5 Wise Approaches to Handling ConflictBy Eric Posteluk
May 3, 2021
There is one thing that all church planters deal with: conflict. You cannot wage war against Satan’s kingdom, spur believers on toward radical growth, and lead the lost out of the pleasures of sin into the greater pleasures of knowing Jesus – without conflict! It’s coming. Don’t be shocked when it occurs; instead – be prayed up and prepared. You will face conflict with church members, close friends, your spouse, and your own kids. If you handle these God-given opportunities for growth well you will see relationships healed, your church strengthened, and above all – your enjoyment of God’s power and presence intensified for his glory!
Author Ken Sande highlights that we are all inclined toward either being “peace-breakers” (raising our voices and going into attack mode out of anger), or “peace-fakers” (avoiding necessary conflict and harboring bitterness out of fear). Growing up in an intense home while getting into street fights played a significant role in inclining me toward “peace-breaking”. One extreme quickly destroys relationships; the other extreme slowly poisons them. Which extreme are you most inclined to? Both must be avoided! Instead, we must learn to live in the daily blessing of being “peace-makers” (Matthew 5:9). If we aren’t the “peace-makers” in our churches… who will be?
I had the honor of planting Mosaic Community Church back in 2010. Over the years I’ve been encouraged to see Jesus deliver people from addiction, restore marriages, save lost spouses, awaken kids and teens to a passionate pursuit of Jesus, put homeless people on their feet, and deepen our culture of love. But let me assure you that God’s work here has not been without conflict. Often, God’s work here has been because of it. I’ve had to work through many conflicts with many people – sometimes it’s been with the same individuals on multiple occasions over the years. In this post, I want to share 5 wise approaches to handling conflict. These are summaries of the top spiritual principles God has taught me since I’ve been shepherding His flock at Mosaic Community.
1. Avoid Negative Assumptions
Rather than assuming the worst of people (cynicism), discipline yourself to assume the best of them. Your first impression may be wrong. You may need more information. Remember, only God has perfect knowledge. Jesus said in Matthew 7:12, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” Just like you want others to give you the benefit of the doubt, give them the benefit of the doubt as well.
2. Offer Observations, Not Conclusions
If you have a concern for someone, explain what you observed and then give them the opportunity to clarify what was occurring. Do not approach them with final conclusions about what exactly was happening. And most importantly, do not tell them why they did what they did. Only God knows someone’s motives (1 Samuel 16:7). If you misjudge someone’s motives, you will also misjudge their actions. Allow them to explain the situation from their perspective. You may change your perspective after hearing their side. If you still have concerns, continue to talk through it.
3. Handle One Thing at a Time
When working through conflict, do not continue to bring up more and more issues. This will only end up frustrating the other person and prolong the conflict. Put the most concerning issue on the table and talk through it. Once you both come to terms on that issue, move on to the next. This takes self-control and patience. God doesn’t overwhelm us with our issues; we shouldn’t overwhelm others either.
4. Specifics, Not Generalizations
Do not use generalizations while working through conflict: “You ALWAYS ______,” or “You NEVER _______,” or “You are rude,” “You are lazy,” “You are selfish,” etc. Generalizations give the other person nothing to work on. They only serve to condemn. Instead, bring up specific situations where the person was acting rude, lazy, or selfish, etc. Help them to see how in that specific situation they were acting. This shows where you are coming from and it also gives them something to work on.
5. Wait and Pray
Do not expect the other person to see the concern you have for them immediately. Sin has a blinding effect on all of us (Matthew 7:3-4). It can take time to clearly see what we are doing. Therefore, after you share a concern with a person, be prepared to wait and pray. Don’t demand that they see it exactly how you see it immediately. That is not how God deals with us.
Now, regardless of how well you handle a situation, the truth is that some will still leave your church. Some may never relate to you in the same way afterward. Nevertheless, we must use godly wisdom to work toward spiritual growth and unity among all whom Jesus brings to our church. In the end, we will become more like Jesus! And nothing, not even a conflict-free church, is better than become MORE like Jesus!