two should happen simultaneously.
While I am still not going to name names when it comes to the conflict I have seen, I will ask you once again, not to go looking for it. The purpose of this sermon was not to cause alarm about conflict. The purpose was to inspire you to search your own heart for conflict. I have conflict in my own heart that I need to deal with. As I have reread this sermon to write this article, I am challenged once more to deal with that conflict straight on instead of ignoring it, sweeping it under the rug, or even gossiping with others about the conflicts I have contributed to. All of us are capable of having matured as Christians, but also have more growth to do. This is what John Wesley calls the path of sanctification. We are not yet perfect, and so our church is not perfect. Yet, we are called to always try to more closely resemble the church God has created us to be.
When I think about Northwest, I don’t think about conflict. I think about the amazing outreach you all have done in a little less than 50 years. You are making an impact in this community and loving people well. To acknowledge some conflict among us does not negate the ways in which God is and has used this Church. Because of all that you have already accomplished, I know that God will continue to use Northwest to bring about the Kingdom of God. I hope you will join me in praying for the end of all conflict; whatever may exist among us, that in the Church Universal, and the conflict that seems to so deeply divide our world.
Here’s the ending of the sermon I shared in June.
We should be spending time in presence of God together as we seek for joy within our community. Right now, that seems impossible. It’s really not! We may not be together on a Sunday morning, but you have relationships with other members of Northwest. Don’t wait until we come back to worship to check in with them. If we are all connecting to each other in small groups, then collectively we are spending time with God. It is in God’s presence that we will find the joy to carry us through whatever difficulties we may encounter as a church. Rejoice! And I say, Rejoice! When all else seems lost, look for joy and that is where we will find our future as a church.
I still pray for this joy to fill each one of us. This is the true way in which to live as a church, with great joy!
In Christ’s Love,