To begin the discussion on conflict management, we must analyze where conflict comes from. It seems to be inevitable in human interactions to get conflict. Once we understand what it is that initiates conflict, we can look at ways to prevent it. James 4 (verses 1 through 6) tells us, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.””
Three main causes come to my mind when it comes to conflict. The first is communication. My father used to say, ‘Speak so clearly that you cannot be misunderstood,’ knowing that this seemingly is impossible. We are to speak the truth, clearly, and listen to each other carefully. Yet, we still find ways of misunderstanding each other, which leads to conflict. The solution to this is to keep working on communicating clearly, giving details until the other person understands completely, and to listen carefully, asking questions until you completely understand. The second is assumptions. We know the saying, ‘making assumptions makes a ___ out of you and me.’ Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are making assumptions. To solve this problem, we need to ask ourselves if we really know all the information and context. If we do not, then we need to ask the other person clarification questions. Quite often there is far more to the situation than meets the eye. The third cause of conflict is personality. Sometimes the way a person acts or responds is either not what you are used to, or grates against your own personality. As a Christian, we have no right to judge a person for their personality, but must give grace and see them as unique individuals that are also made in the image of God. Again, there may be underlying issues that have made them like they are. Until you get to know them, you are not able to help them in the way that they really need, so you must give them grace.
Working through conflict that has already developed is something that no one really likes to do, but the Bible gives us a clear direction in finding a solution that helps everyone ‘win.’ Matthew 18 (verses 15 through 20) lays out a four-step process to take people through when there is individual conflict involving sin. If a person sins against you or offends you, first go and talk to that person one on one. Do not go talking to other friends about it first as this is gossip! As hard as it is to confront someone about sin or offense, lovingly talking with them, taking the effort to deal with it quickly, will create a stronger bond of friendship between you. Most often, this is where the process ends. If it does, this is the least painful solution. Should the person not respond, or responds negatively to this step, then you are to take one or two unbiased witnesses to verify that you are seeking the truth and reconciliation. This involves more people, which always makes things more ‘messy,’ but may be a necessary step to resolving the issue. Should this step still not resolve the problem, then you are to take it to your spiritual leader. This could be a pastor of your church, or the head of your family. This step makes the matter more public, and is a serious step that must not be taken lightly. Pushing an issue ‘under the rug’ is never a good option, but taking this step must be prayerfully and carefully considered. The spiritual leader would then intervene as a mediator. If this step does not work, the final step is to treat the person as an unbeliever. Keep in mind that this is the final resort, and has to do with sin. The reason for this step is that the person is unrepentant of sin before God, and therefore is living as an unbeliever. So, what does it mean to treat them as an unbeliever? It means that we seek any means necessary to love them and win them over to the Lord. It also means that we do not give them any position of influence or spiritual responsibility. Sometimes, it means not allowing them at church services for a period of time, until they repent and seek reconciliation. This is for the purpose of reducing the negative influence they could have on other believers. It must be made clear to all involved at this point that the purpose is to see them reconcile and come back to church again.
May this help you as you deal with inevitable conflict in your life. I pray that all your conflict may be resolved in one on one interactions. Let us also be mindful of how we respond when others confront us with sin or offense. May the mind of Christ our Saviour live in us each and every day.