My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Jeremiah 2:13
Most of the conflict we experience in life comes from our selfish desires and our insistence on our own way over and against others. So, we are poised to pounce on one another to get our own way, while our Lord looks sadly at our pettiness and calls us to walk above it. But, do we listen? Desiring something is not necessarily wrong, but when we do not trust our Lord for it, then we have a problem. The Bible calls us to come before a Holy God by what Christ has done, resulting in a fountain of Living Water, which is our Lord. We are to rely on Him and not on our inclinations. When we do the latter, conflict is sure to erupt. When we walk in faith and realize our position before our Lord Jesus Christ, then we will bypass our self-will and yield to His.
We need to understand how evil we are when we fight with one another because of our personal agendas and desires! It is God alone who provides us the Living Waters. So, why do we persist in digging our own wells, only to bring up dirt that is useless and worthless? Remember, Jesus IS the Living Water!
Jesus answered her, If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. John 4:10
We can earn nothing on our own; our salvation is a gift from God, so our behavior with one another must reflect this undeserved, free gift. The free does not mean we can engage in war with one another; rather, we are to pursue peace and love.
So, what do we do?
How can we restrain our desires to manipulate, control, and to be aggressive, and repair relationships instead? Simply by realizing whom we are before a Holy God and the undeserving gift that is ours! Primary conflict is in us, so we need to control the sin that encroaches us-something Cain failed to do. We must discern between what we desire and what is provided to us. We need to discern between our goals and what the will of the Lord is. We need to discern between what we want and what God wants! Then, the conflicts and diseases of distraction that lead to relational destruction will cease! Our Lord has already won the ultimate conflict of good vs. evil, of rebellion vs. sovereignty.
Remember, love covers a multitude of sins; so what shall we do? LOVE! Love with the love that Christ had for us when we did not deserve it, and with the response of the love we should have for each other. Jesus let go of His place with the Father-something of which we cannot conceive. He gave up a precious position for the mission of redeeming us. If we pursued the model that Christ laid before us, how much conflict would we have? Practically none! How could we fight with one another when we are focused on our Lord and the interests of others? How can we carry on conflicts with one another when we take a deep, introspective look into our desires and compare them to the Scriptures? Our focus must not be in our self-awareness, but on what Christ has done, and use that as a template for our behaviors and actions! By being a true example of our Lord, we will neutralize most conflicts. When self-desires are focused on our Lord, intrapersonal conflict will be dissolved; so, there will be no conflict with self-desires. Interpersonal conflict will cease because we will be a community of Believers on the "same page," especially because we will have the interests of others in mind and be willing to follow the biblical precepts to solving conflict. So, we are left with substantive conflicts between beliefs. When we are a community of Believers with a high view of the Scriptures, then we will eliminate most of those conflicts. Therefore, the conflicts will be between Believers and aberrant cult groups, and the minor theological distinctions can be on an "agree to disagree" venue. This may sound utopian and unattainable, but it is Christian community in its true, called action!
Problems do not have to Ruin your Life
Problems do not need to take you over or skew the purpose and direction of your call or your church. We all have the power to make the determination that we will not let the trivialities of life derail us from who we are in Christ and His purpose for us. Most conflict is trivial, but we are never to approach it as trivial. It is to be taken seriously so it can be resolved and the more important things in life can be pursued. We must also use this process to learn more about the other person and ourselves, to learn how to better our character and maturity and our relationship with God. See challenges as opportunities to learn and grow in His presence and His Fruit.
By following a few simple ideas from the precepts of His Word, we can save ourselves a lot of pain and hurt, and drastically improve our relationships. Just understanding the other person will do wonders for relationships and our church! The focus is what we talked about in the first chapter with fullness and the Kingdom of God. The relationship is the priority, not the material goods or desires that may come up. When we are operating our lives in God's parameters, we are glorifying Him, building His Kingdom, and living in fullness. When we are steeped in our pride, we are destroying our relationships and bringing shame to His church. Why would we want to do that and take on all of the bitterness, resentment, hurt, and frustration in life, when we can have so much better?
Remember this very important fact; unresolved conflict costs much more than the cost to resolve it. In fact, not to manage conflict will result in enormous cost in your relationships, workplace, and church. It will cost you money, time, lost productivity, shattered relationships, lost children, dissolved marriages, bad decisions-and it can literally kill and destroy you and all that you know. It could have been turned around, but nobody wanted to bother with it! Do not let this happen to you, your family, your friends, your coworkers, or your church!
Remember, conflict may be a good plotline for TV or the movies, but not for your life! Be the person who wants to understand the love of God and allow His love to transform you and all of your relationships!
Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation-but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Romans 8:12-14
Have a Contract with the Congregation
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:29-32)
Accountability is the key to preventing conflict. Most people and church leaders do not like to confront (and I'm definitely one of them), but it is a necessity for a healthy church. The biggest reason why people do not like to confront is fear…fear of the consequences that it will blow up in our face, fear of losing the relationship, fear of being misunderstood in what our motives are, fear of hurting the feelings of others, and fear of being the "bad cop." So, why are you afraid? When we have a plan that is endorsed by the leadership and then communicated to the congregation, then the fear shall fall. Our fears will turn to the love of the duty. We still may not like it, but it is a chore that can be done without the fear and intimidation with which it is associated.
