Here are some steps to resolving conflicts that will work for a family, an office,
or among members of a church.
First, assume right motives on everyone's part.
A Rabbi tells the story of two brothers who went to their rabbi to settle a long-standing feud.
The rabbi got them to reconcile their differences and shake hands.
As they were about to leave, he asked each one to make a wish for the other in honor
of the approaching Jewish New Year.
The first brother turned to the other and said, "I wish you what you wish me."
At that, the second threw up his hands and said, "See, Rabbi, he's starting it again!"
If each of us would give the other the benefit of the doubt, some potential conflicts could die
without a confrontation.
"What did he mean by that comment?" could become "I'm sure he didn't mean that
the way it could be taken."
If you just can't get the negative possibility out of your mind, go and ask for clarification.
But don't assume the worst.
Don't put the most negative possible spin on an action or statement, for that may say more
about you than the other person.
Let's suppose, however, that a real grievance is already there.
When you call your sister, ask to meet with a church leader, or make an appointment with the youth minister,
pray for God to help you assume that she or he has the same love for Christ and the same desire for peace
in the church that you have.
The conversation begins much better with that attitude fixed in your own mind.
Second, clarify the issue(s) at stake.
When you sit down to talk, begin with a prayer for God to help you listen and be clear
about what is really going on.
I read of a small town newspaper that regularly ran an article by one of the local ministers.
In one week's paper, a typesetter mistakenly inserted an "l" for the letter "h" in a familiar verse
that made charity read this way:
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not clarity,
I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal."
It is a quotation error, but it is an important truth about conflict resolution.
If we are not clear about what is really at stake, we will likely never arrive at a satisfactory resolution.
"Joe, if I hear you correctly, you're saying that you are bothered by . . ." is a simple technique
You are reflecting back to the person in your own words what you think you have heard.
"Mary, let me say that back to you, and you tell me if I have the issue clear in my mind."
"Am I hearing you correctly?"
I wonder how often we human beings respond to the wrong issue in our conversations
because we haven't understood the other person?
Third, define your expectations.
What is the goal of this conversation?
Are we trying to persuade each other of contrary points of view?
Are you just seeking clarification of a point of view?
Do we agree that it is all right for Christians to have different points of view and still affirm
one another in the Lord?
One pastor tells about a Sunday when the parents of a lot of incoming students were visiting at his church.
On the following Monday morning, a man called and wanted to make an appointment within
the next day or two.
"It's important!" he insisted.
He showed up and began demanding that the pastor explain why the church had been led to sing
during the eating of the bread the previous Sunday and allowed to be silent during the serving of the fruit
of the vine.
He was a bit animated, and it seemed clear to the pastor that he was about to be blamed not for what
hadn't happened during the passing of the wine but for what had happened during the eating of the bread.
The pastor said, "We did it that way to demonstrate that nobody can have his way
all the time in this church."
Do you like silence during the communion?
Do you like singing?
Do you like large classes?
Do you like small ones?
Do you like thematic sermons through books of the Bible?
Do you prefer current-events sermons?
Do you want the education building erected this fall?
Do you want to wait until we've raised half its cost in advance?
Nobody can have his way all the time, and no decision pleases everybody.
Show some Christian charity and generosity.
Don't expect everything to be the way you would do it if everything were left to you.
Fourth, brainstorm the possibilities for solving the problem.
If it is a husband and wife dealing with family finances or a church business meeting about next year's program,
it's better to hear several possibilities than to push an agenda or to have one pushed on you.
Of course you have some ideas!
But it is always a good plan to ask others to suggest theirs.
You might hear something better than your own, and you can avoid being embarrassed
for not having thought of it!
The idea of "alternative solutions" to some means: "My way or the highway".
That approach has been used in churches since at least the time of Diotrophes.
He was the first-century church boss who, according to the apostle John, always had to be first
and get his way (3 John 9-10).
His modern counterpart is alive and active.
I once heard about a "church boss" whose predictable trump card with which to veto a plan on which
most of the leadership had agreed, was: "Well, if we're going to do that, I guess I'll just have to find
another church to attend."
On That night a frustrated leader in that church was moved by God to reply in an unexpected way
from the usual "No, we don't want that!" and to say instead:
"You will be missed," he said, "but I want you to know I'll always appreciate the good things
you've done for the church."
