|Book: Creating a Secure Church: BOOK TWO|
Part 1 : Objectives & Obstacles
Part 2 : Secure in Relationships
Part 3 : Secure in Ministry
Part 4 : When Things go Wrong
Part 5 : Concluding Thoughts
Chapter 16: Secure After Conflict
“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
(Matthew 5:23,24 )
Sadly conflict happens in church circles and so in this chapter I want to look at the ingredients of conflict and suggest some ways of dealing with them.
16.1 The Nature of Conflict
What is a Conflict
A dictionary definition is “a struggle between opposing aims, principles or parties, a clash of feelings or interests.”
Conflict within an Individual
The conflict may be within an individual whose emotions pull them one way but whose mind and rational thinking seek to pull them another way. An example of this would be a Christian who feels upset about a situation emotionally but whose mind says, “You are a Christian and you shouldn't have anxieties.” They are being pulled in two directions.
Conflict between Two or More People
The conflict may be a disagreement between two or more people and arises where one party takes a stand and says or does something that the other party disagrees with strongly. Note that it is not merely a casual disagreement, it is something that generates strong feelings
16.2 Unresolved Conflicts
Conflict in itself is not the problem. The problem is that, more often than not, the conflict drags on and on and remains unresolved. We'll see the reason why in a moment.
Unresolved Conflict in the Individual
Every Christian is a redeemed sinner and the trouble is that, although Sin's power over us has been broken by the Cross, we still have that tendency to stray from time to time, to resort to our own thinking at variance with God's, and that means conflict! Because we have been saved out of darkness (Col 1:13) we each come with some of the wrong thinking from that time, or because we live in a sinful world we pick up wrong thinking along the way, and that means conflict!
Wrong Thinking About Myself
Within the individual that wrong thinking often denies the truth of who they are in Christ. Because bad things have been said to us about us by others, or because we have been through circumstances where we've failed or been rejected by others, we can have a low sense of self worth which denies the truths we hear preached, that you are a child of God fully accepted by Him (1 Jn 3:1 & 2:1)
Wrong Thinking about God
Again, perhaps because of the negative experiences that we may have had in life, we feel negative about God and find it difficult when we hear preaching that says God is love and He loves us (Rom 8:28-39). This is inner conflict which needs resolving.
Wrong Thinking about Others
Because of the things we've already covered in the above two paragraphs, we not only feel bad about ourselves but we also feel bad about others. The reason for this is that we feel threatened by anyone who either seems different from us or thinks differently from us. We thus find ourselves thinking negative thoughts about them, even though they may never have harmed us in any way. In ourselves we know that we are taught to love our neighbour (Mt 19:19) and to love other Christians (Jn 13:34) but because of our feelings from the past we find it difficult. This is inner conflict needing resolution.
Unresolved Conflicts between Individuals
Person ‘A' says something to person ‘B' that upsets or offends them. Person ‘B' either reacts defensively and says something harsh back, or in defence retreats and nurses an injured pride. At this simple level we have an unresolved conflict.
Why Such Conflicts Remain Unresolved
In the vast majority of cases in Christian circles this sort of thing occurs and the thing is pushed under the carpet and forgotten, but the truth is that it is not forgotten because it is still an unresolved conflict, it still exists as such.
The Fact of Unresolved Conflict
It is crucial to understand this, that until there has been a right, Scriptural resolution, the conflict still exists. Nobody may be saying anything and everybody may be apparently getting on with their life, but the truth is that under the surface the conflict is still there. It has not gone away, it has not evaporated or dissolved, it is just hidden.
Give me a Quiet Life
Most of us prefer a quiet life, most of us are happy that there is no further explosion or upset. Most of us are happy to live with unresolved conflict, because it looks the easy way out. We live on with the unresolved conflict because we think it will just go away - but it doesn't!
Effects of Unresolved Conflict
Because Christians are good at papering over the cracks we think everything is all right, but actually underneath it isn't. There are a number of things that need addressing:
16.3 Inner Conflicts
The conflict that goes on within us can be of two types. As we started saying above, it can first of all be conflict about the way we think about ourselves, about God and about others that come as a result of past experiences of life that have coloured our thinking about ourselves.
