Dealing With Conflict While Walking In Love
In one Peanuts comic strip, Lucy demands that Linus change TV channels.
“What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” asks Linus. “These five fingers,” says Lucy – holding up her hand. “Individually they’re nothing” she says but – as she makes a fist – she says “when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.” Linus considers the situation a second – then says: “Which channel do you want?” Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?”
As members of the Church, as brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I are connected to one another through Jesus. Our connection affects and governs our relationships with each other. Here an important point — our relationships with each other affect sour relationship with God.
We can talk a lot about what it means to be “one in Christ” and to “live in love” with each other or what it means to show God’s love to each other and to the world. But the truth is even in the best of churches, there will come a time when we disagree with each other and find ourselves in a conflict with others. If you don’t think that we will ever be in conflict with each other in the church – that there is not conflict in churches – or that – even – there should not be conflict in churches – I have a question for you – What rock have you been sleeping under?
Larry Crabb wrote: “The difference between spiritual and unspiritual community is not whether conflict exists, but is rather in our attitude toward it and our approach to handling it. When conflict is seen as an opportunity to draw more fully on spiritual resources, we have the makings of spiritual community.”
In other words, it is how we handle conflict that determines the level of our spiritual maturity! The truth of the matter is that relationships can be strengthened through conflict! In fact, George Bullard – a consultant with The Columbia Partnership – has written a great book – Every Church Needs A Little Conflict. His whole premise is that conflict is necessary at times as we exchange ideas and dream dreams about what God’s will might be for us as a church. Conflict can be a good thing as we share our ideas – think about why we believe the way we do – and present the case for our position. This can be done – if – and only if — we handle conflicts correctly. What makes or breaks relationships, and what makes or breaks churches, is what they choose to do in conflict. We must learn how to walk in love while dealing with conflict. We have to deal With Conflict – While Walking In Love
This involves three things.
First — We must have the right attitude.
At the beginning of Matthew 18, Jesus sets the stage for His teaching on resolving conflict by saying that we are to become as little children. Granted, . we’ve all seen Christians act like little children when it comes to getting their way, but that is not what Jesus is talking about. Jesus says that we are to humble ourselves like a little child. In other words — we must approach conflicts with humility. To be humble means to bring low – and that is the opposite of what we want to do too many times in conflict. Too many times we seek to exalt ourselves, or to justify ourselves, or to prove that we are right. If that is how we approach a conflict, the conflict will only grow.
When we are dealing with conflict with another person, Jesus says the goal is reconciliation, not justification. In other words, our hope is to mend the relationship, not to choose sides and declare a winner. If only one person wins, everybody loses. We must ask the Lord to search our hearts before we ever deal with a conflict. We must ask ourselves, “Am I walking in and motivated by love?” If not, get your heart right first, and then deal with the problem at hand. We must have the right attitude – am attitude of humility.
So first – we must have the right attitude – an attitude of love. Second — we must have the right approach. Jesus gives us a very simple four step plan on how to handle conflict. A lot of times we make things so complicated, but Jesus makes it simple! We would save ourselves much heartache and would show Jesus to the world much more effectively if we would simply follow the directions!
Here is the 4 step plan Jesus gives us:
A private conversation.
This is where we most often miss the chance at reconciliation right off the bat! What does Jesus say to do? Go to the person who has sinned against you! Go to the person who has made you mad! Go to the person who has upset you! This means that you do not go to our friends, our “inner circle” – and say: “Can you believe what so and so did – Can you believe what they said? I can’t believe they would do that! I can’t believe they would say that! I can’t believe they would be so stupid as to think that way!”
When someone comes to you with a problem about another person, make sure they have talked to the other person. If not, don’t let them gossip to you, but encourage them to talk to the other person. . That is where Jesus said to start.
One way is to start soon after we begin to feel that there is a problem. Don’t put off the conflict for weeks or months in the hopes that it will go away, because it won’t. It will only get worse as the anger and bitterness takes root in your soul. The offense tends to get blown out of proportion the longer we wait to address it.
Another way is to meet face to face.
Jesus said, “Go and show him his fault.”. Anything less than a face to face conversation places a barrier between the people involved.
Then – it is important to affirm the relationship. Let the person know that you are seeking to resolve the conflict, not to assign blame. Let the person know up front how much they mean to you.
It’s also important to make observations, not accusations. That means addressing actions that have occurred, rather than pointing a finger or attacking their character. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. “I feel that you did me wrong” is better than “You are a liar! You don’t care about anyone but yourself!” Address what you have seen, perceived, and felt. Don’t accuse and put someone on the defensive. Take ownership of your feelings.
When you have this conversation, make sure you get the facts. After you make your observations, allow the other person to respond. There may be things that you have misunderstood or not been aware of. Nine times out of ten this is where the problem lies. When the other person is responding, keep your ears open and mouth shut. Don’t interrupt! Let them finish.
Then – try to promote resolution. The point is not to fight, win, or prove someone wrong. The point is to restore trust and harmony.
Now — most conflicts can be resolved in this stage, if we will have the courage and care enough about another person to take that first step. But what if they offender doesn’t want to discuss it or doesn’t want to make the relationship right? Then go to the next step.
2.Take Witnesses. These witnesses are there for the same reason that you are to go in the first step — to bring reconciliation. It is not to gang up on the other person! In fact, we should involve others only when going alone did not bring a healing.
This “other person” should be someone who can help keep emotions in check and help clarify the issues as we work together for a reconciliation.
So – first – have a private conversation. Second – take someone who might help resolve the disagreement. If that doesn’t bring resolution, then Jesus gives a third step – one that is the most drastic.
3. Take it to the church.
The first step here is to gather some wise folks from the Church and let them hear both sides – and again – try to help work out a reconciliation.
OK – so you’ve had the private conversation – brought in another person – and brought in some wise folks from the Church. What if that does not work either?
Sadly, we live in a world where things are not perfect. Some conflicts will not be resolved. Then – and only then – you can move to step 4 – break off the relationship. If you cannot reach agreement or even agree to disagree, then separation is called for. Jesus said to treat them as a pagan or tax collector. Does that mean treat them like scoundrels? No. How did Jesus feel about pagans and tax collectors? Jesus loved pagans and tax collectors. He walked in love with them in the hope of winning them over. If you have someone who refused to be reconciled to you, ask yourself these questions: “Do I long to be reconciled?” “Do I still act in love with this person?” If so, then you are doing your part. It is now up to the other person.
Conflicts will happen. We must learn how we can deal with conflict while walking In love. Have the right attitude – an attitude of love. Have the right approach – using the 4 steps – in their order – Jesus gives us. The result will be the right atmosphere.
When we deal with conflict appropriately, we see positive results in our lives and in our church. We see agreement. Jesus says in vs. 19: “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. We see the Lord’s presence – Jesus says in verse 20: For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Here’s the thing — conflict will come, even in the church. But what are you and I going to do when it comes? We must start by walking in brokenness and humility – having the right attitude. Then – we can go through the process of reconciliation.
Here’s a question for you – Are you walking in love today in your attitude toward others, even those who have wronged you?
Following Jesus’ advice – Have the right attitude – an attitude of love. Have the right approach – using the 4 steps – in their order – Jesus gives us –
going to someone privately – then with someone else – then going to the Church – all with the attitude of reconciliation – then treating them like a tax collector of Gentile – whom Jesus still loved – will help us when conflicts come – and help us be people and a Church who are dealing wh conflict – while walking in love. Amen.