I have been in Pastoral ministry for almost 8 years and before that I was in a leadership positions in my other non-ministerial positions that I have held, so I have had volumes of experience in the realm of conflict. Some good, some not so good; however, in life, ministry, employment, leadership, marriage, and parenting it is inevitable that you will enter into a time of conflict at some point along the way.
Jesus Himself said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword (cf. Mt. 10:34).” Part of the Lord’s ministry meant being embattled in the upheaval of tumult and conflict.
Now I will be honest and tell you that I don’t enjoy conflict, I rather detest it (I’d rather wash a 20 lbs alley Cat), but avoiding conflict has ultimately been the great undoing of leaders and churches. I adopt the line of thinking that says, “I don’t like conflict, but I’m not afraid of conflict.” Why? Because at the end of the day—Conflict is Necessary.
Why is conflict necessary? Many reasons, here are a few:
-conflict is needed to solve problems in relationships
-conflict is needed to confront people for their sin/wrongdoing
-conflict is needed in order to establish priorities within a relationship where there is disagreement
So, here are some principles that I have learned along the way to deal with conflict:
1. Confront Using the Biblical Model (Matthew 18:15-20)
Often times people will come to me and say that they have a problem with “so n so” and I will tell them that they need to address the people that they have an issue with. A lot of people either want you to take their side or want you to fight their battle for you. Direct them to Matthew 18 and let them know that they have been offended by another—they need to deal with it themselves and also deal with it directly.
2. Confront Using some Discretion
I think this hearkens us back to Matthew 18:15 “…between you and him alone.” When we deal with problems that we have with one another, the principle here is that we should try to “conceal” what is going on in order to protect our own integrity and also the integrity of the person we have an issue with.
In marriages, I have counseled couples who having strife and the husband or the wife may try to enlist their family in support over and against their own spouse. There may be certain situations that require more people to be involved, but in a situation like marriage—the couple may have their marriages healed, but other family members may hold longstanding grudges because in the midst of conflict there was no attempt at discretion. Also, if you are having marriage problems you need to get the help of a competent marriage counselor, preferably from a Christian worldview.
3. Confront with Truth and Love
This is a very difficult thing to do. Is it scriptural? Yes, but emotionally very hard to sustain. Ephesians 4:15 tells us that we are to be “…speaking the truth in love.” And that means that we are to be open and honest, but the seat of our emotions needs to be done in the love of God, not in self-righteous vindication. So, how do you do that?
This is one that I am still learning and I hope to grow in how I handle it, but my advice is three fold:
a) Pray for your own heart and for the heart of the person you are confronting.
b) If possible, don’t confront if you are emotionally charged up (so this may mean if you are upset about something or with someone, to delay it a few days 48 to 72 hours—just so you have thought through it and prayed about it).
c) Reaffirm you concern for individual and affirm those things about the person that you admire, but nonetheless be direct and clear about the problems that you are having with this particular individual.