Have you ever disagreed with a Christian friend about meaningful things such as theology, worship style, ministry philosophy, politics, ethics, or how to educate your children? Outside of the central common beliefs Christians share, there is so much room for disagreement. We may find ourselves saying the popular phrase: “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.”
Given that there are so many disagreements I am challenged by Paul telling the church in Corinth to “agree with one another (I Corinthian 1:10)” and telling two women in Philippi to do the same.
“I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.” Philippians 4:2
So how do we find agreement in our disagreements? I have a few thoughts on how to develop this important skill.
Listen to Understand
Have you ever noticed yourself hoping someone would finish making their point so that you can make yours? Do ever want to interrupt to make your point? If so, then you’re listening to reply rather than listening to understand. This is subtle, but incredibly important.
What if your aim in conversation was to really understand where the other person is coming from and why they believe what they believe from instead of trying to win an argument? What if instead of making points you simply asked more questions for clarification and better understanding?
If you listen to actually listen to understand you may find that you can agree on some things. Usually you’ll find you have more in common than you think. Even if you don’t, you at least learn more of the reasons why a person believes what they believe and what personal experiences may have led them to the viewpoints they hold.
Try listening to understand someone instead of listening to reply.
As mentioned above, often you have more in common with the person than you have disagreements. You may find that you agree on the problem but just have different ways of approaching the solution. For instance, I have a friend that I disagree with on how to best care for the poor. As I’ve grown to understand her viewpoints better, I recognize that we share a lot of the same specific concerns. That’s where we can agree with one another. It’s in the places of agreement that you can work together.
I like to refer to agreements as our “highest common denominator.” It’s helpful to find what the broadest areas of agreement. As believers, we have the highest common denominator: our shared faith in Jesus and his death and resurrection. While we may disagree on less central tenants of the faith, we agree on Jesus as the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
Jesus is the basis for our fellowship. When we focus first on Jesus and make Him the center of our worship, we can fellowship with people who have different political, theological, philosophical, and ethical convictions.
In my opinion, much of our fighting and disagreements spring from the fact that we’ve made other issues and beliefs more important than Jesus.
Justin Christopher is the national campus director for Campus Renewal Ministries and the author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He facilitates CRM’s Partnering Campus Project and also gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.