At a training I attended a few months ago I encountered a great bit of teaching.
Peter Steinke is a trainer and teacher who has dealt plenty with churches. And anybody who deals plenty with churches deals plenty with conflict and finding ways to work together as the Body of Christ. Steinke has written godsend books about how to navigate church systems. When I am feeling near overwhelmed by the tangle that is church, Steinke is gift.
So at this training, he had this story to tell about how to navigate church conflict. He told the story about a friend who was working in Alaska for the summer. He was engaged by a fishery to process fish back in the days when that work was done by hand. He watched for a while, overwhelmed by the flash of knife and his own incompetence and inability to enter the filleting fray.
He shared that anxiety with a seasoned worker. What the worker’s advice was is this:
“Just get the fish on the table and go to it. You will find and learn your way. If you don’t get the fish on the table, nothing will get done.”
The metaphor helps me when considering how to navigate challenges and conflict at church. Often I coach myself: Get the fish on the table. By putting issues in the open where they are seen and felt and concrete, things get done. We find our way. We learn from each other.
And we have that greatest of gifts as we go about the cleaning up of the fish of conflict: we have the teachings of Jesus to guide us. He was really clear about how to deal with snarl. Matthew 18 is bedrock: Talk to your kin in Christ about the ways you are feeling overwhelmed or hurt or frustrated or confused or concerned. Put the fish on the table in order that you share the power of learning and stretch together.
So we are living as best we can the way of table fish. It’s messy and smelly and we’re getting better at it as we practice and trust.
It is holy communion.