RESOLVING CONFLICTS AND DEVELOPING HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS
Manly Life Church
Authored by Greg Beech
Called and empowered for healthy relationships
Do you know anyone who doesn’t have conflict in their life? Do you know anyone who enjoys conflict and welcomes disputes?
It’s interesting that we fear something that is an inevitable part of life. Sooner or later conflict will come to every relationship. Conflict occurs because we belong to a sinful, fallen human race. We are all broken to some degree and in the process of being transformed. During the transformation process we will sometimes be reactive and behave in ways (consciously or unconsciously) that may hurt others. Whether it is between husband and wives, parents and children, work colleagues, or members of a church, conflict will emerge at some point.
Every Christian will face conflict and yet very few Christians are adequately equipped to resolve conflict in a healthy way. It is important for all Christians to receive training in effective conflict management. Conflicts can provide unique opportunities for growth, and some of the most valuable lessons you learn will come out of times of conflict.
Someone once said, ‘church life would be so much easier if there was only one person in every church!’ Yet churches can grow through conflict and become more effective in bringing the gospel of peace to the world.
It is helpful to commit to this protocol and the covenant, prior to conflict occurring. It is also important to receive training so that you become an excellent conflict manager and you become an agent of reconciliation.
When experiencing a conflict with another church member we encourage you to enter a healing resolution process, and to do this sooner rather than later. Conflicts don’t normally get better by themselves, and often escalate. It is good to resolve to “not let the sun go down on your anger” and to seek reconciliation before “bringing your offering to God”.
Yet for many people the very thought of conflict evokes feelings of anxiety. One of the reasons we fear conflict is because we have received inadequate training in resolution processes (through modelling or formal training). We may have been hurt or observed others being hurt, and as a result harbour fears of a conflict resolution process. However the non-resolution of conflicts is damaging for all concerned, and when we don’t resolve we lose an opportunity for personal and organizational growth. You can grow in your skills and conflict management can become a strength.
Ongoing, unresolved church conflicts, have negative impacts that reach far beyond the principal parties. Often the respective parties involve groups who are enlisted to support their position and this can ultimately lead to a church split. This is unhealthy and not the way Jesus would like us to respond.
A MODEL CONFLICT RESOLUTION COVENANT
You are encouraged to commit to a conflict resolution covenant as a healthy part of belonging to a church or other organization. A possible covenant could include the following commitments.
- I accept the fact that people are different and will have differences with one another.
- I accept the fact that conflict will be an experience of life and that conflict can be healthy and useful.
- I will seek to be Christ-like in my responses.
- I recognize that avoiding issues or relationships solely for the reason that there may be conflict is not a healthy response.
- I will deal with conflict promptly.
- I will show love, respect and self-control toward the other person.
- I will focus the discussion on issues, relationships, or descriptions of feelings. I will not resort to inappropriate behaviour including, but not limited to:
- Name calling
- Mind reading (attributing evil motives)
- Guilt making (“look how you have made me feel”)
- Rejecting, disparaging, or discrediting another person (rather than the person’s ideas or behaviour).
- When seeking resolution, I will carefully listen and not over-ride or interrupt.
- My attitude will be one of patience, forgiveness and humility.
- I recognize that I will need to change for progress to be made.
- I commit myself to be honest, open, ready to confess my shortcomings, and to empathically understand the other person.
- I will seek to be positive, sensitive and I will ask for God’s empowering.
- I will work towards resolution and reconciliation, accepting differences where appropriate.
- I will not gossip to others.
- I will use threats only where I fully intend to act immediately on the threat, should the conditions for fulfilling the threat be met (E.g., “if you continue….I will take this issue to the Elders for discussion and action”).
- I will not use information from confidential sources, nor indicate that such information exists. (E.g., “some people have said…but I cannot tell you who they are”). I will always allow a person charged with inappropriate behaviour:
- To know who his/her accusers are.
- To learn in detail what his/her accuser’s concerns are
- To respond to those accusers.
- I will pray for myself as well as the other person.
- In seeking to follow the Scriptures, I recognize that it may be appropriate to seek the involvement of a third party.
Steps to Reconciliation
There are numerous ways of conducting a resolution conversation. The following is a guideline.
Before the face-to-face meeting
Seek to reduce any anxious feelings you may have
- Remember who Jesus is and what he accomplished through His death and resurrection.
- Reaffirm who you are in Christ. You are forgiven, a redeemed child of God, a member of God’s family, empowered by His Spirit.
- Repent of any negative attitudes toward the other person, sins of commission and omission, the need to be right, not demonstrating deep love, not putting the other person’s needs ahead of my own etc.
