Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. - Psalm 119:105

Discipleship

Talking your Way out of Conflict

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
Here is a roadmap to help yourself and your church, though the Biblical process of solving problems!

As a pastor, I sometimes get involved with every kind of conflict imaginable, from business disputes, personality clashes, monetary discord, land rights, probate, parent teacher issues, and of course, the most common, marital. I leaned over the years, not so much from my degrees in psychology but, rather, my pastoral experience, how to talk my way out of problems.
Here is a roadmap to help yourself and your church, though the Biblical process of solving problems!
 
             As a pastor, I sometimes get involved with every kind of conflict imaginable, from business disputes, personality clashes, monetary discord, land rights, probate, parent teacher issues, and of course, the most common, marital. I leaned over the years, not so much from my degrees in psychology but, rather, my pastoral experience, how to talk my way out of problems. Being a person who hates conflict, I seek the easiest, most efficient way to put it down. I had to, for the sake of my survival and sanity, figure a way to focus others on the relationship more than the issue. This worked great for many years in pastoral ministry until I came across domestic violence. These other issues were not life threatening, until I came up against people in enraged situations trying to literally kill one another.

 

For some strange reason, a person who hates conflict (me) had the opportunity to be a Chaplin for a Southern California Police Department for a couple years. My role was to ride along with and minister to the officers, and accompany them to the most dangerous police call there is-not bank robbery or dragnets-domestic violence. I spent a significant amount of time in training for this, and as a man of the cloth, so to speak, enraged, fighting couples were more agreeable to settle down without violence in my presence than for a uniformed officer. I had to learn fast-as my life and the officer's life depended on it-how to dissolve violent situations. These precepts, along with my pastoral training and experience, can be of help to you, too.

 

This is not the avoiding of problems, although I have been known to do that, but by carefully listening and coming to a solution to appease the person, the situation can be calmed down so the facts can be evaluated. Then, the concentration can be focused on the building of the relationship. Otherwise, the problem will continue and the retionships will suffer. The most important thing I had to learn is to not take problems at face value so that they overwhelmed me. I had to see the big picture-that God was still sovereign, and this, like any storm, would eventually pass and be forgotten.

 

Most problems seem complex; intertwined with so many people and so much hurt and communication ills, it seems overwhelming and hopeless. But, that is not the case; most problems have just a few simple components to them that can be isolated and dealt with. Even when I arrived on the scene with a man chasing his girlfriend with a knife, I was able to resolve the issue without shooting him. Of course you should never engage in a violent situation without significant training and someone at your side who is armed. But, you can resolve many issues in your life and the lives of others with a few simple hints. If you are not the one to do this, it is OK; most pastors should not; they should refer people with problems that they cannot handle to a good counselor or lawyer. And, with violence or potential violence, always, always call the police; do not take a chance. It is better to have a false arrest than a dead body!

 

Here is a roadmap to help yourself, your church, or a moderator though the Biblical process of understanding and solving problems. This can be easily applied to church conflicts, business disputes, and martial (Proverbs 3:4-6; 18:13; Matthew 15:18-19; 18: 15-20; Luke 19:1-9; 1 John 14:15; Romans 8:28-29; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8; 10:31-11:1; Ephesians 4:22-32; 5:1; Philippians 4:2-9; James 4:1-3):

 

Essential Points to Remember:

 

1.      You are Christ's loved one (2 Corinthians 12:9-10): Do not take the problem as a personal attack, even if it is. You may be a part of the conflict, or a third party trying to resolve it. You are Christ's child; He is your identity and defense! When you understand that, you can better see your role as a relationship builder-even when the other person is seeking to tear you down. This first point has saved me a lot of stress and disappointment!

 

2.      Conflict is an Opportunity (1 Corinthians 6:1-8): It is an opportunity to learn and give God honor. It is not necessarily bad or the end of a relationship. Know for certain that God can use conflict, whether it is sin, bad choices, a wrong turn, or a misunderstanding, and transform it into good if you let Him. God will be glorified, and you will grow in character, maturity, trust, love, obedience, and in faith.

 

3.      Listening (Proverbs 28:13; James 1:19-25; 1 John 1:8-9): The first job is listening, without opening your mouth. Effective listening and getting each party to listen is essential! Until each one listens, nothing productive will happen. People need to be heard; the one who listens earns the right to be heard and resolve the issue. Make sure they know you are listening by giving eye contact, leaning forward, and being relaxed. Restate to clarify what you heard with as few words as possible, saying, this is what I heard...  Be open and say, "I'm confused; let me try to restate what I think you said." Or, "You have said so much; let me see if I have heard it all."

