A speaker disappoints someone by telling a story about the person without permission.
Two people chat about something they dislike about someone else in the church and the word gets back to the person about whom the two had talked.
A member of a Bible study in the group openly and continually criticizes other Christians in other churches in the area.
Two church members no longer speak to each other following a disagreement.
A small group member violates confidentiality and tells someone’s story outside the group.
The pastor’s sermons are seen by some as too long. People feel conflicted. Some say nothing. Some do and nothing changes. Some quietly leave the church.
A church member feels squelched when a leader manipulates the group in a committee or board meeting to achieve the outcome the leader wants.
A group makes a decision but the leader does nothing to make sure that action follows the group’s decision. Hard feelings toward the leader result.
These examples of conflict come from my experience as a pastor. I’m sure you could list your own as well. Conflict in any church, staff, team or committee is inevitable. Sadly, conflict can result in resentment, hostility and even the ending of the relationship and/or members leaving the congregation. But conflict can also lead to deeper appreciation, esteem and respect. Either outcome depends on how the conflict is resolved.
One way to handle conflict is avoidance. One might admit, “The conflict is there but I avoid dealing with it. It’s not worth the trouble. I hope the conflict will simply go away.”
Anger can also result from unresolved conflict. “I distance myself from the person with whom I’m in conflict. I’m angry that I was so belittled. I have to keep pushing my anger away. But sometimes it slips out in my conversations and actions.”
Fighting or “win at all costs” is another way to handle conflict, which usually ends in harming the person or a broken relationship.
Fortunately, there are positive ways to handle conflict. Here are some suggestions:
- We can admit to ourself that conflict exists in the relationship.
- We can pray for God’s help as to whether or not to deal directly with the person with whom you are conflicted.
- If we decide not to go to the other person, it may be because seeing the other person is impossible or unwise. The person may have moved away or have died. Or perhaps dealing directly with the conflict might not be appropriate for a number of reasons where more harm than good might result from such a confrontation.
If this is where we feel we need to be, we can pray for God’s strength to cope in the relationship. We can ask for God’s Spirit to help us deal with our anger quickly and often. We can always pray for God’s peace.
- If we do decide to see the other person in order to resolve the matter, some suggestions are in order:
- Pray for wisdom as to how to approach the other party.
- Write a note to the party asking to meet in person to discuss a possible misunderstanding or difficulty in the relationship. It is not necessary to identify the issue in the note. I’d suggest writing on personal stationery in cursive then mailing the note. I’d avoid texting or email. We can follow the note in a few days with a phone call.
- If the party is not willing to meet, it may be best to do pursue an attempt at reconciliation at this time. We can keep praying for the other person. We can be kind and loving to him or her.
- If the party is willing to meet, here are some helps for us to remember:
- We can thank the person for meeting with us.
- We can use “I messages” vs. “You messages.” e.g., “I sense there’s some difficulty in our relationship;” or “I felt hurt when this happened… A”You message” would start the sentence with “You”, followed by an accusation. Avoid the latter at all costs.
- If necessary, ask for the person’s forgiveness or to be forgiven yourself.
- Keep the relationship in prayer.
However it is said, blessings come when God’s people are one. Maintaining unity takes work that is not easy but important for thriving leaders to function well.
[i] Psalm 133:1 The Message
[ii] Psalm 133:1 NASV