Pastor, as you know, conflict is inevitable. Anytime we submit and surrender to God’s will, we can expect trouble to come. Many times, the trouble comes through people we love and respect as well as through those who are opposed to us.
These realities notwithstanding, we need to be honest and admit that conflict is not just something that happens to us – conflict is also within us. Thomas A. Kempis once said, “No conflict is so severe as his who labors to subdue himself.” It has been said that our flesh, that “old man,” hasn’t moved out; he has just moved over.
Sometimes we’re the cause of conflict because we haven’t communicated well with others or planned things appropriately. Sometimes we’re the cause of conflict because we haven’t done a good job of praying and stewarding the presence of God.
Whatever the cause, it’s important that we see conflict as a blessing, not just a curse. Conflict is an opportunity to demonstrate faith and wrestle with spiritual principalities instead of people. Remember, it’s in troubling times that we’re shaped and conformed to Christ’s image, not times of comfort (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-5, Romans 8:28).
Here are three quick reminders to help us faithfully navigate conflict.
Deal with the conflict sooner rather than later
I’ve learned that conflict, or perceived conflict, left to linger is never good for the souls involved. During the waiting period, Satan has a way of working in conjunction with our flesh to blow the ordeal out of proportion. When this happens, before you know it you are “air fighting.” Air fighting is when you daydream about a scenario with the person that you have a conflict with. Suddenly you’re in a room by yourself giving them a “piece of your mind.” We’ve all been there.
The Scriptures warn us about letting conflict linger. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity for the flesh.” More often than not when we approach the person with whom there is conflict, we discover things aren’t what they seemed. Then we’re left looking like Israel in Joshua 22, who prepared for war against the Eastern Tribes on the basis of a faulty assumption!
Deal with the conflict God’s way
Many times we find ourselves in conflict because we believe that we’ve been sinned against. In that case, the Bible tells us how to deal with it. Matthew 18:15-17 outlines a three-step process for dealing with a person who refuses to repent of a sin. It’s important that we follow God’s steps to reconciliation and peace instead of our own. Often we take matters into our own hands… and things fall apart instead of coming together.
The Scriptures also call us to confront people with gentleness and humility. That’s not to mention that it’s wise for us, before dealing with someone else’s sin or laziness, to deal with our own. We do this by examining our own hearts and taking our mess before the Lord. As we receive grace and forgiveness afresh we can forgive and be gracious to others.
Remember that conflict doesn’t have to be combat
Max Lucado states, “Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.” We don’t have to “fight” with anybody, but as pastors we should not only embrace conflict when it comes, but desire a healthy dose of it. I’ve seen pastors surround themselves solely with men who agree with them. This generally works out well for a while, but hardly ever holds up in the long run. Since nobody gets it right all the time, and because “yes men” are afraid to speak up about the pitfalls they see, failure ensues. As pastors, we need men around us who have the courage and freedom to speak respectfully as they believe. We must yearn for this, knowing that this kind of conflict can bring growth.
It’s also important as believers that we learn not to take conflict and criticism personally as a shot to our ego. The cross of Christ should remind us that we’re accepted, loved, and cherished by the One who matters most: God. Being fully accepted by Him in spite of our sins and shortcomings, we can live with confidence knowing that one day every wrong will be made right. One day we’ll be just as He is, free from sin and conflict.