 

4.      Understand Forgiveness (Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 43:25; 1 Corinthians 13:5; Colossians 3:12-14): Most Christians have a pale sense of the wonder that we have been forgiven, and often fail to show that forgiveness to others when wronged. Forgiveness is absolutely crucial for any relationship to continue, and critical to resolve any conflict! Remember how much you have been forgiven; do not fail to show it to others! Remember, God does not treat us the way we tend to treat others.

 

5.      Communication (Luke 15:11-24): Seeking understanding is more important than resolving the issue. Most issues do not need to be resolved if all parties can understand one another's situation. Get them to talk and listen, and you are on the road to recovery! Why is the person hurt? Why do they feel that way? What do they want? What can be done? How to do this:

a.      Pray for and wisdom and discernment! Keep praying, gather all of the facts, and get second opinions and godly council without revealing confidences.

b.      Be positive, have a win-win attitude, smile, and look the person in the eyes. Affirm each person; make them feel comfortable. Let them know you care and want to hear them. Treat each person with utmost respect and kindness even if you feel they do not deserve it. Remember that they are God's child, too! Operate in the Fruits of the Spirit, not the works of the flesh!

c.      Do not be afraid to give the moderation over to someone else if you cannot handle it. I have done this many times over the years, due to time, family, being out of my expertise, and personality clashes.

d.      When you confront, ask yourself, how would I want to be confronted?

e.      Be humble and introspective so you can understand how you, or (if you are the moderator) the participants have each contributed to the conflict (Proverbs 19:11).

f.        Never compare your life and situations with that of others; God deals with everyone equally, yet differently. Think before you speak (Ephesians 4:29)!

g.      Write stuff down!

h.      Validate each person as important.

i.        Use humor only when it is appropriate to diffuse a tense situation and never as an attack!

j.         Identify each person's involved interests, concerns, desires, needs, limitations, and fears.

k.      Allow all the parties equal time to tell their side without interruption;  then get feedback from the others.

l.         Do not be self-focused; focus on the issue, facts, feelings, and how this affects Christ's Kingdom and Fullness.

m.    If you are a part of the conflict, speak for yourself-not for the other person! As a moderator, make a ground rule that each person can only speak for themselves and not reword or restate the other's view. That way, the finger pointing is stopped and listening can begin.

n.      Attack the issue, not the people; allow no condemnations, commands, threats, condescending attitudes, name calling, or disrespect!

o.      Commit to understand one another and each person's side, and to refrain from interrupting.

p.      Phrase the problem as questions and not attacks! Phrases such as, you feel (state the feeling) or because (state the content) are appropriate.

q.      Do not blame! Have each party state how the issue affects them, how they feel. For example, if a spouse is always gone and the other is angry about that, state, "When you are gone I feel… (Lonely)," rather than "you are never home." This diffuses most arguments and refocuses the blame to how they feel. When each one is aware of the other's feelings, especially in martial conflict, problem solving can begin.

r.        Ask, how is the problem dishonoring God? How is it hurting each person involved and how is it damaging the relationship?

s.      Be open and willing to listen to all solutions no matter how ridiculous. Again, people need to be heard! This invites the willingness to cooperate and listen.

t.        If people refuse to talk to one another, have them write their complaint on one page with a general description, their side, what they think the other person did, and their solution. Then go over it, summarize it, and present it to both parties. Do not allow them to respond until it is fully read.

u.      When sin is involved, it must be confessed and dealt with. The person's attitude that promoted the sin needs to be addressed and confronted.

v.       Make sure you are listening and each person knows you are listening. If you are the moderator, you can restate each person's response. If it is a marriage situation with only the couple, restate your position in a positive way by saying, this is what I heard… When you summarize, do not add new ideas or your agenda!

w.     Keep to one issue at a time; do not allow other past conflicts to interrupt. When multi problems are raised, it becomes too frustrating and overwhelming to solve. Solve one, or at least come to an understanding, before going to the next one.

x.      Say, what can we do to solve this problem together? What are the steps do you see that can resolve this issue? If that does not work, place the issue on what the purpose of the Christian life is about, to worship and glorify Christ. How can we develop a solution that glorifies our Lord?

y.       If the parties or you cannot calm down, take a break; if that does not work, reschedule for another time.

z.       Start to work together by seeing each person on the same team and not opposing adversaries; we are all God's children, and in the same church family.    

6.      Commit to a Positive Solution or Understanding (James 4:1-12; Matthew 15:18-19): A lot of conflicts, especially marital, will continue as each person is constantly "pushing buttons;" they are on a merry-go-round without being merry. You have to make a decision that the pushing will stop, regardless of the hurt, for the sake of the relationship. Ask, "What can we both do differently to solve this problem so it does not continue?" Then resolution can begin. All parties must agree that the cycles of conflict must stop. Unless there is an agreement and a follow though, no resolution will take place. Sometimes, problems cannot be resolved, and that is OK if understanding can be sought. If the person refuses to stop escalating the problem, they are too steeped in pride, and this problem has to be referred to church elders and/or civil authorities. In the case of domestic violence, this is where I would "cuff and stuff them" into the patrol car. In the church, this is where they are asked to leave the fellowship until they get right with God.