The second type of conflict that goes on within us is that which arises when we have come into conflict with other people. As Christians we know that God has laid down certain key ways we should respond to other people, but the hurt or guilt that we feel as a result of a conflict with others seems to overshadow those and make it difficult for us to conform to them, and so we are left with inner conflict. One half of us knows what we should do, but because of the emotions involved we find it almost impossible to consider those ways, let alone follow them.
The first and vital stage of conflict resolution is to actually acknowledge that there is an inner conflict. Now be under no illusions, this is a very difficult stage. It is very difficult to face up to inner turmoil. Why? Read on.
Fleeing Personal Conflict
Because we have lived with this inner conflict for so long, feeling bad about ourselves etc., the tendency that so many of us have is to think, ‘better the devil I know than the one I don't know'. In other words there is comfort in the familiar even if it makes us feel bad. Rather than face the unknown we therefore flee the thought that anything is wrong.
Fleeing People Conflict
As we've already indicated when we face people conflict, in whatever form, our natural defences tell us to take the line of least pain, so what we often do is deny it, deny the conflict and pretend that everything is all right. Although our minds may acknowledge that the best course is to deal with and remove the conflict, our hearts fear further pain and if dealing with the conflict means dying to self, putting aside pride, and pressing through to the truth with the grace of God, the enemy will reinforce our own fears and tell us that this sounds painful. We thus do nothing.
Wrong Thinking about Myself
The enemy majors on half truths and a half truth is basically a lie! The following are some of those half truths that we put up with but which conflict with the truth that the Holy Spirit within us seeks to bring to us: I'm a nobody, I'm useless, I've blown it, There's no hope, No one loves me. All of these things war against the truth and stop us deepening our relationship with God and with others. In other words, they restrict and limit our lives.
Correcting Wrong Thinking About Myself
Let's check each of those things:
I'm a nobody. Untrue! You are a child of God with a divine purpose over
your life. (Jn 1:12 / Eph 2:10)
I'm useless. Half truth! Without Jesus you can do nothing (Jn 15:5b). With
him you can do all he gives you to do (Phil 4:13)
I've blown it. You may have done, but when you confess it to God He
forgives and cleanses and works to redeem your situation (1 Jn 1:9, 2:1)
There's no hope. Untrue! God put His Spirit in you as a seal of His future
intentions and He is not going to give up on you (Eph 1:11-14 / Phil 1:6)
No one loves me. Untrue! God loves you - just as you are, He is for you (1
Jn 3:16, 4:10)
Now if you are not sure about these things you need a daily prescription. Write out each of the verses mentioned above, ask God to make the truth of them real to you, and declare them out loud every day for a week!
Correcting Wrong Thinking about Others
This is about the thoughts and feelings you have about that other person who offended you. Remember your defence mechanism may suggest you just forget it, but the truth is it won't go away until you have dealt with it properly. So you need to take action. You can do this in one of two ways. The two ways are either 1. Use the Law or 2. Use Grace.
Use the Law
This first method is the hard method. God commands certain things through Jesus, and until you obey them you'll never be completely at peace. For example He commands you to:
Remember, these are COMMANDS of God. They are not optional, so if you have bad feelings towards other people the onus is upon you to put them right. That other person may not allow you to re-establish a relationship with them (but that's their problem before God!) but you can make sure your heart is right towards them.
Imagine beyond the Conflict
Now if you find the Law too difficult ask the Holy Spirit to help you find grace to achieve those objects by some way other than striving. A way to do that is as follows:
Now that may not be what God wants to happen but it may not be far from it. The present conflict stops that happening
Checking the Reality
Many people in conflict deny the conflict or say they don't need to act. Very well, check it out. Pray for the blessing of that other person daily for the next seven days. If you can't do that you probably have an unresolved conflict that requires action by you.
16.4 If you are the OFFENDER
A word to the Offended
If you are the person who feels they have been offended, you may think you can read through this Part and use it as ammunition against the person who offended you. You can't! They alone are responsible for their side of things and you must leave God to speak to them. You have your side of the conflict to deal with and that is just as difficult, so start reading the Part 16.5 which is for you!
You, the Offender?
In probably the majority of instances when someone was upset, when you initially spoke to them, it had not been your intention to cause upset. Very often people act and speak with the best of intentions and are then most surprised at the upset that ensued. For this reason the likelihood is that you do not see yourself as the initiator of the conflict. Indeed you probably feel quite upset at the hostile reaction you got from the other person, and would see yourself as the slighted party.