One of the best ways to prevent conflict is to have a contract with the congregation. All you need to do is draw up a form that everyone agrees to sign. Keep it simple and straight forward, laying out the responsibility to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and to model His character so gossip and slander will not be tolerated. Then, describe the conflict resolution process and the Scriptures behind it. Some congregations have their vision on it too, although this should only be done if the vision is Scripture-based, and not personality driven. Learning to control conflict is a key aspect of leadership. Having a process to deal with conflict is key to a healthy church. This will eliminate most, if not all, conflict as long as the church leaders are following it too.
The next step in preventing conflict is to create a church environment that fosters encouragement and growth. This will mute most grounds that start conflict. The pastor should be open (to a degree) to their failures and the congregation should be accepting. Then, the spirit of humbleness will overtake pride, the main instigator of conflict. Being open about our failures will encourage others to be so that when someone is going through a tough time, he or she can feel secure in the knowledge they are not alone.
This is a delicate process, because human pride and our sinful nature will take a person's openness as a weakness and a sign to attack like a predator devouring a wounded animal. Christians have the habit of "shooting their wounded." So, we need to take this in baby steps, and be discerning on how and what we do share. I have seen too many good pastors torn down by ravenous congregations, because they sensed blood in the water, and not the hope of Christ.
We need to communicate those attitudes of love and care to the people God has entrusted to us so we will make disciples of Christ and not sharks looking for a meal. We can do this by giving praise and encouragement whenever possible, both publicly and privately. Encouragement goes to those who we feel are biting our hand, the people who do not show love themselves and may seem undeserving because, in God's eyes, so are we! We are to give encouragement to people of and with different opinions and perspectives, at the same time keeping them on the biblical track (Remember the Priesthood of all Believers!). We must be encouragers to all the people, not just those whom we like, and it cannot be phony. It must be real in our hearts; if not, we are in the wrong business! So, get your relationship with Christ right first; if you cannot do so, then seek help. The church does not need phonies; people will see right through you, and your effectiveness will be more negative than positive for the kingdom of God.
We need to be on the lookout for bad attitudes and get to the people as soon as possible with a loving arm of encouragement. Putting out the fires as they begin to smoke will stop the coming war in its tracks. A good leader is diligent and watchful! It is a necessary aspect of leadership to expose the political games people do! We must go to those people, listen to them, and seek to find an answer before they arm for war. "How can we come to an understanding and solution rather than dividing…?" Political coalitions, variant agendas, power struggles and prejudices must be in the gun sites of the leadership! Then, we can have a healthy church, free of conflict, one that is modeling the purpose that Christ has set for us. Then, the witness will be of what Christ has done and not the misguided actions of Christians. Maybe then the Great Commission will be fulfilled!Here is an example of a "contract with the congregation:"
"Having received Christ as my Lord and Savior and been baptized, and being in agreement with the Vineyard's statements, strategy, and structure, I now feel led by the Holy Spirit to unite myself with the Vineyard Church family. In doing so, I commit myself to God and to the other members to do the following:
I will protect the UNITY of my church
"So let us concentrate on the things which make for harmony, and on the growth of our fellowship together." Romans 15:29
"Live in complete harmony with each other - each with the attitude of Christ toward each other." Romans 15:5
"Have a sincere love for your fellow believers, love one another earnestly with all your hearts." I Peter 1:22
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs . . . " Ephesians 4:29
"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account . . .Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be no advantage to you." Hebrews 13:17
(From Vineyard Christian Fellowship of San Luis Obispo, Ca)
Key Passages for Conflict Resolution:
Communication: Luke 15:11-24
Listening: Proverbs 28:13; James 1:19-25; 1 John 1:8-9
Remember you all are Christ's Loved One: 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Break Down the Issue: Matthew 7:12; 22:39; Romans 12:18; 1 Corinthians 13:5; Philippians 2:3-4; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Peter 1:13-14
Commit to a Positive Solution or Understanding: James 4:1-12; Matthew 15:18-19
Understand Forgiveness: Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 43:25; 1 Corinthians 13:5; Colossians 3:12-14
Principle Scripter to How to Understand, Solve, and Prevent Conflict: Genesis 4; Psalm 37:4; Proverbs 3:4-6; 18:13; Matthew 5:9; 7:5; 15:18-20; 18: 15-20; Luke 6:27-36; 19:1-9; Romans 8:28-29; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8; 10:31-11:1; 13; Galatians 5; Ephesians 4:22-32; 5:1; Philippians 2:3-6; 4:2-9; Colossians 1:17-20; 3:12-17 James 4:1-3; 1 John 14:15
© 1989, 1998, 2007 R. J. Krejcir Ph.D., Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development www.churchleadership.org
(More insights on how to resolve conflict are available on Problem Solving)