A Healthy Approach to Conflict

There may be no clearer sign of a healthy Church than how the congregation and leaders manage conflict. In the first few months of my most recent pastorate, I discovered that the unhealthy elements in the church bubbled easily to the surface in times of conflict. Also, I think people feel better about their church when the problems aren’t so easily seen and there’s a level of peace in relationships.

Many describe their church as a “family.” Frankly, that picture has as large a downside as it does an upside. Families are often the worst at conflict management. Because they are so accustomed to being around one another, families are often careless in how they speak to each other. Dad is openly critical, mom makes sharp remarks about the kid’s appearance, and the kids liberally talk back to the parents. While families love each other deeply at the end of the day, they aren’t very careful with one another’s feelings–at least not as careful as they are with the feelings of others.

Rule #1 for healthy conflict management is BE NICE! In long established churches, many of the people have known each other for years and been through more than a few difficult times with each other. That familiarity can breed contempt and cause us to act toward one another in unseemly ways. Simple kindness has to be one of the most fundamental revelations of the Spirit’s fruit. Honestly, if you can’t be nice, your Jesus isn’t showing! My mom’s advice is handy here–if you can’t be nice, be quiet!

Rule #2 for healthy conflict management is BE BIBLICAL! Remember Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 18? When we have a problem with someone, we are to go to that person to seek resolution. Instead, we often run to others to gain a hearing and even their support on our side of the conflict. Or we just gossip, thinking that the affirmation of waiting ears will make us more right or feel better about our own position. I think biblically I can say, “STOP IT!” knowing that at times I need a reminder of my own words.

Rule #3 for healthy conflict management is DO IT NOW! Jesus told us to delay our acts of worship so we could give priority to solving our conflicts. Remember His words, “Leave your gift at the altar and go be reconciled…” Letting conflicts continue to fester until the wounds are deep and scarring is unbiblical behavior. Waiting for the other person to initiate the effort isn’t biblical either. How can we take such an attitude when we realize that our conflicts are blocking our ability to truly worship God?

Old habits die hard and old wounds heal slowly. But keep in mind that addressing these difficult realities is essential if you’re going to have a healthy church–and a healthy life!

One thought on “A Healthy Approach to Conflict

  • February 6, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Right on, and this is a great discussion to have. Knowing how to address conflict in a healthy, productive way seems to be inversely proportional to our desires to do so. Then there are those who seem to be a little TOO good at conflict.

    Kidding aside, I think another important factor is trust. A healthy environment of mutual trust is another essential component of conflict management. When folks trust each other, they are more likely to be FOR each other and focus more on mutual interests and less on individual positions. Now that’s fairly idealistic on paper, and in reality there will be conflicts, battle wounds, and an occasional messy conflict resolution process. Still, where there is strong trust, there is great healing. Interestingly enough, how we deal with conflict can be an important factor in how trust is developed making the conflict/trust relationship cyclical.

    For me, one of the greatest opportunities to build trust is right there in Rule #2. Gossip destroys trust. Going directly to a person, even in a difficult situation, cultivates belief in the receiving party that we aren’t there to hurt.


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