We tend to think of conflict in terms of warfare – when it’s REALLY bad. The truth is that conflict comes in many forms and there are levels of conflict. Has someone said something that “rubbed you the wrong way?” That is a conflict. Is there someone that you believe isn’t doing their job in your organization? That’s a conflict. Was there miscommunication that created frustration? That’s a conflict. Is someone talking about someone else? That’s a conflict. Did you find out that someone is talking about you? That’s a conflict. The truth is that every one of us deals with conflict every single day in various forms. The real question is “How will we deal with it?”
How do we deal with conflict like Christians should? Before I go further, I want to make a point crystal clear: WHAT I AM ABOUT TO SAY DOES NOT APPLY TO INSTANCES OF ABUSE. Call the police in cases of sexual or physical abuse. Abuse isn’t a conflict; abuse is abuse. Furthermore, I understand that we often operate where there are many people who aren’t believers and who aren’t the least bit interested in handling conflict like a Christian i.e. the workplace, the country club, the school. What I am about to say applies first to conflict between Christians both in the church and as we interact with fellow Christians in a variety of settings.
How do we deal with conflict like Christians?
I CAN CONFRONT YOU.
It is Biblical to confront a conflict. Scripture gives us the blueprint for dealing with a conflict among believers….
““If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15–17, NASB95)
Notice the three fold process outlined here. First, there is an individual one-on-one face-to-face meeting. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, then the offended party takes another person or two with them so that the issues can be made clear and worked through as brothers and sisters in Christ. Finally, if these first steps fail, the issue is taken to the leadership of the church. Please note, at every point along the way, the goal is reconciliation with our fellow Christian. The point is never to be “right” or to “win.”
I CAN FORGIVE YOU.
It is just as Biblical to choose to forgive the person without a confrontation…
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32, NASB95)
Probably in the majority of instances, this is the best decision. Choose to forgive and move on. Don’t confuse a lack of confrontation with forgiveness. Most of the time, we don’t confront AND we don’t forgive – resulting in unspoken bitterness, division, and anger. Think of it this way: If I choose not to confront, then I am making the decision to forgive and move on.
I CAN BEAR WITH YOU.
Sometimes a conflict happens and we say, “I guess they were having a bad day” or “They are a wonderful person but this happens sometimes.” That communicates bearing with another person. It’s Biblical to do that too.
“bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” (Colossians 3:13, NASB95)
Bearing with a person means that we simply recognize they are a broken human being like we are and we give them some grace. After all, each of us has been given much grace on many occasions by many people. Bearing with a person says, “I give grace because I have been given much grace.”
I MUST LOVE YOU AND PRAY FOR YOU.
This is maybe the most difficult one, but it is absolutely necessary….
““You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:43–44, NASB95)
Don’t tell everyone else, tell Jesus on them! If there is a conflict between us, I don’t have to be your best friend, but I do have to love you and pray for you. Over the years, I have found that it is extremely difficult to talk badly about someone I am praying for. Think about it.
Let me conclude this post with several observations and exhortations…
1. As a Pastor, one of the greatest needs I see among Christians is to learn to handle conflict as Christians should. Conflict is inevitable in all churches. The difference in churches is how they handle their conflicts. When a church member comes to me and they are offended at a staff member or another church member, I always ask “Have you talked with them before you came to me?” In 25 years as a pastor, the answer to this question in 95% of the instances has been “No.” Think about that statement and let it sink in.
2. As Christian parents, we have an obligation to model for our children how to handle conflict. Our kids are learning from us. Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who works at a Christian school. She said, “When their kids are unhappy, people don’t act like Christians.” Sad but true. When there is the inevitable teenage drama, many parents get involved and act worse than the kids. Make no mistake, our kids are learning from us. The question is what they are learning.
3. Have a big “so what” box and use it every day. You know what goes in the “so what” box? The stuff that’s not worth fighting over. The stuff that is not worth being upset over. By the way, that’s a lot of stuff. When something comes up, just learn to say “so what” because it really isn’t the end of the world. A big “so what” box is a big key to a healthy home and healthy church.
4. “It’s a mighty thin pancake that doesn’t have two sides.” Adrian Rogers said that one time, and I’ve never forgotten it. There are almost always two sides to every situation and that friend of yours only gave you one of them. Be careful when engaging in conflict based on information from only one person or one side.
Finally, writing this blog post has been a reminder for me. Certainly, I have not always handled conflict in the best way. We have all made mistakes. We cannot go back and change how we have handled anything in the past. We can decide right now how we will handle the inevitable next conflict that will soon come. May each of us determine in our hearts that we will handle it according to scripture and in the spirit of Christ.