Thus far, we’ve considered the kind of people that we need for a healthy church, but before we leave this discussion, we must consider how those people interact with each other–specifically, how do they respond when difficulty arises.
Unresolved conflict is the bane of many unhealthy congregations. Issues hang in the air like a heavy fog. In such places, olefactory fatigue has set in. This odd condition is what occurs when you’ve smelled something for so long that you can’t smell it anymore. And in many unhealthy churches, the stench of unresolved conflict has been there so long that we are barely aware of how it wafts through the sanctuary. We just know that brother so-and-so doesn’t speak to certain people, and so we try not to corner him with his “enemies” and try to ignore their difficulties at other times.
Doesn’t work. Guests in your church can smell that something’s up, and they aren’t as willing to live in the smell of stories they weren’t around to live.
So every church needs a conflict strategy–and the good news is that Jesus gave us one. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus explains that if a brother has offended us or fallen into sin, we run toward him, not away from him. We look to restore him directly, and if our efforts don’t succeed, we engage the help of friends and leaders. The goal is to resolve and rescue, to put an end to the issue in as healthy a manner as possible.
Unfortunately, many people run the wrong direction. They don’t go toward the one in need. Instead they go to others, whispering about the offense or trying to build a coalition on their side of the conflict. And in so doing, they enlarge the issue until it would take a meeting with hundreds to finally put the matter to rest.
A biblical conflict strategy limits the number who are involved or even aware of the matter to those who have been directly affected. Others don’t need to know or be involved. The fewer people who must live with the issue, the greater the potential for healthy resolution. That’s why Jesus’ first step is toward the one who has offended us.
Pastors in healthy churches preach on healthy conflict strategies frequently. They know that if they can equip their people to run in the right direction in conflict, healthy relationships will result. And, the pastor won’t be needed to referee or solve an escalating conflict nearly as often.