Conflict is a part of our lives and making a plan is important.
A resolution to conflict is important because of the results — fighting, arguing, division, individuality, broken relationships and murder. Obviously, there is no peace when there is no resolution to conflict.
The Beginning of Conflict
The Bible reveals much about why there is conflict. Conflict became a part of our identity , Romans 8:7 says “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so”.
We see it began in the Garden of Eden when man was in relationship with God, but then conflict came through disobedience and a broken relationship. The choice to disobey divided man from God and divided us from each other.
The harmful results came shortly after the fall; Cain became angry in response to his sacrifice not being accepted by God. He refused resolution and his anger resulted in murdering his brother Abel. The Lord’s plan for man is peace, but man’s pride brings war.
James 4:2 helps understand ourselves, “You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.” Conflict is the result of desires for personal pleasure and self-promotion. This is seen in Genesis 3:6 when Eve found that the tree “was desirable to make one wise” and so she took it, and she separated herself from God and from Adam going her own way. Adam did the same.
So, conflict has continued throughout history intensifying and resulting in increasing destruction and division. Conflict is inevitable because,
“rebellion flows through our veins”Jim Van Yperen
God’s Plan for Peace
Redemption through Jesus Christ is God’s plan for peace, His forgiveness leads to reconciliation with God and with each other. Man’s wars only bring peace temporarily, but His war against evil ends in peace. We started a war we can’t win; we joined Satan in conflict against God. Jesus suffered the consequences of our conflict, our sin, to defeat Satan, to bring us back in relationship with God.
Unity is important to God, in Ezekiel 37 the Lord spoke of the Messiah saying, “I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms.”
In Jesus’ final hours He prayed for unity in John 17:22-23, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity…“ If unity is important to Him it should be equally important to His body of believers. Ephesians 4:4 describes this further, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;” The church is called out and called together. This restoring will help bring peace to our conflicts.
Examining ourselves is important because everyone has sin that contributes to conflict. We can rationalize our sin, saying we made a mistake or try to blame others, but by examining ourselves we can see where we need to repent.
Ken Sande, gives seven A’s of confession that can be used when we need to ask for forgiveness:
- address everyone involved,
- avoid “if”, “but”, and “maybe”,
- admit specifically,
- acknowledge the hurt,
- accept the consequences,
- alter your behavior,
- ask for forgiveness (allow time if needed).
Through God’s way of reconciling, conflict is now an opportunity for the Gospel of peace to enter our lives and the lives of others.
A look at Antagonists
In this world there are those who do hurt intentionally, following Satan’s lies and their own selfish desires. They attempt to get what they desire by force and through attack.
This is common to man and is present in the Church. The Bible speaks often about people who are against the work of God and are often described as “wolves”. It can be easy to overlook this aspect to the Christian life, yet peacemaking and protecting the church is a valuable competency for believers.
Paul said before leaving Ephesus in Acts 20:29, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.” Jesus said in Matt. 7:15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” The sheep have been given the mandate to deal with these wolves.
Traits of Antagonists
Those who behave antagonistically normally have pain that is not healed, they are unhappy and self-serving. Satan’s goal is to destroy and so is theirs. They want power and control. They seek the attention of others to feel important because they may feel denied or chided in some way. They will influence to steer the direction of the church either through power they have been given or they assume power. They move from healthy conflict to a win/lose perspective – hurting the opponent in some way, or simply try to destroy the opponent.
Doing nothing to stop antagonists will result in destructive outcomes. Appeasing this type of action will just give up control to the antagonist. Weakness will actually invite and prolong attack; strength repels it. The goal of dealing with this type of behavior is to stop it as soon as possible. Allowing it to continue will only make things worse.
I experienced antagonist in the church I grew up in. I see the effects the antagonist(s) had upon my spiritual life. I didn’t see the unity that Christ desires, it continued until someone repelled it. A pastor finally stood up to the antagonists championing peace and proper conflict resolution. I wonder where I would be if there was no restoration to our body of Christ. Thankfully, I experienced a loving community of believers.
Avoid a Passive Response to Antagonists
Yperen says passive responders are usually quiet, unassertive, compliant, nonresistant, and submissive; additionally, holding secrets to protect themselves or others from being hurt.
Passive responses to this type of conflict helps to prolong the antagonist activities. We need to seek God’s help to have boldness to confront and communicate Biblically.
Do you have unresolved pain from your past? I learned something important when dealing with my pain and healing: Getting attention and having authority are not the way to healing. Any desires I have need to be given to God placed under His control.
Develop a Plan of Response
The day to day activities and responsibilities of life are less stressful when we accept that conflict will occur. And that they can be an opportunity to embody the peace of God. With this in mind we can be free to do what the Lord wants us to do without worrying about conflict.
Here is a short list of positive outcomes from conflict:
- spiritual growth
- examine motives
- church growth
- unity around Biblical principles
- a healthier church.
What helps me avoid unhealthy results of conflict is knowing myself, what I am feeling or thinking. Also, speaking the truth, admitting what I have done wrong. It is good to understand the desires of the others or how I (we) have hurt them.
Turn to God
Turning to God quickly in any conflict is good to have part of a resolution plan. Confessing more within the body of Christ instead of solely as individuals will help with conflict and healing.
Respect Authority and Trust God
Respecting authority and trusting in God instead of our own abilities will help with preparing for conflict.
Respond Correctly and Swiftly with Antagonist People
In responding to difficult people we need to recognize when someone might be acting wrong. We can’t let them assume control over what happens in the church or our lives. Have good boundaries, let your yes be yes and your no be no.
Questions are better than blaming
Ask questions like: Why is this important to you? What is your desire? Is there a way to get what we both want?
Books to learn more:
Jim Van Yperen, Making Peace: a Guide to Overcoming Church Conflict
Kenneth C. Haugk, Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict.
Norma Cook Everist, Church Conflict: from Contention to Collaboration.