We'll deal with the above situation in a moment, but it may be that in the cold light of day, when you look back on what you said, you may be able to see that the words you used, the way you said them, or the time you chose to speak had not been the best! Even if our intentions were the best there are few of us who can say that we were 100% perfect in what we said and the way we said it. If you've even got a 10% chance that you weren't exactly right in what you said, you've got grounds to say sorry.
But what about their response?
Whether or not you came with a right intention, it's very common in such upsets for the other person to have responded very badly. They were hurt and so they lashed out! Now when we view these things as the party who set the ball rolling, at this point we use their bad reaction as an excuse why we shouldn't be the one initiating resolution. We now claim to be the offended party and our self-righteous defence mechanism kicks in to protect self and justify our part in it all. We need to recognise this for what it is and not use it as an excuse from the enemy to stop us initiating resolution.
Why did they blow up?
We said just now that it is quite likely that you didn't intend hurt or upset so let's now assume that that was so. So why did that other person blow? The answer, whether we like it or not, was that they felt ‘attacked'. Yes we know that's not what you were doing but it was what they felt. If they hadn't felt it they wouldn't have reacted in that way. If their reaction was violent then they obviously felt under severe attack
The Straw that broke the camel's back?
The likelihood is that what you said wasn't of itself a big deal, yet it did manage to create a really hostile reaction. So why? The probability is that what you said was simply the final straw on top of a whole load of things that was already weighing down on them. If they had been feeling cool, calm and collected, they would have used assertiveness tactics to handle what you said, e.g. quite calmly, “I'm sorry but I'm afraid that's not actually how it is. I'm afraid I'm unable to accept that”. Instead you got a volcanic eruption!
How did you handle yourself?
They have just exploded, so how did you cope with that? Most of us would act defensively at that point. We need either to have received assertiveness training or to be very whole in our personality and character, able to express to loving confidence of Jesus, to have avoided being defensive.
What would Jesus do in that situation? Well of course he would never have got himself into it, but assuming he did, how would he respond to the outburst? In what follows below are some suggested guide points:
1. Understand the person
Well first of all he would understand what was going on in that other person. He would know the burdens they were carrying, the worries they had, the stress they were finding in life and therefore the complete cause of their reaction. (Of course knowing that he wouldn't have spoken as you did) As we look back on the situation, can we fully understand all that was going on in the other person and have Jesus' compassion for them? Can we try to understand why this conflict arose in the first place, and not be defensive about it?
2. Reach out to them
Second, and this is very important, he would seek to meet them at their point of need and show he understood what they felt. To achieve this we need to overcome our defence tactics and overcome the desire to flee, either literally or behind defensive excuses. As we said just now it takes a fair measure of wholeness or maturity to have coped with their reaction to you, but we should be looking to God for grace to have that. If we don't have it, we've failed to be Jesus to that person. In fact we've just failed.
Signs of Spiritual Maturity
The situation has happened, so what can we do about it. Self is screaming, “It's not my fault”. Instead of going to the Cross, Jesus could have said, “It's not my fault” and walked away from the human race, but instead he took our sins. In that he gave us the classic example of facing responsibility, facing the will of God, facing the right and only way of clearing sin.
The sign of spiritual maturity is being willing to face the thing, being willing to carry the can, being willing to say, “I didn't get it right, I'm sorry, please forgive me for where I failed you.” Being spiritually mature means we take responsibility for where we acted less than perfectly and failed another. In this case the areas of failure are likely to be:
We were insensitive to the state of the other person
We spoke insensitively and caused hurt
When they reacted we
Where we have been the ‘offender' we mustn't worry about the other party acting first. We must simply do what is right before God in the ways outlined here.
16.5 If you are the OFFENDED
A word to the Offender
If you are the person who feels they have been accused of being the offender, you may think you can read through this Part and use it as ammunition against the person who was offended. You can't! They alone are responsible for their side of things and you must leave God to speak to them. You have your side of the conflict to deal with and that is just as difficult, so reread the section above or give this a miss and go down to 16.6!
You, the Offended?