A speechless church bully gathered up his papers and left the meeting.
That night marked the liberation of a church that has consistently moved forward since cutting
that shackle off its leadership group that night.
Shared leadership in a church a body of shepherds, deacons, ministry leaders,
and church staff is not only scriptural but more practical than a one-person rule.
There is collective wisdom in the pooling of ideas.
Sharing ideas in a non-threatening, non-bullying way with peers allows creativity to flow.
It allows ideals to be shaped more fully in the give and take of respectful discussion.
Fifth, decide on a plan of action by consensus rather than unanimity.
A husband and wife making vacation plans or a church deciding on an evangelistic strategy
for its community may never come up with an unanimous solution.
While unanimity may sound ideal, it is not practical because of the diversity of opinions
among bright and spiritual people.
The larger a church grows, the more skill it takes to negotiate conflicts and reach consensus.
The traditional alternative to the painful process of building consensus is for a group of leaders
to make a decision and then try to force it on everybody else.
That is the strategy that has produced repeated church splits.
Sometimes the split would occur before it ever reached the congregation, because somebody
in the leadership was determined to force his way on the rest, either by coercion or veto.
You have probably watched the phenomenon occur many times in our churches.
Leaders, trying to find perfect solutions lose the chance to reach workable ones.
In the meanwhile, months or years pass.
Opportunities were lost.
And a church died.
A good decision made in a timely fashion tends to be far more effective than a perfect choice made too late.
True consensus-building, then, is not waiting for the absolutely best decision.
Consensus-building is finding a plan with a reasonable promise of success, then rallying everyone behind it.
Sixth, act on the consensus decision, support it with daily prayer, and resist the temptation to be
a critic waiting for it to win you over.
We are in service to the God of the Universe.
We are preaching the gospel to a world that needs Jesus.
We are offering the world an alternative to its swimming-with-the-sharks mentality.
We must focus on kingdom issues rather than our personal tastes.
The issue all our churches seem to be in turmoil over is worship styles.
Shall we be traditional, or contemporary?
Shall we use a single leader or a praise team for our music?
Does the praise team need four voices or eight or ten?
What is appropriate for females on these praise teams?
How long should the service be?
How should Sunday evenings be used?
Are we asking people to stand up too long during today's service?
How free or restricted should we be in using technology?
Let's not be critics but worshipers when we gather on the Lord's Day!
Let's use our freedom responsibly.
Let's observe our limitations with forbearance and grace.
Let's stop chalking up the things we like or don't like and simply seek the face of the Lord.
We must be careful not to act like spoiled brats about worship.
"I didn't get what I wanted!"
"We had too many old songs!"
"Today wasn't as good as last Sunday!"
"I don't like it when we do this or that!"
We don't assemble to get pleased, but to get challenged.
We don't come together to find what we want, but to find what God wants.
We don't come together to see what the preacher has to offer, but to experience what God has for us to do.
If your heart's desire is worship, open your heart to God's presence.
When that is your spirit, He will show up to meet you even on your "worst days."
When a young preacher preaches, you will still learn something you need to hear from the Holy Book.
When the music is awful, your heart will still soar.
When leaders aren't as prepared or as competent as you wish they were, God will still purify
and lift you if you truly come as a worshiper.
Seventh, agree on a plan for follow-up before you part.
Agree on the time you will meet to review the implementation of the consensus decision
that has been made.
Promise each other to pray for and support its implementation.
Pledge yourselves to pray for one another.
Then, move on without hard feelings over the original conflict that made the meeting necessary
in the first place.
Isn't it ironic?
The most effective churches are not the most homogenous ones,
but incredibly diverse groups whose unity is found in their deep commitment to Jesus.
The commitment to something larger than themselves has bonded black and white,
Jews and Gentiles, males and females, marrieds and singles, old and young, rich and poor,
illiterates and scholars, traditional worshippers and contemporary worshippers into one body!
God didn't call us together with people like ourselves just so we could get along.
He has brought us together to challenge each other, and to love each other as He loves us.
He has brought us together to teach each of us to affirm the other's worth and dignity.
He has brought us into the church to teach us to forgive, love, and cherish one another for Christ's sake.
For that reason, any toehold, Satan hopes to claim because of our diversity and inevitable conflicts
will change into a positive opportunity to learn more about love for one another.
Only God could create such a community!
What a faithful and mighty God we serve!