10 Biblical Steps for Conflict Resolution
Church is family, and families sometimes fight. It’s an unfortunate part of the reality of community life. But when conflict is handled well, it can actually bring us closer together, rather than divide us. So the question is not if we will have disagreements, but whether we will be a healthy family, not a dysfunctional one in how we deal with it. To be healthy we must handle conflict in the Biblical way, and when we do so we’ll find that good can come out of it.
When you find yourself in conflict, the following are the “rules of engagement” at Heritage, as they are derived directly from God’s Word. Follow these steps prayerfully under the guidance of the Spirit.
Surrender to Jesus
The most important thing to do is to put Jesus at the very center of all you say, think and do. Surrender yourself to Jesus in every way. He asks you, “Will you lay down your life for me?” (John 13:38) Bathe the situation in prayer for humility, love, grace, unity, forgiveness, truth. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance at each moment. Pray against the evil one, lies, pride, disunity, division, selfishness, self-deception, unforgiveness. Ask God to give you His heart and to see through His eyes. Pray for the other brother or sister (Luke 6:27).
Humility is the key to conflict resolution. Without humility it’s nearly impossible to resolve conflict. Pride will keep you focused on the wrongness of the other person and your rightness (Prov. 12:15). Pride will cause you to nurse your offense. Pride will blind you to your own contribution to the conflict and keep you from repenting. Remember that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Love and pride do not go together (1 Cor 13:4). So humble yourself under God’s mighty hand (1 Peter 5:6) and watch what He does. Ask, “How can I show humility in this situation, Lord?” If you find yourself stuck in conflict and unable to resolve it, pride on one or both sides is probably keeping you stuck.
Go toward conflict, not away.
In Matt. 5:23-24 Jesus said, “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.” And later in Matt. 18:15-16 Jesus said, “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. 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.”
These two passages are bookends in conflict resolution. If you have something against someone, or they have something against you (the only 2 possibilities), Jesus tells you to go to them. So whatever the conflict, do not hide, isolate, withdraw, assume you’ll get over it, etc. Don’t make up excuses as to why you are the exception to Jesus’ command.
And you should go in person. Do not handle any negative situation by email or text message. It is highly frowned upon at Heritage. It leaves too much room for misinterpretation, and years of experience proves that it rarely ends well. The telephone is an acceptable second choice if necessary.
Be quick to listen.
James 1:19-20 says, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” When you get together, listen. Start by asking, “What have I done to hurt you?” Lead with a question, rather than sharing everything on your mind. This takes discipline, self-control and humility. Be quick to listen! In every conflict there are usually elements of truth on both sides, so identify the true statements, rather than just listening with your mind focused on how to reject the false statements.
Take responsibility for your part and apologize.
Identify your contribution to the problem. What could you have done better? Where did you offend? Don’t automatically jump to defend yourself against misunderstandings or lies. Start with your responsibility and own up to your part. Admit your fault and repent. Again, humility is the key here. Will you humble yourself? Say with sincerity, “I regret that I did that and I’m sorry. Would you please forgive me?” Asking for forgiveness gives the other person the opportunity to respond and presents them with a choice to make. Now pause and listen. And consider that everyone has blind spots. Perhaps you are being confronted with a blind spot, and the very thing that God wants to show you is hidden in the offensive words being shared with you.
Speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15)
When it comes time for you to share your side, speak with kindness. Resist your human nature to vent or retaliate for your hurt. Carefully choose your words so that you communicate in such a way that it helps and does not destroy. Eph. 4:29 says, “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.” It helps to make “I statements” that state “this is how I felt….” Your goal should be to build up, not to tear down.
Col. 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” To “bear with” means to give lots of grace and not to be easily offended. And forgive whatever grievances you have, regardless of how offended you are or how right you are. Release the offense and any debt owed to you as a result. Be good at giving grace.
Restitution is a biblical concept (Exodus 22:3) that says you must make right whatever you have wronged. If you broke something, fix it better than before. If you took something, pay back what was taken. If you told a lie, bring correction to any wrong information you spoke. Ask your brother or sister, “What can I do to make it right?” Then do it.
Get help if needed.
Matthew 18:16 says to “take one or two brothers along” if you cannot resolve it on your own. If you’re stuck, give your Community Group leader a call to ask for help, as they are your first point of contact for support. If you’re not in a Community Group, contact an elder for help. If both parties follow the above steps, I’ve never seen a conflict that couldn’t be resolved.
Walk it out.
Make sure you follow through in a Christ-like way. Don’t avoid the other person from now on, but rather love them and bless them. If you find yourself taking up the offense again, then forgive again, as often as necessary. Don’t talk to other people about the offense or call it a prayer request (Christian code word for gossip.)
Remember, when handled well, conflict can draw people together into a deeper level of love, trust and community. God will use it for good in helping you become like Jesus (Rom 8:28-29). So let God have His way in your troubles, and watch what the devil intended for harm be used by God for good. And “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18).