|Conflict Provides Opportunities!This article was orginally printed in the October 2000 issue of Alliance Life (a publication of the Christian & Missionary Alliance church) and is reprinted by permission.by Gary D. Friesen
The way to conflict resolution is through repentance, confession and forgiveness.
In this foundational peacemaking resource, Ken Sande describes the powerful biblical principles you can use to resolve conflict. Download Chapter 1 for FREE!
Jake sat in silence, staring at the phone on his desk. How was it possible that all his recent conversations with Stephen ended in terse disagreement?At first he had been excited when he and Stephen were named to co-lead the church building program. Although relatively new to the church, Stephen seemed like a gifted, gregarious man, and this project appeared to be the perfect opportunity to get to know him better. After a month Jake wondered if anyone could work with this man. How had he achieved any success in his business? How could his wife even tolerate him?
A Personal Slam
Jake reviewed the conversation. He had phoned Stephen to set up a meeting to review some just-completed architectural drawings. Although Jake had tried to keep the conversation focused on setting a meeting time and place, as usual Stephen was not content unless he could provide immediate and detailed comments on each drawing. When Jake reiterated their need to meet that evening, Stephen exploded, “You never take the time to listen to me! Aren’t we supposed to work together on this?” Jake heard the receiver slam in his ear.
What really grated on Jake was the way Stephen always made sarcastic jabs at his opinions, or his pastor’s, or the views of anyone else who disagreed with him. Stephen repeatedly reminded the building committee that he had been involved in two other successful church building programs, alluding to his key role in their success.
These thoughts troubled Jake all morning. By lunchtime he was eagerly looking forward to discussing this with his close friend, Peter, during their weekly noon-time run.
Peter listened intently as Jake, between labored breaths, described his relationship with Stephen. When Jake finished, they ran in silence for a few minutes, side by side on the park running path. After a group of joggers had passed, Peter quietly asked, “Could Stephen be right about the way you have responded to him?”
After a moment that was punctuated only with the sound of running feet and measured breathing, Peter went further, “Jake, you have several choices in responding to your conflict with Stephen. You could ignore it, you could quit, you could try to get Stephen to quit, or you could even give him a piece of your mind. But what response would please and honor God?” Rounding a bend, Peter asked, “In other words, what could God be teaching you through this conflict? What could God be teaching Stephen through you?”
On Second Thought . . .
Jake had never stepped back and thought about the situation in those terms. As he and Peter cooled down after their run, Peter grabbed his Bible out of his car and turned to First Corinthians 10:31-11:1. He showed Jake the three opportunities available in every conflict: to glorify God, to serve other people and to grow to be like Christ. “For example, Jake, how many people are affected by how you respond to this conflict?” he asked. Jake quickly responded, “Stephen and me.” But then he thought of his wife, Stephen’s wife, their families, the other church leaders and their pastor.
Peter went on, “You have a golden opportunity to glorify God, serve Stephen and the others you mentioned and grow to be more like Christ. Why don’t you think and pray about this passage? I’ll give you a call tonight.”
For the remainder of the afternoon, Jake wrestled with his feelings about Stephen. He believed that he got along fine with just about everyone. Surely it must be Stephen’s problem that they always ended up in conflict. On the other hand, he was painfully aware that he could be overcontrolling and tended to focus more on process than on relationships. He told himself, however, that these were the qualities that made him a gifted engineer.
When Peter phoned that night, Jake again expressed his frustration and anger toward Stephen. “Peter, sometimes I think this is something that I should overlook, but our conflict is not going to go away; in fact, it only seems to get worse. On the other hand, every time I think of discussing the problem with him I get angrier. What should I do?”
What Would Please and Honor God?
Peter told Jake that his reactions and feelings were natural and even understandable. He explained that when we are in conflict our tendency is to focus on the other person and the wrong things he has said or done. He reminded Jake that Jesus asks us to approach conflict from a radically different perspective. He asked Jake to look up Matthew 7:3-5. There Jesus tells us first to examine our own wrong actions and words, taking full responsibility for them through repentance and confession, and then to talk to the other person about his harmful actions and words.
“Jake, have you thought about what you may have said or done to Stephen that was not pleasing to God? For example, we have talked before about how you sometimes hurt people because you are so task-oriented. Occasionally, you are abrupt and controlling without even thinking about it. Could you have treated Stephen that way?”
Jake groaned. “My wife challenged me again last night about the way I spoke to my kids. Peter, I can think of several times I must have hurt Stephen. Even worse, I’m sure that there were other times when I didn’t even realize I was hurting him.” Jake paused, “But, what about Stephen? He has something to do with this mess. Who is going to make sure he takes some responsibility? Would you talk to him for me?”
Peter chuckled sympathetically. “You should be the one to talk to Stephen, not me. Remember Matthew 18:15? If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. And you’re not responsible for Stephen’s actions—he is. You’re responsible before God only for your words and actions. That’s why God asks you to confess your wrongdoing to Stephen first, before approaching him about his. Are you willing to do that?” Peter then explained what he had learned about making an effective and meaningful confession.
Take the Initiative
After their phone call, Jake spent time in prayer seeking God’s forgiveness and asking Him for humility, grace and a clearer understanding of his own sinful contribution to the conflict. Then, he picked up the phone to call Stephen.
“Stephen, this is Jake. Do you have a few minutes? I’ve been thinking about our working relationship and I’ve realized that I haven’t treated you as I would like to be treated. There have been several instances, including this morning, when I cut you off, failed to listen to you and tried to control the building project my way rather than consider what’s important to you. I’m sure I must have hurt you with the things I said and did. From now on I will try to change. Could you help me by letting me know when I start acting that way? Would you forgive me for treating you disrespectfully and not listening to you or allowing you to give your input?”
This story demonstrates the power and significance of responding to conflict God’s way. During my years at Peacemaker Ministries, I have counseled, mediated and arbitrated in a wide variety of disputes, from those between a man and wife to the most complex and contentious disputes in a business or church. In each case, the turning point toward lasting resolution came when individuals took responsibility for their own actions through repentance, confession and forgiveness.
At Peacemaker Ministries we are helping Christians learn to view conflict from a biblical perspective. The Bible’s approach to resolving conflict can be summarized in four steps called the Four G’s: Glorify God; Get the log out of your own eye; Go and show your brother his fault; and Go and be reconciled. As you study and apply God’s peacemaking principles, you can look forward to finding lasting solutions to the most serious conflicts, experiencing significant personal growth and deepening your relationship with God and others.
Gary Friesen is an attorney serving as the Executive Vice President of Peacemaker Ministries. He is a Certified Christian Conciliator and has advised numerous churches, schools and foundations on how to respond to legal conflicts and develop conflict resolution systems that incorporate both biblical and legal safeguards. As the former director of the Institute for Christian Conciliation, Gary oversaw the development of the ICC advanced training programs, including the Certification Program for Certified Christian Conciliators.