How to Pick Your Battles

Which battles are worth fighting?

If a minister wanted to do so, he or she could make a full-time job out of church battles. One could confront everything one found difficult. There are few such people out there. More often, avoiding the pain of conflict is something we do as often as possible.

We fight when we absolutely must—but no other time. This sounds almost right if one is committed to peace. However, what this usually means is that church bullies run free more-or-less, and/or there will be a cold war atmosphere in the church (which is not peace) cultivated by the avoidance of dealing with issues that are “under the surface.” I’ve never understood how letting gossip fester, resentment grow or misunderstandings stand makes peace.

One must develop the pain tolerance necessary to deal with situations in the church that need care. This ability is possessed by all great leaders I know. However, one can also wear oneself out addressing every small issue in the church or develop a Gestapo culture that quenches all dissent—even healthy dissent. This too is not good.

We all know the expression, “choose your battles.” Some choose no battles. Some fight every battle. Great leaders know how to choose them. Here are some guidelines for choosing the battles we must fight, and avoiding the battles we shouldn’t. If it ain’t worth it…let it go.

Here are a few battles we should fight:

  1. Those in which a person or group attacks leadership in a way that threatens, legitimately, the unity of the Body. This is the make-or-breaker. This, more than perhaps anything else, destroys churches—and we simply must go to the mat for unity and biblical communication patterns. I’m not talking here about routine emails, genuine concerns, etc. I’m referring to those groups that like to “posse up” or are attacking the character of leadership in a way that could produce schism or worse. Nip it in the bud. Don’t wait until it rises to a posse against posse level. Do it right away. NO ONE IS ABOVE BIBLICAL CORRECTION. I’ve had to do this with elders, elders’ wives, ministry leaders, staff members and every other kind of person you can imagine. If Peter can be corrected by Paul, our people can handle this. If Paul would/could do it for Peter–we should/could do it when necessary.
  2. Those in which a person is bearing false witness. This is a Commandment after all, but few churches uphold this. I hate to say this, but when Christians get crossways with each other, some resort to half-truths, caricature, hyperbole, and outright lies to win the argument or malign their opponent. If someone isn’t telling the truth, call them on it. Christ-followers must be truth-tellers.
  3. A situation in which a voiceless person is being attacked. The homeless, the woman pregnant out-of-wedlock, the marginalized. Here you may even agree with the attackers ideologically, but must step in for the sake of compassion and giving voice to the voiceless.
  4. Core doctrinal differences. Emphasis on the word CORE. When someone begins teaching others to follow another Gospel—get on it. Doctrine matters. What we believe about God determines how we live, and the truth sets people free while falsehood destroys. Many years ago I had to confront a small group leader who was teaching there was no such thing as salvation or damnation of the soul. They taught all would be saved. This is heresy that goes in the face of Scripture’s teaching—but cuts to the very core of what Jesus did on the cross and whether faith in Christ is even necessary. So, we dealt with it. In general, we can recognize core heresy by whether it diminishes Christ.
  5. Where the church’s mission is at stake. Sometimes, a battle threatens to take the church off mission for an extended period of time–or even alter it’s mission. However, we sometimes extend the church’s “off mission” period by ignoring skirmishes that eventually become wars. Ask yourself, “Does this change who we are called to be?” Ask, “How bad can this get?” and respond accordingly, sooner rather than later.
  6. Battles only you can fight—because of your role or your moral authority in a person’s life.

Here are some battles to avoid:

  1. Puking matches with buzzardsespecially on social media. Trust me, it’s a mistake to trade significant barbs with someone publicly unless it’s absolutely necessary. Don’t trade insult for insult–even though I will admit it feels good.
  2. Battles with people who draw energy from conflict. This is a fools game. Some people only know how to exist in conflict—and draw energy from it. They will outlast you or, even you outlast them, you will be totally depleted. The only time to get into it someone like this is when it fits one of the criteria in the section above.
  3. Those with people who self-correct. There are people we recognize have the spiritual maturity to recognize their behavior and self-correct on their own. We won’t have to bring it up—they will get it a day or two down the road and apologize or make it right. This is for people you know well with some level of spiritual maturity. If they don’t make it right and it stays with you, address it. We’ve all done things we regret later. We recognize them, and make them right. Sometimes we overreact when something first happens and don’t give self-awareness time to work. Self rebuke is a more powerful self-discipline to cultivate than hearing rebuke from another.

What might you add to either section? Can you think of a battle we should/shouldn’t fight, that isn’t listed above? Any thoughts on these battle selections?

Author: Tim Spivey

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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