Whenever two or more people are together, there is the potential for disagreements. Conflict is not right or wrong, but how we respond to it matters. Conflict can leave us feeling hurt, ignored, confused, isolated or threatened. Unresolved conflict is compounded when individuals become stubborn and selfish and refuse to love biblically. Marriages deteriorate, churches and cell groups disintegrate, and friends separate.
The Bible gives us clear insights into resolving conflict and having a reconciling spirit. When conflict is handled biblically, it becomes an asset instead of a liability. Conflict allows us to recognize our deficiencies and invites the Lord to correct them. The following biblical steps will help you to resolve conflict in your personal life and in your small group.
1. Gain agreement that a problem exists
When facing conflict, we must listen to each others’ views so it is clear what the conflict is really about. This is why we must go directly to the person involved (Matthew 18:15-17). Confronting and discussing the situation privately often gives an opportunity for quick resolution, lessening the chance for misunderstandings and animosity to grow.
Try to understand the other’s point of view and discover what is behind each opinion. This helps another person see that you are willing to accept responsibility if you have contributed to the conflict.
2. Identify the consequences up front
Ask yourselves, “What is the worst possible consequence if this conflict is never addressed and resolved?” One thing you should be able to agree on immediately is that if the conflict goes unresolved, it may lead to greater problems. Paul addressed dissension in the early church by appealing for them to make an adjustment so that unity could prevail. He encouraged them to take immediate measures to repair their disagreements before strife tore them apart (1 Corinthians 1:10-12).
3. Pray together asking the Lord for wisdom and alternative solutions
Pray and ask the Lord for potential solutions to the conflict. One of our team members had to mediate an intense conflict on a church leadership team. When he met with the team, he felt they needed to come into the presence of God before they discussed anything. They had a wonderful time in prayer, and it was clear that God was moving in people’s hearts. He had instructed them ahead of time to write down their grievances. At the end of the prayer time he said, “Okay, go ahead and read your concerns to me.”
The first individual unfolded his paper, looked at it, and then refolded it. “In light of what just happened, these concerns are really insignificant,” he said.
Why did he no longer see the “problem” as significant? It had disappeared in the light of God’s wonderful grace and forgiveness! Sometimes what seems major and insurmountable becomes minor in the presence of God.
The presence of the Lord brings situations into right perspective. It washes off the junk and sets us free to humbly forgive and defer to each other.
4. Mutually agree on an action
Too often we spend most of our time on the conflict and forget to pursue possible solutions. Make a list of any proposed action (solution). Then pray over the list and pick an action (possible solution) that everyone agrees with. Believe in faith for a win-win solution as you approach possible solutions together. Will the proposed action allow a healing process to begin with no one being blamed? Does it provide for an end of the conflict with no recurrence? Will it result in better understanding by all parties with all feelings being respected? When we can agree on an action, the blessings of “life” the Lord promises in Psalms 133 will flow into the situation.
5. Follow-up and measure progress
Allow for a period of evaluation to determine if the resolution is successful in averting similar conflict(s). Set a specific date to meet and review the resolution and determine to alter the resolution if it is not working.
Once a conflict has been resolved and all the parties feel like they have been listened to, cared for, and understood, then it is time to “let go” of the conflict. Don’t bring it up in the future. God does not remember our sins to hold them against us, and we should do the same.
In our personal lives and in our small groups, let us continue to learn to defer to one other, applying the wisdom from above to our lives (James 3:17). Our God gives us grace to patiently listen, forgive, receive, correct, and submit to each other. Remember, in the midst of any conflict, it is more important to be Christ-like and have a reconciling spirit than to be right.