BY STEVE DUNN
You are sitting in a church board meeting or a staff meeting and you become aware of an atmosphere of tension that has invaded the room. Because you are not aware of its source or its nature, you have the urge to simply ignore it. You certainly don’t want to draw attention to it lest it make people uncomfortable or derail the agenda for the evening.
Or you have the opposite impulse. You want to name it out loud and quash it before it gets worse.
Of the two responses, the latter is generally the better (all except the quash part.) A rising tension, even only one person senses it, is the first sign that a cycle of conflict has begun. Ignoring tension is almost always a first step to escalating tension to a deeper or more destructive level of conflict. In conflict management or resolution, the sooner you deal with conflict the more likely you will have a positive outcome. Don’t ignore tension. Name it and address it.
But don’t assume that tension is a bad thing. The presence of tension may be the result of a holy discontent being prompted by the Holy Spirit. Maybe the status quo is not what is best for your group and until someone becomes discontented with it and lets that be known, the group may never “face the music” that something needs to change. Because we human beings avoid conflict or demonize it, those first rumblings of tension are resisted.
In this sense, tension may be a very healthy thing for your group because it reminds us that God is calling us to something deeper, to something immeasurably more than we have chosen to be satisfied with.
Which is why a healthy church embraces those tensions as the birth pangs of a greater mission. Churches that never experience tension probably already have one foot in the grave. Corpses don’t experience tension.