- Remind yourself that you are going to meet with a brother/sister in Christ. You have common ground and the same Father.
- Remember that God is more committed to resolution than you are. His heart is for you to be “one” with the other person.
- Be aware of your feelings and why you feel the way you do.
- Pray, asking for God’s peace.
- Know that you are much loved by God.
- Think about any ‘reactivity’ you are experiencing and where this may come from.
Commit yourself to Biblical principles
Jesus laid down some explicit instructions for a reconciliation process which we can visualize as sequential steps.
Step 1: “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.
Step 2: But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
Step 3: If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church;
Step 4: and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17). Here you could replace “church” with eldership as representatives of the church. Regarding treating them as a tax collector, keep in mind how Jesus treated tax collectors. He accepted, loved, and helped them transform (See the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19).
Reconciliation as a priority: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
Called to be restorers: My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
Always with humility: Approach the person with humility and gentleness (Galatians 6:3).
Seek help from a church leader or an outside mediator if for some reason you find it difficult to approach the person.
Commit to be a good listener and to adhere to the “resolution covenant”.
Pray, and seek to trust God in the process.
Possible procedure for the face to face meeting
Many conflicts or misunderstanding can be resolved quickly and informally. The following steps present a more formal approach, and are not to be followed religiously, but are a guide.
- Attempt reconciliation privately. Find a place where you can talk together alone and uninterrupted. Don’t talk to other people about the problem you are having with this person but go to the person directly.
- Be committed to really “hear” what the person says. Listening carefully and giving an opportunity for the person to share what is on their heart is essential. Beware of talking too much, and of ‘selective listening’.
- Listen until you ‘experience the other person’s position and feelings’ and can accurately reflect back to them what they are saying and feeling. Be careful to not add or subtract to what they are saying.
- If the conflict occurs in a group setting and you can’t resolve fairly quickly, make a time for a private meeting.
- Build common ground. Remember who you are to each other…brothers/sisters in Christ, members of the same church, both have decided to love Jesus Christ passionately and both are committed to reconciliation, etc.
- List one or several things you wish to clarify or disagree on. Give opportunity to each other.
- Agree on the order in which issues will be discussed.
- Review the procedure for discussion. Make sure that you both understand the next steps. (If you are mediating a resolution process, it is important that you outline this process before the discussion begins).
- Person A begins by stating his/her views in a brief statement while B listens. Before responding, B should summarize in his/her own words what A has said. (If B has not heard A correctly, A clarifies and B restates it again in his/her own words).
After summarizing A’s statement accurately, B makes his/her own statement and A must summarize. Continue like this, back and forth until you feel that you understand each other’s views and can proceed with the next steps.
- Confess your own shortcomings
It is never easy to confess “I was wrong”. Some people find this hard because they fear that if they open up and make this confession it renders them vulnerable to attack from the other person. This of course could happen, but keep in mind that we are called and enabled to do this. How the other person responds is outside your control. When you genuinely confess your sin it helps the other person do the same.
A helpful way to confess:
“I’ve been thinking a lot about our relationship and the Lord has convicted me of my (wrong attitude) toward you and (if it applies) what I have done when I (wrong actions).”
Some possible wrong attitudes are an unforgiving spirit, bitterness, resentment, pride, a critical spirit, a judgmental attitude, a failure to love the person and so on. Some possible wrong actions are ignoring you; avoiding you; talking about you; criticizing you; arguing with you; trying to tear you down; embarrassing you; teasing, annoying provoking you; tempting you; knowing that I have some issues with you but not seeking resolution, and so on.
Do not qualify your request at this point by saying, “Perhaps I have…” or “If I have …” You are confessing a sin that the Holy Spirit has convicted you of, and you should not try to lessen the conviction by getting the other person to minimize your sin or to dismiss it. The other person may have wronged you; but if you reacted wrongly in attitude or in action, you should confess your sin and let the Holy Spirit convict the other person of his or her sin.
Continue by saying:
“I have asked God to forgive me, and I believe He has. Now I would ask you to forgive me.”
Use the word “forgive” and urge the other person to say that he or she forgives you if he or she does. The other person may try to play down your wrong instead of taking the responsibility of forgiving you. For example, the other person will say something like “Oh, it’s nothing”. Or, “I’ve done the same thing”. Or, “Never mind”.
You might be able to respond by saying something like this:
“Well, I don’t know how it looks to you, but it is important for me to know you forgive me and for me to hear you say so. If you can forgive me, please say so.” If that person does not want to forgive you, then you could say, “I’m sorry for what I’ve done, and I hope some day you can forgive me”.
