Even in the best of relationships, conflict is just a given. Good people who love God and want what’s best can still disagree. And when disagreement goes unresolved, it can erupt into full-blown conflict.
Chances are good that somewhere along the way, as you invest your life in people, you are going to come across a conflict. Either the conflict will happen between people in your group, or it will be a conflict between you and someone in your group. The question is not if conflict will happen, but when it will happen?
Not every conflict is bad.
One thing to keep in mind: Not every conflict is bad. Often God uses conflict to bring us to a place of dependence on Him and increased unity. The early church faced a conflict centered around the feeding of Greek and Hebrew widows (Acts 6.1-6 ESV). This problem ran along a fault line of racial divide that had a long tradition in their culture. The conflict was real, but it provided the church an opportunity to demonstrate God’s grace in a way that was unheard of in that day.
On another occasion, the church experienced a serious conflict wrapped around the basic theological issue of who could be saved. The Jerusalem Council convened to discuss this very serious topic (Acts 15 ESV). Through open discussion and prayerful dialogue, the apostles and church leaders came to a consensus that allowed the Gospel to continue moving forward powerfully.
In each of these cases, there was a conflict that if not addressed properly, would have seriously impeded the growth of the church. And in both cases, God’s grace was put on display in a way that brought unity and hope. God still wants to do this in His church today. Failure to address conflict in a godly and biblical way is one of the main reasons we find churches stuck, and the Gospel stalled. How should you resolve conflict in your group? Jesus speaks about this directly.
How to resolve conflict.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 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. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”(Matthew 18.15-20 ESV).
Jesus laid out a pattern for conflict resolution that is helpful in leading your group. Make sure you don’t ignore the conflict. Burying your head in the sand never resolves anything. Jesus started by saying, “If your brother sins against you….go and tell him.”
Address the problem head on. Acknowledge the offense, but do it privately. One-on-one conversations are the best way to handle sensitive issues. This is where many people get off track. Instead of going to the person who offended them directly, they go to other people and talk about the person who offended them. They may do it under the guise of needing a sounding board or blowing off steam, but Jesus instructs us clearly to go to the person directly. If you are able to resolve the situation between the two of you, then you have “gained your brother.” Unity is restored. Peace is kept.
But what happens when that person will not acknowledge the offense or move toward reconciliation? In that case, Jesus said to widen the circle a bit and take someone else with you to encourage reconciliation. The goal through this whole process is to resolve the issue and restore the relationship.
If the person listens, then the conflict is resolved. If not, then Jesus said, “tell it to the church.” This simply means that at this point, church leaders should get involved, working alongside you to resolve the conflict. When church leaders get involved, it’s their responsibility to seek the Spirit’s guidance as they prayerfully and wisely work through this issue. Jesus promises to give to these leaders authority and wisdom as they decide what is best for all involved.
As you lead your group, God will give you wisdom to resolve the conflicts that might arise. Remember, ignoring conflict is like ignoring a small fire in your house – it never goes away; it only gets bigger! Instead, address it head on, with grace and patience.
As Paul told young Timothy, “…correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction,”(2 Timothy 4.2 NIV). Be sure to test your own motives and look for any “logs” in your own eyes that might be contributing to the problem (Matthew 7.3-5 ESV). Above all, pray for God to use this conflict in a way that demonstrates His grace in a powerful and life-changing way.
This blog originally appeared at Jesus Teaches Us How to Resolve Conflict – discipleFIRST and features an excerpt from one of their books, Invest In A Few.