Whether it’s caused by misunderstanding, miscommunication, or downright malevolence, conflict happens. It even happens in the church. People will disappoint you, hurt your feelings, and cause you pain. But how you respond in those situations is of the utmost importance. Consider these 5 steps for handling conflict with other Christians.
1. Put away all bitterness and anger.
The first step happens within your own heart. For the sake of your own mental and spiritual well-being and for the sake of the church, you need to, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger” (Ephesians 4:31). You must treat the person who hurt you with kindness and compassion (Ephesians 4:32). You must try to see things from their perspective and in love, give them the benefit of the doubt (1 Corinthians 13).
Depending on the severity of the conflict, this might be incredibly difficult. The only way to accomplish this is through embracing the truth of what Jesus did for us, “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10). We were shown kindness, compassion, and mercy when all we deserved was God’s wrath. That fact – and that fact alone – can soften our hearts and cause us to let go of our bitterness and anger.
Going forward, this cannot be about vengeance or retaliation, which have no place in the church.
2. Ask yourself, “Is this something I should overlook?”
Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” There are times when you should just let it go. Just forgive them and drop it. Don’t confront them about it. Just forget it ever happened. In fact, this is something Christians ought to do CONSTANTLY.
Sadly, in our culture, we tend to think we have to do something about it anytime someone offends us or hurts us. We post snarky comments on Facebook or we feel like we have to tell the other person they hurt us. But 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Sometimes the best thing you can do is cover it over with love.
There are times, of course, when you should not simply overlook an offense. Sometimes there is more at stake than simply your feelings. So, ask yourself:
- Are they putting their soul in danger by the way they are maliciously treating others?
- Is it imperative that they be held accountable for their actions?
- Are they damaging the unity of the church?
- Are they sullying the reputation of the church?
You should do a lot of thinking and praying about this before you proceed to the next step.
3. Talk with them one-on-one.
The next three steps come directly from the mouth of Jesus. He says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). When Jesus says, “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother,” it should be an indication that going to our brother should be motivated by restoring a broken relationship, not just about airing our grievances. You don’t go to someone just to let them know how you feel. You go to them with the goal of reconciliation.
And Jesus says, “Between you and him alone.” Which, of course, means you ought not to tell anyone else about the situation. Don’t gossip about it. Don’t try to get people on your side. Just go and talk to the person.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encouraged Christians to do this, only to hear, “Yeah, I know I’m supposed to do that, but…” There cannot be any “buts” here. If we are going to deal with conflict in the church, we must deal with it the way Jesus tells us to.
If you haven’t talked to the person one-on-one, that is what you must do.
4. Bring in an unbiased third-party.
Jesus says, “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (vs. 16). The goal here is to, “establish” the truth. It cannot simply be your word against theirs. You need to bring in a moderator or two and say, “Here’s the situation, what do you think?”
The goal is NOT to “gang up” on the other person. You simply want the truth to be established. If you are right and the other person is wrong, you want these “witnesses” to be able to say, “I listened to all the facts, from both parties, and this person is clearly in the wrong.”
Hopefully, after listening to your pleading and the pleading of the moderators, the offender will listen and repent. Hopefully reconciliation will happen at this point. Remember, that is the goal.
5. Bring it to the church.
Finally Jesus says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (vs.17). It should be very rare that a conflict ever gets to this level, but if souls are in danger and the unity of the church is being compromised, then situations have to be handled.
You very well might have to tell the elders or the leading men of the church what is going on and allow them to handle the situation. Hopefully these men can bring the offender to repentance.
Sadly, if he “refuses to listen,” then the church must – as a whole – discipline him. In our culture, we think, “What?!? Surely that isn’t right!” But that’s exactly what the Bible teaches. If someone refuses to repent of doing harm to others in the church, then for the sake of the entire church – and for the sake of that individual – they must be treated as an outsider.
The apostle Paul put it this way, “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15).
Remember, take care of these matters when they are small. Take care of them before they get out of hand. Take care of them first in your own heart and then – if necessary – with the other person. And be a forgiver!
“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4).
I love you and God loves you,