The number one reason missionaries leave the mission field and give up is, shockingly, inter-personal relationships. You'd think it would be the culture, the food, the hardship of being away from family, but it is the interaction with other missionaries.
Truthfully, this is probably the same reasoning for people in all kinds of jobs. Michelle and I have consoled so many Pastors who have had major frustrations with other staff members. And we've had our fair share of disappointments with Christian leaders as well.
This is not a new problem. In fact, even some of the earliest leaders of the Church had run-ins with each other.
Acts 15 shares the story of Paul and Barnabus disagreeing, and it is quite incredible. These two very godly men had such a sharp dispute over whether or not to take Mark with them, that they went their separate ways! Paul joined up with Silas, and Barnabas (previously Paul's encourager) left him and went with Mark.
This passage teaches us a number of important principles applicable to today for our relationships with other believers:
1. Even the godliest Christians have disputes with others. This is okay and to be expected. Don't be surprised when you have a run-in yourself. We are all very uniquely created by God, and have various backgrounds and perspectives. We don't need to all get along, but we should all respect, pray for and honor each other anyways. George Whitefield and John Wesley started out as close friends, but disputes over doctrine shipwrecked their friendship for a long time. However, by the end of their lives - even though they still didn't agree, they had deepest admiration for one another. A gentleman asked Whitefield if they would see Wesley in heaven. Whitefield responded by saying, "no, no ... Wesley will be so far ahead of us in heaven, we won't be able to see him."
2. If you've been hurt, keep going. We have not failed when we disagree or even dispute. The true failure is to give up. Do you see what happened when Paul and Barnabus disagreed? They ended up actually doubling their ground level impact, because they went two separate ministry routes! It was true of Whitefield and Wesley as well. Many times this is true of ministry disputes today, so don't get discouraged and give up!
3. Go your separate ways. Scripture tells us "as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." It does not say simply, "live at peace with everyone." There are often factors out of our control at work. We should do our best, but understand this will not always be enough, and we have to be okay with friction in the world. Paul and Barnabus did not try to keep working together. They didn't spend the next few months trying to travel together and get along. They went separate ways. This is often the godliest thing we can do when we disagree with a Pastor or spiritual leader. Instead of coming against them or trying to change their minds, we should bless them, pray for them and get out of their way.
4. Sometimes the person who was your biggest fan may end up fighting you. Barnabus was one of the Apostle Paul's first encouragers. He brought Paul before the other Apostles, and opened great doors of opportunity for him. However, there came a time when Paul's biggest fan became one of his greatest disappointments. In a similar way, George Whitefield had actually been the person to open the door for John Wesley to preach outdoors in fields. He asked Wesley to fill in for him and speak to tens of thousands. Previously, Wesley recorded "I would have thought it was a sin to preach outside the four walls of the church." However, God allowed this support beam in his life only for a season. God wants us to be dependent on Him. When relationships falter, this can actually be a spiritual blessing drawing us back into deep dependence on Christ to sustain us.
It's fitting to close with a note that Paul, towards the end of his ministry, in his last known writing, asked for Mark to be sent to him, "for he is profitable for my ministry." (2 Timothy 4:11) Many times, disputes and relational friction is only for a time. By God's grace, we may eventually join hands in ministry again with those with whom we've disconnected.