Typically, I make note of scriptures I find motivating and inspirational when I study. I get caught up in the encouragement and sometimes neglect to notice invaluable instruction hidden in a narrative account because on the surface it seems insignificant. I realized this while reading the story in Acts 15 of the conflict between Paul and Barnabas.
“Sometime later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord” (Acts 15:36-40, NIV).
Paul was a super hero for Christ. Yet these verses indicate he was human just like us. He had strong convictions and was unafraid to stand behind them, so much so that it caused an intense disagreement with his missionary partner, Barnabas. Unable to agree on a resolution they split up. That’s huge.
So how is this useful for us as leaders? Because sometimes we unrealistically believe we will always get along with those working in our area of ministry. Too often we avoid conflict when there is nothing shameful about it. Healthy disagreements lead to better decisions, creative problem-solving or stretching us intellectually and emotionally. That does not make it easy, however. And in some cases, common ground may not be achievable.
In the conflict between Paul and Barnabas, both had good arguments. Barnabas wanted to give John Mark a second chance even though he hadn’t been reliable on their first journey. On the other hand, Paul was unwilling to waste time on someone who had proven to be irresponsible. Neither of their opinions were necessarily wrong, just different. Disagreeing with someone does not mean you are right and they are not. When there is no consensus, the only recourse is to agree to disagree. Should the disagreement cause discord however, the best path may be separate paths. Parting paths may just be for a season anyway. Paul and Barnabas later worked together again and John Mark eventually regained Paul’s confidence.
In leadership roles, disagreements will occur. Seeking common ground is always best and separation, of course, should be the last resort. Never burn bridges unnecessarily. However, we cannot be afraid to remain resolute in a dispute. Some things are worth the fight. God will give you the wisdom and discernment to know the difference. As you seek resolution, seek His guidance. Parting company may be the price of peace, but better than the cost of continued conflict.