What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Now Hear This: How to Handle Conflict

Conflict, wrongly handled, destroys communities. I wish that this only happened on the college campus with 18-22-year olds. It doesn't.

It's much, much worse when old people like me have never learned to handle conflict and then it blows up in a church. And then the church blows up. And the damage is much greater because there's more dynamics in a church community with zero-eighty year olds than when it's all 18-22 year olds.

All because people have no idea how to handle conflict. Or they do know, they're just too scared to handle it the right way.

So here it is. Take a deep breath and read this carefully. You will have conflict with someone at some point. Some of you are dealing with a conflict-type situation right now. Some of you are advising someone who's trying to figure out what to do with a potentially conflict-laden situation.

Whatever it is, please, please, please don't screw this up. It does damage. It's not convenient. It's just holy. Here's an opportunity to live with integrity rather than slouch towards what's easy because following Jesus isn't about making your life simple. It's about making you good.

This is all coming from Matthew 18. Check it out for yourself if it helps.

First, if someone sins against you or hurts you, you need to talk to them. To them. First. Not your mother. Not your girlfriend. Not your small group. Not your best friend. That's called gossip. That's called sin.

Now I recognize two things: sometimes you need help to do the right thing like to confront someone who's sinned against you. Sometimes it's not exactly clear if you've been wronged. And so yeah, there are times when you've just got to talk it through with someone.

But I also recognize that our capacity for self-deception in this area is spectacularly great. And so we've gotta' be ruthless. Unless you're really, really, really not sure about what needs to happen, you've got to go to that person first.

If and only if they do not listen to you, then and only then does Jesus invite you to talk to someone else. But the purpose of that conversation is not to malign. It's to invite one or two people with you to go together in the hopes of winning the other person over. You go back to the person with those friends. Not just talk about them behind their backs.

If they still won't listen, then you go to the authority in your church or fellowship. And they help out with the dispute.

What I find with both students and old people is that the break-down happens with step one. Because people don't have the courage to have the hard conversation with the offending person. It's always easier to gossip than to have holy and healthy conflict.

Sin is always easier at first than holiness. But the returns on sin are perpetually diminishing. And the returns on holiness are perpetually compounding into infinite goodness and joy. That's the choice set before us with these commands.

Brothers and sisters, what makes the church different is not that we don't have conflict. Of course we're going to have conflict. What's to make us different is how we handle the conflict. Jesus gives us clear instructions.

It's about time we started taking him seriously.

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