 

Break down the issue in steps and then come to a solution that all can agree upon.

 

a.      Gather all of the information you can. Write down the facts, feelings, possible outcomes if unresolved, and possible outcomes if resolved. Look for root issues; most problems are symptoms of deeper issues.

b.      Write down the description(s) of the problem.

c.      Write down what positive result each person would like to see.

d.      Evaluate and summarize each person's statement so it describes the situation fairly.

e.      When you are dealing with substantive issues such as money, property, or human rights, you need to involve an attorney or professional in that field to help resolve the issue. If it is a theological issue, adhere to what is plainly taught in God's Word and your church confessions. But, even here, the goal is to be cooperative, not competitive (Matthew 7:12; 22:39; 1 Corinthians 13:5; Philippians 2:3-4).

f.        Brainstorm possible solutions by thinking through ideas without critiquing them. Evaluate; do not argue! This is the what are the possibilities stage; you do not need to jump to a conclusion. Take your time.

g.      Look at all the ideas, and then ask, "How might we come to a mutual solution?" "How can we create a new and better future?" Remember, all are on the same team!

h.      If this is a conflict involving you, if there is no moderator, and if things are not going smooth, be humble; find a trusted, mutual friend, counselor, or pastor to moderate! Do not allow your pride to push others away and destroy relationships!

i.        Now evaluate the ideas one by one. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the ideas? Which ones are acceptable to all parties? Which one glorifies our Lord the most? Remember to keep it positive; not everyone will be happy.

j.         Create a schedule to implement the best possible solution.

k.      Remember, when people are uncooperative, only God can change them and they need to have the willingness to allow Him to do so (Romans 12:18; 2 Timothy 2:24-26).

l.         If you failed to come to an understanding, take this to heart-as long as you are obedient to Him, you did not fail; you succeeded immeasurably! Some situations cannot be resolved, simply because of pride.

m.    Once an agreement is reached, commit to the fact that this incident does not need to be brought up again, especially in marriage. I will not complain about it, I will not dwell on it, I will not gossip about it; I will not use it against the other person. I will forgive and forget and move ahead in building our relationship! If not, it will just start all over again!

 

Dealing with difficult people (1 Peter 2:19)

 

A lot of people are unreasonable-even Christians. We will run into people who will just not get it, listen, deal, resolve or handle things God's way. They only want their way or the highway. Some people have hard hearts and are unwilling or unable, due to personality defects or chemical imbalances, to see others as God's child too. They only see it for themselves. This is very sad and there is not much you can do with them. They are the ones who will be lonely and bitter because that is what they want. We are still called to pray and minister to them, but it is best not to take their attacks personally. 

 

We have to remember; we all are difficult at times and we all have sinned and fallen way short of God standards. That is what the cross is about (Isaiah 59:1-2; Matthew 5:48; Rom. 3:23; 6:23)! That is why it is so important to prepare yourself spiritually and keep your focus on God-not people or situations-so His fruit can work in you.

 

Prayer is the most important act for us in any manner. Also, remember, your obedience is what is important, not how others respond to you. We are even called to bless these unreasonable people, and we do that by remaining true to His Lordship in our maturity (Luke 6:27-31; Ephesians 4:29). You cannot be responsible for how others respond and treat you when you are acting in godly character (Romans 12:14-21). Do not let the situation or the bad people get you down, or cause you to compromise Biblical precepts or your character! Never close the Bible or prayer; your spiritual journey and your trust and growth in Him will be your anchor to weather the storms. Do not allow yourself to suffer in your spiritual pilgrimage because of someone else. You are still God's special child (Colossians 3:1-4)! Do not let yourself fall to the world's way, regardless of what the other person does (1 Peter 2:12 -19; 3:15b-16). Give them over to God; He is the one who dispenses justice and revenge, not you (Hebrews 12:6)!

 

These are the times you need to especially control your tongue and attitude. Focus on the Lord, not the situation. Do not allow yourself to get into a pity party so it is all about you; it is not; it is all about Him. You may not be able to do anything to resolve the relationship, but that does not mean you are to give up-especially in marriage. Your purpose is to take the focus off yourself and onto Christ as Lord. That way, bitterness and resentment you got from others will not become a virus that affects you! Repentance and reconciliation may still come. Remember His timing; I have seen miracles of reconciliation long after I had given up hope. God is still at work, even when we do not see Him. God may use your character to speak to them down the road; no relationship or attempt at reconciliation is ever wasted in His Kingdom (Psalm 10; 37; 1 Samuel 24:1-22)!

