Imagine a world without conflict. Two political candidates bound onto the stage in front of a throng of adoring fans. The ensuring debate is not filled with passive-aggressive banter, sound byte platitudes, or disagreements over differing policy statements. In a world without conflict, there is no war, terrorist activity, racial tension, or crime—no arguments about the definition of marriage or women’s right to an abortion. These matters are a thing of the past.
This is not our world, though, and it never will be. Life after the Fall is fraught with conflict, a reality Cain and Able made quite clear. Sinful people (that’s all of us) are born into a world filled with conflict. And, sadly, we all contribute to that conflict every day. Christians, even church leaders, can’t escape conflict, so we better learn how to navigate it.
An all-too-common case study
At a local Christian college, a group of buddies dream about planting a church together one day. They love Jesus and His church, and long for the day when they will lead God’s people in mission together. Fast-forward to their church’s first anniversary. They’ve done it! Together, these brothers have seen the lost saved, disciples made and a church established.
Yet, the good news of Jesus models and empowers God’s people to fight in a counter-cultural way. We can love, forgive and serve—even our enemies—because that is what God has done for us in Christ.
But all is not well. Their once rock-solid friendships are now tension-filled, and strained. No one can quite remember how it all started—perhaps it was that snide comment in a meeting, a disagreement over how to handle some critical decision, or an oversight that rubbed one of them the wrong way. That singular episode, compounded by numerous others like it, and accentuated by the stressors of church leadership, now poses a grave threat to the church’s health and, more importantly, to the friendship of these brothers. Often, the church plant implodes and relationships are permanently destroyed because God’s people do not know how to fight well.
Jesus, and the biblical writers, knew that conflict was inevitable. Yet, the good news of Jesus models and empowers God’s people to fight in a counter-cultural way. We can love, forgive and serve—even our enemies—because that is what God has done for us in Christ.
We are commanded act privately, intentionally and lovingly instead of harboring anger and resentment, questioning others motives, or worse—gossiping or speaking evil against or brothers and sisters in Christ.
But this will not happen automatically. Without constant vigilance, we all succumb to the type of pettiness fit for a middle-school cafeteria. We must seek God’s wisdom, and the power of His Spirit, to fight well. Jesus provides a paradigm for handling conflict in Matthew 18.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17 ESV)
Notice that Jesus places the onus of responsibility on the offended party. This person is to seek out his brother, tell him his fault, and attempt to make things right. What would happen if all of God’s people acted on this truth? We are commanded act privately, intentionally and lovingly instead of harboring anger and resentment, questioning others motives, or worse—gossiping or speaking evil against or brothers and sisters in Christ.
A Game Plan for Fighting Well
Let’s quickly apply each of those principles to life in the church. If someone hurts you, offends you, or sins against you it is your responsibility to:
1. Pursue them privately. Avoid the temptation to talk about them to others. Talk to the person first and if that doesn’t bring restoration then, and only then, invite someone else into the process.
2. Address the matter clearly. The sin may be self-evident or you may have a little more than, “it just seems like things aren’t right between us.” Either way, it is on you to act.
3. Speak with grace. Assume that your sin shapes the way you see and respond to this person as well. Your desire isn’t simply to tell them all the things they do wrong, but to win and brother and model the love of Christ.
Conflict isn’t going to end until Jesus returns. In the meantime, Christians, and particularly church leaders, must learn to honor God as we fight well.
Published January 25, 2016