Summary: Seven steps for resolving conflict (Material adapted from John Ortberg's book, Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them, Chapter 7 Community is Worth Fighting For, pgs. 125-145)
One Sunday a minister was finishing up a series on marriage. At the end of the service he was giving out small wooden crosses to each married couple. He said, "Place this cross in the room in which you fight the most and you will be reminded of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, and you won’t argue as much." One woman came up and said, "You’d better give me five."
There are times when marriage is wonderful except when it is not. I have made Christian community, the church fellowship, sound so wonderful. There are times it is wonderful but there are other times when it is not. Community is messy. There is an old saying – The church would be a great place if it wasn’t for the people. Sure, this is said jokingly, but I think anyone who is involved in their local church can identify with the sentiment. People are messed up, and people make up the church. If we find the perfect church, don’t join it because we’ll mess it up.
Every year we have some who come back to church and some who look for another church. There are some who leave because they failed to get along with other church members. If we leave our current church over hurt feelings, we’ll leave the next church for the same reason. People are people. Feelings get hurt. Sometimes we’re too sensitive, sometimes the hurts are real. Either way, the solution isn’t leaving, it’s reconciliation. Or growing thicker skin.Leaving a church because one or two people offended us, only to go to another church where one or two people will offend again and we look for another church, is not a reasonable solution.
I’m not going to leave, I’m not going to fellowship, be around this person anymore. Since that is the case, have to quit going to this and that because so and so will probably be there. There is no greater challenge to building and sustaining community than to master the art of handling conflict in constructive ways. It’s an important topic especially in God’s eyes. Jesus said: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Jesus is big on love and not so big on unresolved conflict.
Unity—or oneness—is something Jesus values. Remember how he prayed in the Garden? “…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).
Two things happen when we let conflict divide us. First, oneness is broken. When we allow conflict to divide us it breaks unity. And second our witness is broken. Much like Jesus’ statement in John 13:35 here he says that when we are one with each other and the Godhead “the world may believe.” What do we do with these unresolved conflicts that divide?
““If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” Matthew 18:15, NIV. Specifically Jesus is dealing with sin in the church, but I want to apply this verse to conflict in general. Sin always divide us from each other and God, but there are instances where it’s just different personalities and misunderstandings that lead to conflict.