What comes to mind when you hear the term Conflict Resolution? Are you someone that runs away from conflict? Or are you the kind that runs head-first towards it? I personally have tended to do the latter – (And by the way, neither of those options is the best choice) You have heard me say many times that spiritual maturity is illustrated through love – love for God and love for others.
I have come to believe our spiritual maturity level is tested – not in whether we understand a Bible verse – but by how we handle conflict. You may be able to dissect a Bible verse and study it in the original Greek, but if you can’t live it out you have knowledge rather than spiritual maturity.
Conflict is inevitable – all real relationship has it. We talk often about the importance of relationship – that we need to make it a priority in our lives. But we don’t often dive into the practical aspect of what that looks like. Conflict resolution doesn’t usually happen organically. We all come from different backgrounds, upbringings and cultures. And we all come equipped with an idea of what it looks like to handle conflict. Maybe in your household growing up it was swept under the rug and not discussed, allowing bitterness and resentment to grow. Or maybe everything was a conflict issue in your home with much loud and lengthly discussion. These two different perspectives alone could lead to relationship struggles between the people that hold them.
Conflict doesn’t usually enter in when relationships are surface and polite. But God hasn’t called us to have surface and polite relationships – he has called us to love one another. And the love that God is talking about isn’t a feeling – it’s a choice. And it isn’t always an easy choice. So when we are committing ourselves to a group of people in a small group we are committing to love them with God’s kind of love. The kind of love that lays down its life for another. The kind of love that doesn’t “take my ball and go home” when conflict arises. Setting up boundaries and rules of engagement in a small group can make all the difference when misunderstanding, confusion, or miscommunication arise, and they will arise.
So today I want to go to Scripture and show you two things that will we can do when conflicts arise that will greatly increase our chances of working through it.
The first ground rule for small group conflict resolution needs to be an agreement to tell the truth to each other when it comes to relationship.
Speak The Truth:
Ephesians 4:25 says “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.”
This is what that looks like: If I feel offended by someone in the group I don’t bury it or respond with ‘I’m fine” – I do the brave thing and talk to the person I feel offended me. That doesn’t mean I stop in the middle of the group time to do so. It means I go to the person outside the group time and say I don’t understand, or I’m disappointed, or I’m hurt. Speaking the truth in love is a vital part of small group relationship. “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” Ephesians 4:15
Jim Putman, author of this blog, is writing a new book called The Death of Discipleship about the dynamics of pride and humility in the discipleship process. Download the free primer for this book here.
The flip side of this comes when you are the one who has offended or hurt the other person and they are speaking the truth to you. If someone is brave enough to come to you and open up about the way they are feeling, you need to be sure you receive it with grace. Don’t take offense to what they are saying or develop a defensive mindset. Let them know that you really appreciate them being open and transparent with you. Tell them your relationship with them is important to you, and you value their friendship. You are trying to create a safe environment where your friend can be honest without fear of retribution or anger. Once he has shared his issue with you, you can either address it in love right then or let them know you will think and pray about it and get back to them.
Use Generous Thinking:
And while we are on the topic of speaking the truth, I want to point out that the voice in our head, our thoughts, aren’t always speaking the truth. There are times when we have thin skin and allow ourselves to become offended by something that was likely not meant to be offensive. This is when we need to take our thoughts captive and use generous thinking. Paul tells us what that looks like in his letter to the Philippians – “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
Here is what generous thinking might look like – when someone does or says something that could be offensive I might think: “Wow – my friend sounded kind of harsh in our conversation today….but I’m pretty sure that isn’t the way he meant that to come across. I am not going to take it personally.” or “My group leader just walked right past me without even acknowledging my presence.. I think he must be preoccupied with something today. I need to check in on him later and make sure he is okay.” Generous thinking means we don’t assume we know what is going on in the other persons head during an interaction with them – if anything, we will assume the best. Developing the habit of thinking through things this way can help circumvent many of the small conflicts that might arise in our day to day lives.
Putting these two ground rules into play will help you maintain and deepen the relationships in your small group. In fact, these are good rules to implement in your relationships in every sphere of life. But please understand that there will be situations where you will do everything you can on your part to resolve, but the other party refuses to move forward and relationship is broken. You are only responsible to do your part and follow what you know God wants you to do to maintain unity. You cannot control or force the other parties to do the same.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18
Written by Jim Putman
This was originally posted on Jim Putman’s blog here. Used with permission.