What actually happened? Someone came along and attacked you verbally. The form of their ‘attack' can be varied. It may be they said something that was a personal attack, maybe they accused you of something, maybe they said things which implied rejection of you. They initiated that attack.
The hurt your felt
Why did you react? You were hurt by what was said. They were insensitive, they were brash or arrogant, they were everything except Jesus to you! The result? You felt devastated, you felt angry, abused, insulted or whatever, the list could be endless. They blew it and you reacted in your hurt.
Why the pain?
Why did you feel so hurt? This is an important question if we are to help you be released from it. Was what they said so terrible or was it the last of a long line of things that had come at you? Most of us who are Christians put up with lots of things we feel unhappy about and we just grin and bear it. We put up with one thing after another until finally, a simple word acts like a detonator and we explode. It's quite probable that what was said to you wasn't so awful, but yes you genuinely felt it was. Perhaps you still feel the hurt and the thing keeps on going round and round in your mind.
Think about your offender for a moment
There are times when people are genuinely out to get us, but when they're Christians that isn't actually very likely. Did that person, who may be less than perfect, go out of their way to hack you down verbally? More likely is that they were just being totally insensitive. In other words they were not intending to put you down, but just didn't realise the impact on you of what they were saying. Yes, they probably should have, but they didn't. From where you stood it probably felt like it, but the reality was that they weren't trying to get you. It's quite possible they intended a very different outcome, but just hadn't thought through the situation and hadn't realised how you were feeling.
How did you cope with their insensitive words? How would you have responded differently if you had been Jesus?
It's tough being a human being!
It's tough carrying burdens. It's tough bottling up stuff because we fear upsetting others. It's tough having to cope with other people who don't feel, don't understand, don't speak or act as we would expect them too, especially when they are Christians! It's tough when God says love them. It's tough because we don't think we have the resources to do that. It's tough having to face the fact that we didn't get it right either, because we fear the consequences of owning up to failure. It's tough because we fear what others might think of us. It's tough because we fear we might look silly having to say sorry.
A Two Sided Coin
In every conflict it's important to see that there are no innocent players. We all get it wrong somehow and when we get it wrong the only way out of the enclosed room is through the door marked confession. Our ‘self' and pride scream against going through that door, but Jesus says it is the only exit from the room (Mt 6:14,15 / Col 3:13). The door has two keys. One of them is Jesus instruction to love our fellow Christians (Jn 13:34) and the other one is his instruction to pray for those who are against us (Mt 5:44).
A Way Through
In a conflict emotions run high and if you feel hurt, the old life which feels aggrieved wants revenge, wants its pound of flesh. But there may be a way through. Jesus said, “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Mt 7:12 ), so just for a moment imagine Jesus standing with you. Lay all your pain and anger down at his feet and listen to him. He looks you in the eye and asks, “When you get it wrong, how would you like me to act towards you?”
“I'd like you to love, accept and forgive me please Lord.”
“When you get it wrong, how would you like others to treat you?”
“I'd like them to love, accept and forgive me, Lord”
“Do to them what you'd like them to do to you if the boot was on the other foot.”
A Need to be Honest
We said just now it's like being locked in an enclosed room and the only door out has the name confession on it. The corridor outside that door is called truth. We know that if we are followers of Jesus we can only walk down the path called truth. That means we acknowledge the truth about others and about ourselves. We're all imperfect. None of us has the right to claim perfection. Yet in the kingdom Jesus accepts us with our imperfection and requires that we accept each other - as imperfect as we all are.
16.6 Walking out Reconciliation
What has happened?
It's important to remember that what actually happened is usually different from what the parties initially say happened. The reason for that is fairly obvious, each of us sees things from our standpoint and we interpret what we see through our preconceived ideas. The reality was probably quite different.
The Reality of both Parties
For example, as we've said in the previously, the ‘offender' being a Christian probably didn't intend to offend and cause all the upset, they were simply insensitive. On the other hand the ‘offended' was probably upset not so much by what was said in this instance but more by the fact that this was the final straw on top of lots of previous things that they had been struggling to cope with, things they had been unhappy about but had bottled up. If we wanted to lay blame, none of us could cast the first stone, we're all at fault. Yet these things did need facing and dealing with in a proper Scriptural manner. It's important to understand these things to be able to walk out the future in a good way before God.