The wrong way to confess is to blame the other person or to minimize your sin, by saying things like…
- “I just can’t seem to relate to you.”
- “I acted wrongly; but you had done so and so, and I…” (What you are saying is that the other person is really at fault).
You may not be convicted of any sin, and you may not know what the problem is. If the Holy Spirit does not convict you of anything, continue as follows.
- Ask if you have offended the person in any way.
- If the person says “yes”, then ask him/her to tell you in what way. Be sure to listen and to try to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. Seek some specific areas because it is more difficult to repent of general issues.
- Try to enter the other person’s world – to really understand their point of view.
- If the assessment of the situation is accurate, ask the person to forgive you. A forgiving spirit will usually open the door to powerful conflict resolution.
- If it is not true, state the truth as objectively as you can.
- If the facts are stated accurately but the motive that the other person interpreted in your action is not accurate, tell him/her that you did not intend to leave that impression or had never viewed the situation like that. Promise to be more careful about your actions in the future. Assure the person that you are seeking to act out of the best motives.
- If the person says “no”, ask why he/she thinks your relationship has not been as good as it could be.
- Some underlying problems may be revealed.
- The person may feel that no problem exists. If so, accept that opinion and pledge to love and help one-another.
Another possible approach is to discover what the main interests are, or main underlying concerns that each of you have in this situation. That is, what do you both really desire, not so much focusing on the positions that you may each be taking. List these on paper in a few words. “What do we really want in this situation?” Then you can search for ways to meet each other is seeking. Find at least two for each and preferably more. That is, begin with person A and try to think of several different things that B could do or say that would satisfy A’s main concern. Then do this for B. List these out on paper.
It may be helpful for each person to state:
- Her/his ideal solution
- What she/he can live with
- What she/he cannot live with.
Pick out the best solutions and put together a plan of action that you both feel comfortable with. State this as precisely as you can. Who will do what and when? Writing it out helps you gain clarity.
- If another Christian has sinned against you, express your feelings to that one in a spirit of love (Matthew 18:15-17; Galatians. 6:1).
- Do not ignore the problem. The tendency is to let it go. If you ignore the problem, you are not actively ensuring “that no one misses the grace of God …” (Hebrews 12:15). By facing the problem, you may help the other person grow and develop in Christ and you will be a peacemaker. That person may not be aware of the problem or may not know anyone else is aware of it.
- How many times should you seek reconciliation? As many times as you can provided the person will listen. This may depend on the sin involved but we would recommend you go a number of times (70×7?).
- If your private appeal does not effect reconciliation, ask another understanding, mature, compassionate Christian to help you to seek reconciliation.
- If you have attempted to resolve but have been unsuccessful, it is recommended that a third party or mediator be called in. This person will be an objective presence in the discussion and may not even be member of the church. It is wise to seek your leader’s advice about a suitable mediator.
If an unresolved conflict is between two leaders church leaders are encouraged to engage a professional, external mediator if necessary.
There may be an issue that you just can’t seem to resolve. After you have attempted privately to do so, you may need to ask a church leader to assist. Only do so with the permission of the other person.
If the matter still cannot be resolved, there is a possibility that the congregation should be involved in the attempt to bring about reconciliation.
This step, depending on your church structure, may involve communicating the situation to the church Elders. The Elders will make a decision about how the situation can be handled.
Even this final effort may fail, and alienation may still be a reality.
It may be necessary for you and the rest of the congregation to accept the fact that, by their attitude and their refusal to be reconciled, they have isolated themselves from you and from the congregation. However, the Scripture is clear that your attitude should continue to be one of deep concern, love, and a desire to restore fellowship between you and a Christian brother or sister.
- It may seem like just too much trouble. Why bother, after all it’s just a conflict between two people? Some people decide to withdraw and leave the group. This is a sad and unhealthy response.
- Examine prayerfully all the relationships in your concentric circles of influence. If you have not already done so, make a list of all the people with whom you need to seek reconciliation.
- Use this guide to bring about reconciliation, with the most difficult relationship first. It is usually better to start with the most difficult one first and solve it and then move on to the others which will be much easier.
- Continue to seek reconciliation until …“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
- Resolve to accept people. Accepting that others will often legitimately see things very differently to ourselves is an indispensable aspect of conflict resolution. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7).
What if I hear of two other persons in conflict?
- Encourage them to approach each other as soon as possible – at least within a week. If not then ii).
- Offer to accompany them to see the other person (within a week). If not then iii).
- Ask the person to talk with a Pastor or Elder within a week. Check with them to ensure they have done this. If not then iv).
- Remind the person that they are not to talk or gossip about this if they choose not to act on any of the steps above.