by Reid Smith
Conflict happens. You cannot always anticipate it, but you know it when you have stepped in it. The temptation is to avoid conflict, but that is a mistake! The key to handling conflict most of the time is to deal with it head-on and right away in love. Attempting to avoid conflict only invites more of it into a situation. Unaddressed tension festers into the kind of conflict that is harmful to group life. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5). When group leaders address tension in its brewing stage, it can enrich everyone’s sense of belonging and togetherness.
The most violated principle in handling conflict is Matthew 18:15, which says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” The first thing believers are instructed to do when they have a problem with another person is to directly and privately address the matter with that person. People tumble into trouble, and disagreements escalate into tragic relational fissures when they skip this first step and gossip or stew in their feelings.
We must examine our own hearts before we go to deal with conflict. For example, our motivation is off if what we really want deep down is for the other person to see that we are right and apologize to us for the trouble they have caused. Rather, we want to ‘win over’ our brother or sister for the sake of the relationship…not to ‘win’ an argument for our ego’s sake. We will be better prepared to deal with conflict in healthy and productive ways if we ask ourselves these questions before speaking into tense situations:
- Why am I upset?
- Is there anything I need to apologize for or let go of? What can I learn from this?
- Why do I want to go to this person? What is my goal? What do I hope to see accomplished?
- Do the outcomes I desire benefit me and the person I have a problem with? Would Jesus hope for the same outcome I desire?
- How can both of us not just move on but grow together as a result of the conflict?
There is wisdom woven throughout the Scriptures on how to deal with conflict in ways that are healthy for individuals and groups. In the table below, you will find passages on how group leaders can “leverage” conflict to create an environment where biblical community can continue to grow:
|Key Scriptures.||Applied to Conflict|
|1 Cor. 13:4||Go to God before going to another. If you are not being patient, kind, and thoughtful of the other, then you are not responding in love. Be sure your heart reflects love’s attributes before dealing with conflict.|
|1 Cor. 13:5||Prayerfully offer up the offense and your response to the Lord and ask Him if the source of conflict is something you should release or respond to with truth in love. (Eph. 4:15)|
|Mt. 18:15-17||When you have a problem with somebody, first pray and then go immediately and directly to them to deal with it in private. Subsequently, only involve others if necessary for their sake and for complete healing.|
|James. 4:1-2||Use the questions above to evaluate your motives for conflict and get your heart right before speaking into a tense situation. (Prov. 15:28)|
|Phil. 2:4||Try to understand where the other person is coming from and what you can do to work toward a solution that results in mutual understanding and encouragement. (Rom. 14:19)|
|Eph. 4:15, 25||Continually hold on to truth and love as you speak to another person. We become off-balance the moment we let go of either one.|
|Eph. 4:26-27||Be real and say everything you feel you need to say in love. Do not leave behind any scraps for the enemy.|
|Prov. 20:3; 2 Tim. 2:24||Be self-controlled in conflict. You can prevent conflict from devolving into quarreling and strife when you are mindful of your emotions and thoughtful of the other.|
|1 Pet. 3:8-9||The best “defense” is a strong offense of love. Resist the temptation to fire back at somebody who insults you. It is a credit to your strength when you find a way to stand your ground while responding in ways that show understanding and love. Humility and compassion help you to relate harmoniously with others.|
|2 Tim. 2:23||Spend your time and energy on the essentials of the faith and help people to stay focused on the person of Jesus Christ; it tends to be the non-essential doctrines that produce unproductive debates (Titus 1:9; 3:9).|
|2 Tim. 2:25-26||Be gentle in how you “instruct” others. By approaching and addressing people in gentleness and love, you will be more effective in leading them (and yourself!) into God’s truth and peace.|
|Jms. 1:19||Group participants will be better equipped to distinguish between constructive and unconstructive conflict as they take their time to listen and learn what others are communicating. It also enriches your group’s Bible study and discussion.|
|Jms. 5:16||Vulnerability and honesty are the greatest safeguards against unhealthy conflict. They strengthen the unity of the group and raise its level of compassion.|
|Prov. 18:8||Gossip breeds destructive conflict and breaks down trust within the group. If somebody says something unsubstantiated or speculative about another person (even if they are “passing along” what they have heard from another), call it into question and move on. Don’t back down from contending for a transforming environment by snuffing out gossip. (2 Cor. 12:20; cf. 1 Tim. 5:19)|
|Mt. 12:25; Prov. 6:16-19||Disagreement and discord can grow into divisiveness. The enemy is constantly at work to divide God’s people and like sin, the longer it goes unaddressed, the more powerful it becomes. Love can conquer anything that causes dissension.|
Conflict is not something to rush into or to avoid. It can threaten to be a separator, but the Bible shows us how we can use it as a connector. It can be a “blessing in disguise” when we handle it with biblical wisdom. God, in His grace, gives us ways we can deal with conflict so that relationships grow in ways they would not have without it. In fact, conflict can be the very thing God uses to ‘draw out’ authenticity and empower people to be more real with each other. It can be the key that allows us to experience the wholeness and life that comes with biblical community (Acts 2:42-47).
Reid Smith has been equipping leaders in churches of all sizes and stages of growth for effective disciple-making since 1996. He currently serves as a Pastor of Groups at Christ Fellowship in Palm Beach County, FL and has been a contributing author for various publications, including Lifeway’s Ministry Grid. Learn more about how to start and multiply healthy groups throughout your church at www.reidsmith.org.