If you are reading this before remedial action has been taken, we hope that you will be encouraged to press on to bring that about. If you're reading it after reconciliation then we hope the following will simply reinforce what has already happened.
The kingdom of God is intended by Him to be a rule of peace and harmony. Yet He is also aware of our human frailties and weaknesses and knows that it takes time to bring these things after there has been upset. There can be the words of healing and reconciliation but the reality can take a little longer.
The words of reconciliation
Whether it has happened or is about to happen we hope the following words will have been spoken with humility and gentleness:
Offender: “I'm really sorry, I didn't intend to hurt you, I just didn't understand the depth of what you were feeling. I realise I also didn't cope very well with your response and became self righteous in my assessment of you and didn't seek to reduce your pain by words of love. I'm aware that in each of these ways I failed you and I'm really sorry. Please forgive me.”
Offended: “I'm really sorry I have let things build up in me and I'm sorry that my reaction to you was so violent. I'm afraid I didn't get the grace of God to respond well to what you said and I judged your motives wrongly. I'm aware that in all these ways I failed and I'm really sorry. Please forgive me my part in all of this.”
Walking out reconciliation
Once we have come to the point of laying down our hurts and our failures before God and before each other, we then have still to hold onto the place of reconciliation, we still have to walk it out in daily life in the days, weeks and months ahead, and to achieve that we need to be aware of the following things.
Every thought Captive
The enemy will want to bring up again the old issues. He will want you to relapse back into the hurt, defensive, pre-reconciliation mode. He will seek to raise negative thoughts about that other party, and your role in the future days will be to deny him that access. The way to do it will be to pray for the blessing and wellbeing of the other party on a daily or weekly basis, or whenever negative thoughts about them arise.
When a conflict arises like this, one of the long term damaging effects is the destruction of trust. If the other party reacted like that to me on that occasion, might they do it again in the future? That sort of thinking makes us want to stay at a distance from that person. Now the reality may be that you do not live, work or worship in the same area any longer so this is not so much a problem, but if you do it is something to be worked at. Change is needed.
Working for Change
If we are to avoid this happening again, then the ingredients that caused the upset need to be removed, and this will take time, effort, prayer and the grace of God. So what things can we specifically look to remove?
Ingredients of Conflict
The first thing was a lack of truth beforehand. As Christians we're all prone to trying to take the easy way out, which means keeping quiet when things seem to be happening about which you feel unhappy. We are to be a community of truth, a people who are real, without pretence.
The second thing was a lack of sensitivity towards one another. In the busyness of church life, sometimes we become less than good at caring for one another, understanding one another and feeling where we're each at. We not only need to be a loving, caring and accepting people, but we also need to be sensitive to one another - and this is a two way thing.
The third thing was a lack of communication, and this is the major cause of all upsets. When we are communicating honestly, sensitively and with a caring heart, we undermine all of the enemies strategies of causing upset through lack of understanding.
The fourth thing was a loss of perspective creating wrong priorities. With the pressures of life comes tiredness and loss of perspective. For any disagreement to become conflict it means we have lost perspective. Things become all-important, and issues, organisation etc. all take on an importance beyond reality. As someone said long ago, “People matter more than things”. In church, people matter far more than issues or organisation or whatever. If we fail one another, we fail!
Into the Future
So we walk into the future, burnt by the past experience but wiser and more sensitive because of it. As Joseph said to his brothers and we can say to Satan, “You intended to harm me but God intended it for good” (Gen 50:20). Yes, the enemy stirred this up to seek to destroy you, but God allowed it to bring you through to a place where you also can be full of grace and truth, just like Jesus (Jn 1:14). May it be so.
16.7 And So?
It may be that your conflict (if you're one of the many involved in one) doesn't quite fit the things said in the notes but there are bound to be common features.
To conclude, when we are in a conflict situation it is so easy to
If you are in one of these situations, remember that God still loves you and is for you. Then remember that He loves them and is for them as well.
Remember Joshua had this problem (Josh 5:13-), so you're in good company, when he asked the man before him, “Are you for us or for our enemies”. The reply from heaven was instructive: “Neither, but as the commander of the army of the Lord I have now come”. In other words, “I'm on God's side to bring God's will, so are YOU on my side?” God calls us to His side, not to create or hold onto divisive groups through conflicts.