 

Preventing Conflict

 

            Most of the conflict we experience in life comes from our selfish desires, our insistence on our own way, over and against others. So, we are posed to pounce on each other to get our way, while our Lord looks sadly at our pettiness and calls us to walk above it. But, do we listen? Desiring something is not necessarily wrong, but when we do not trust our Lord for it, then we have a problem. The Bible calls us to come before a Holy God by what Christ has done and resulting from a fountain of "Living Water" which is our Lord. We are to rely on Him and not on our inclinations. When we do the latter, conflict is sure to erupt. When we walk in faith and realize our position before our Lord Jesus Christ, then we will bypass our self-will and yield to His.

 

"My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." (Jeremiah 2:13)

 

            We need to realize how evil we are when we fight with each other because of our personal agendas and desires! It is God alone who provides us the "Living Waters." So, why do we persist in digging our own wells, only to bring up dirt that is useless and worthless?

 

"Jesus answered her, if you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." (John 4:10)

 

We can earn nothing on our own, and centrally, our salvation is a gift from God, so our behaviors with one another must reflect this undeserved, free gift. The free does not mean we can engage in war with one another, rather, to pursue peace and love.

 

            So, what do we do? How can we restrain our desires to manipulate, control, and to be aggressive, instead of repairing relationships? Simply by realizing whom we are before a Holy God and our undeserving gift! Primary conflict is in us, so we need to control the sin that encroaches us, something Cain failed to do. We must discern between what we desire and what is provided to us. We need to discern between our goals and what the will of the Lord is. We need to discern between what we want and what God wants! Then, the conflicts and diseases of distraction that lead to relationship destruction will cease! Our Lord has already won the ultimate conflict of good vs. evil, of rebellion vs. sovereignty. 

 

            Remember, love covers a multitude of sins; so what shall we do? LOVE! Love with the love that Christ had for us when we did not deserve it, and with the response of the love we should have for each other. Jesus let go of His place with the Father-something that we can not conceive. He gave up a precious position for the mission of redeeming us. If we pursued the model that Christ laid before us, how much conflict would we have? Practically none! How could we fight with one another when we are focused on our Lord and the interests of others? How can we carry on conflicts with one another when we take a deep, introspective look into our desires and compare them to the Scriptures? Our focus must not be in our self-awareness, but on what Christ has done as a template for our behaviors and actions! By being a true example of our Lord, we will neutralize most conflicts. When self-desires are focused on our Lord, intrapersonal conflict will be dissolved; so, there will be no conflict with self-desires. Interpersonal conflict will cease because we will be a community of Believers on the "same page," especially because we have the interests of others in mind and are willing to follow the Biblical precepts to solving conflict. So, we are left with substantive conflicts between beliefs. When we are a community of Believers with a high view of the Scriptures, then we will eliminate most of them. So, the conflicts will be between Believers and aberrant and cult groups, and the minor theological distinctions can be on an "agree to disagree" venue. This may sound utopian and unattainable, but this is Christian community in its true, called action!

 

Problems do not have to ruin your life. They do not need to take you over or skew the purpose and direction of your call or your church. We all have the power to make the determination that we will not let the trivialities of life derail us from who we are in Christ and His purpose for us. Most conflict is trivial, but we are never to approach it as trivial. It is to be taken seriously so it can be resolved and the more important things in life can be pursued. Use this process to also learn more about the other person and yourself. Learn how to be better in your character and maturity and your relationship with God. See challenges as opportunities to learn and grow in His presence and His Fruit.

 

By following a few simple ideas from the precepts of His Word, we can save ourselves a lot of pain and hurt and drastically improve our relationships. Just by understanding the other person, you will do wonders for relationships and your church! The focus is what we talked about in the first chapter with Fullness and the Kingdom of God. The relationship is the priority, not the material goods or desires that may come up. When we are operating our lives in God's parameters, we are glorifying Him, building His Kingdom, and living in Fullness. When we are steeped in our pride, we are destroying our relationships and bringing shame to His Church. Why would we want to do that and take on all of the bitterness, resentment, hurt, and frustration in life, when we can have so much better?

 

Remember this very important fact; unresolved conflict costs much more than the cost to resolve it. In fact, to not manage conflict will enormously cost your relationships and church. It will cost you money, time, lost productivity, shattered relationships, lost children, dissolved marriages, bad decisions-and it can literally kill and destroy you and all that you know. It could have been turned around, but nobody wanted to bother with it! Do not let this happen to you, your friends, your family, or your church! 

 

For more insights checkout our Leadership Channel on the series on conflict:  Church Leadership   Problem Solving  and Conflict Channel  

 

© 1997, 2004 R. J. Krejcir Into Thy Word Ministries http://www.intothyword.org/ 

 

Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Director of "Into Thy Word Ministries," a discipling ministry. He is the author of the book, Into Thy Word, and is also a pastor, teacher, and speaker. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California. He has amounted over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a church growth consultant.  

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