Do not avoid conflict; handle it
From the book: "Leadership 101"
My job is not to solve people's problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives.
- Eugene H. Peterson
Working with you makes me sick! That's the title of a book on my bookshelf. That people constantly rub each other up the wrong way, is a
fact. Conflict is part of most people's lives - from the workplace to the church. Unfortunately in the church conflict is often handled
badly because it is denied, suppressed or hastily brushed off. Christians are after all supposed to be friendly and never disagree with each
other. This, however, leads to backstabbing, cliques, gossip and the casting of suspicion. One of my friends says that the church upholds
all sorts of lies in exchange for the truth.
It's not true that churchgoers may not be honest with each other when they hold a different view or opinion. Just think about Paul, the
great apostle of love (1 Corinthians 13). He didn't hesitate to confront Peter in public when he once compromised the principles of the
gospel by reverting to outdated Jewish culinary traditions (Galatians 2: 11-14). Paul wasn't an avoider of conflict, but rather someone
who managed conflict. He didn't pursue peace at all costs, because he wasn't a people-pleaser. Yet Paul never confused "being straight"
with "being rude" or "being loveless".
Too many faith communities are unsafe places because conflict is never handled correctly. We must not avoid conflict; we must handle it
correctly. Our work as leaders is not to sort out people's problems for them - our calling is to slow conflict by equipping them to accept
accountability for the solution to their own troubles. Paul offers gripping pointers for this:
"Don't be harsh or impatient with an older man. Talk to him as you would your own father, and to the younger men as your brothers.
Reverently honour an older woman as you would your mother, and the younger women as sisters."
- 1 Timothy 5: 1-2, The Message
When there is conflict, forgiveness must always win. And God's grace. You must teach people that forgiveness doesn't work like adding up
sums. Followers of Jesus never keep track of the mistakes of others; neither of how many times they've handed out forgiveness. Of course
we're not blind to mistakes. But we never hold it against each other. We never recirculate ugly stories about each other. Similarly, we
don't maintain vindictive gossip behind the scenes. We're keen to close books, because that's what the Lord does with all of us!