During the summer months of 1998 I served as the Interim Preaching Pastor of an English speaking international church in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. As part of a series on the beatitudes, I taught on the topic of conflict resolution and it quickly became the most requested tape in the ten-year history of the church. Why? I believe that people are hungry for training in the basic skills of conflict resolution. Following are some basic biblical concepts and principles that will help people to be intentional about speaking the truth in love.
“And I say to you that every careless word that [people] shall speak, they shall render account for in the day of judgment.” —Matthew 12:36
Good Communication within the church conveys accurate information and gives an opportunity to correct misinformation. It is as necessary to the healthy function of a congregation as the circulatory system is in our bodies. Conflict, it should be noted, is also a normal experience in congregational life. When conflict occurs, it demands immediate attention. Conflict that is not attended to immediately is like a neglected infection, and sooner or later it will engulf the entire organism.
Following are some Bible passages that instruct us in the use of our tongues:
- “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle.” –Psalm 39:1
- “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” –Proverbs 12:18
- “He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles.” –Proverbs 21:23
- “Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceit; with his mouth one speaks peace to his neighbor, but inwardly he sets an ambush for him.” –Jeremiah 9:8
- “If anyone thinks himself to be [Godly], and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” –James 1:26 (See also James 3:3-18)
Towards a definition of gossip: Sharing anything about someone, when the act of sharing it is not part of the solution of that person’s problem.
The problem with “taking up an offense”: Sharing our hurts and bitterness and listening to others share theirs is an area where we need to be very careful. For example, if someone is rude to your best friend and your friend shares and “leaks” their hurt on you, then you might be tempted to “take up an offense” on their behalf; which means that you get hurt too. What can happen is that when your friend and the other person resolve their conflict – forgive and forget, you’re still bitter!
Towards a definition of a “wise counselor:” Proverbs 11:14 declares, “There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors.” Sometimes “getting counsel” is merely a pretense for gossip. What is a “wise counselor”? First and foremost a wise counselor is someone who is mature in the Lord and who will exhort you top Godliness and reconciliation. Secondly, one who is willing to point out your sin in the situation, and who will not repeat the matter or be stumbled by it. And thirdly, one who is seeking God’s will over-and-above your desire(s). It should also be noted that we can pursue counsel without revealing the name of the person we’re having a problem with.
Guide lines for resolving conflict: Biblical guidelines for resolving conflict can be found in Matthew 18:15-20. If we are offended or encounter a Christian in obvious sin, we are to go to that person in private, in order to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15a). Following are some further tips to effective communication and conflict resolution:
Roadblocks to good communication & conflict resolution:
- Lack of openness to dealing with conflicts.
- The inability to determine the real issue.
- The use of manipulation in order to get one’s own way; there are 4 common forms of manipulation:
- Flattery – A distortion of something truthful with an ulterior motive in mind.
- Fear – A strong emotion which can be evoked in another in order to control his or her behavior.
- Guilt – A judgment which arouses feelings in another which support a sense of obligation to yield.
- Hurt – A statement designed to penetrate a vulnerable area which would debilitate another.
- The use of “mind reading” – which is the erroneous assumption that one can know what another is experiencing.
- Uncontrolled anger – Anger is a secondary emotion. We need to ask, what is the primary emotion? Hurt? Fear? Or, frustration?
A Model For Good Communication & Conflict Resolution:
Prepare for resolution by setting a time and a place to discuss the conflict. In a rational climate, decide who “owns” the problem (that is, who is most affected by it?).
- Phase One – The person most affected by the conflict should begin this phase, using the following steps as a guide:
- Determine what the real issue is and state it clearly; allow time for feedback and clarification.
- Share your thoughts about the issue; allow a time for feedback.
- Share your feelings about the issue (feelings are neither right nor wrong – they just are! Share them without making a judgement); allow a time for feedback.
- If, as a result of your conversation, you believe a change is required, then suggest possible alternatives that (in your opinion) may resolve the issue; allow time for feedback and be sure the other person clearly understands.
- Phase Two – The respondent should take the lead, using the same steps as above for a guide; remember to allow time for feedback!
- Phase Three – Negotiation
- After the real issue has been defined and both people have had an opportunity to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas for a possible solution, then they may negotiate together toward a mutually satisfactory solution.
- After a dialogue of this nature, you may not have to negotiate for change’ the mere fact that you have had this opportunity to share may clear-up the issue or conflict.
- On the other hand, you may not be able to resolve every issue the first time; that’s okay – set another time to continue the process.
“Most of us, looking back, would admit that whatever we have achieved in character we have achieved through conflict; it has come to us through powers hidden deep within us, so deep that we didn’t know we had them, called into action by the challenge of opposition and frustration. The weights of life keep us going.”