Conflict happens. You cannot always anticipate it, but you know it when you have stepped in it. The temptation is to avoid conflict, but that is a mistake! The key to handling most conflict most of the time is to deal with it head-on and right-away in love. Attempting to avoid conflict only invites more of it into a situation; unaddressed tension festers into the kind of conflict that is harmful to group-life. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5). When group leaders address tension in its brewing stage, it can enrich everyone’s sense of belonging and togetherness.
The most violated principle in handling conflict is probably Matthew 18:15, which says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” The first thing believers are instructed to do when they have a problem with another person is to directly and privately address the matter with that person. People tumble into trouble, and disagreements escalate into tragic relational fractures and fissures when they skip this first step and gossip or stew in their feelings.
We must examine our own hearts before we go to deal with conflict. For example, our motivation is off if what we really want deep down is for the other person to see that we are right and apologize to us for the trouble they have caused. Rather, we want to ‘win over’ our brother or sister for the sake of the relationship…not to ‘win’ an argument for our ego’s sake. We will be better prepared to deal with conflict in healthy and productive ways if we ask ourselves these questions before speaking into tense situations:
Make it your goal to understand where the other person is coming from and what they are really saying. Begin by asking questions to clarify their perspective: “When you say _____, does that mean _____? Am I understanding you correctly?” If you are frustrated or offended, non-defensively share how you are feeling: “I feel _____ when you _____.”
Next, evaluate whether your disagreement is about something essential to your life and faith. In Romans 14, Paul reminds us that there few things that should create division between Christians (vv. 17-19). He also shares what believers should do after identifying differing opinions: Acknowledge the most important areas of agreement and shared goals. This allows people in a dispute to discuss possible solutions, which might entail compromising on negotiable items for the sake of fulfilling God’s purposes for the group (Acts 15:10-11, 19-21, 28-31).
When you feel like you have arrived at a solution, say so. Make sure the other person sees the solution the same way you do and feels that a resolution has been made. Finally, look for an opportunity to seal your conversation and decision through prayer.