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When Disagreement Is Okay

June 22, 2017

Respectful conversation

MANILA—Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at the Every Nation Campus (ENC) national leadership team meeting. After a productive meeting and discussion, I sent out this cryptic tweet:

“LEADERSHIP. Disagreement is ok. Disrespect, dishonor, and disunity is not. #bettertogether #rigorousdebate”

Here’s the story.

One of the conversation topics with our core ENC national leaders was sexual purity and how we should address this crucial cultural (and discipleship) issue on the university campus in the Philippines.

We all agreed that the biblical standards for sexual purity are clear: sex is a gift from God meant to be enjoyed within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman. If we had found ourselves in disagreement on this fundamental issue, it would not have been good. Unfortunately, some denominations and even campus ministries have had to deal with the fallout of disunity over such fundamental issues. Thankfully, our ENC leaders in the Philippines (and worldwide) are in unity here.

The disagreement came not in our theology of marriage and sexuality, but rather in our practical teaching on dating and relationships.

Some campus leaders and local churches strongly advocated rather strict courtship guidelines, while other leaders proposed a more relaxed approach to dating and relationships—one that encouraged purity but imposed few rules on the dating game.

Some campus leaders argued that a top-down implementation of dating practices for students almost always results in legalism (and weirdness). On the other hand, others argued that with a more relaxed dating model, too many well-meaning young people fall into sexual sin because they do not have the wisdom to put boundaries on their relationships.

The argument over dating practices was long, heated, and ultimately unresolved.

And that’s okay.

Disagreement over core theological issues is a problem within a campus ministry or church-planting movement. But disagreement over the practical implications of theology is natural and even productive—as long as we approach these disagreements with respect and grace towards one another.

Would I prefer that all of our churches and campus ministries in the Philippines approached dating and relationships the same way? Maybe. But on the other hand, there are complex cultural variables on the ground (even within Metro Manila) that cause me to defer to local leaders who understand their context and their people better than I do.

Ultimately, in order for us to disagree and still remain in unity, we must not only be respectful of one another but we must learn to trust each other.

As emerging leaders, we must trust that established leaders are doing their best to lead with wisdom (and may actually be right), even when we strongly disagree with them.

As established leaders, we must trust that the emerging leaders we have empowered are being led by the Holy Spirit (and may actually be right), even if we might do things differently.

In the end, unity is often more about relational trust than intellectual consensus.

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