By Ron Edmondson
I once had conflict with a leader in a church I pastored. We had always been close. I felt I was more than his pastor. He was my friend, but I could tell something was strange about our relationship. I’ve never been afraid of healthy conflict, so I called him and asked for a meeting.
Over lunch, I simply asked him if I’d done something to offend him. I had. It turned out he’d misunderstood something I said. When we were able to discuss the issue, we got on the same page, and our relationship was restored completely. We’re still good friends today.
Whenever people involved, there will be conflict. Normal relationships, even healthy relationships, encounter conflict occasionally. That is true whether the relationship involves family members, friends or co-workers; and even within the church. We are often surprised when conflict develops among believers, but because a church is made up of people, conflict is inevitable at times.
The Bible doesn’t shy away from conflict. We aren’t sheltered from the real messiness of people’s lives. The Bible shares with us the good, bad and ugly of biblical characters, even when they are in the midst of disruptive conflict. Here are seven practical ways to effectively navigate through conflict.
View conflict differently.
Most of us tend to avoid conflict, but if we want to have healthy relationships, we must learn to deal with conflict effectively. In fact, if conflict is handled well, it often can be used for an ultimate good. It strengthens relationships, keeps bitterness from developing, and protects emotions from being battered.
Don’t be afraid of conflict. Even small disagreements can become big disagreements if they’re not addressed along the way. Minor conflict is always easier to handle than major conflict.
We should always look at the “plank” in our own eye before we consider what others have done to offend us. That’s not only biblical advice it is practical advice. People are more likely to respect your position if they know you are humble enough to consider what you may have contributed to the conflict.
Ask yourself how much of the conflict is based on your own personal desires. Many times the things we have conflict about aren’t worth the time we give them. Some issues we take personally aren’t biblical or don’t matter relative to the importance of the relationship.
Understand the conflict.
As in my opening story, many conflicts develop because of misunderstandings. Try to discern the real source of the conflict, especially from the other person’s perspective. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and consider their viewpoint in the conflict before you address the issue with them. Make sure you are addressing the real issues at stake.
Find the right time and place to confront the conflict.
When emotions are high, it’s not the best time to deal with conflict. Personal conflict should never be handled in a public setting. Carefully think through where and when you address the situation. Pray for this meeting and ask God to direct the conversation and season your words with His presence.
Stick to the issue at hand.
Try not to be distracted by side issues, innuendos, excuses or blame casting that tends to complicate issues. Also, do not sugarcoat the conflict in false kindness. Sometimes we fail to address the conflict because we are afraid of how the other person may respond. The avoidance usually causes more and greater conflict.
Work toward a solution.
Never waste conflict, but use it to make relationships better. Ultimately the conflict needs to be resolved with the right solution. There are issues that have biblical or moral consequences or truths attached to them. On these non-negotiable issues, sometimes we simply have to stand our ground. Even these times should be handled with meekness and kindness, but grounded in truth.
As believers, we are called to forgive as we’ve been forgiven. We should never hold a grudge or seek revenge, even when we can’t resolve the conflict. At times, it may be necessary to humble ourselves and sacrifice our personal wishes for the betterment of others and the relationships.
Conflict is a part of relationships.
The more intentional we are at allowing conflict to promote and maintain healthy relationships, the greater our success will be in dealing with conflict. Rather than viewing all conflict as a painful part of life, let’s begin to see it as another way God builds stronger, God-honoring relationships.