Summary: It’s not if conflict happens, but when - how do we get through it?
Relationships Are Everything
Dealing With Conflict
A funny thing happened quite a few years ago in Darlington, Maryland. Edith, a mother of eight children, was coming home from visiting a neighbor one Saturday afternoon. As she walked into the house, she spotted five of her youngest children huddled together, concentrating with intense interest on something. When she slipped over near them, trying to discover what was going on, she could hardly believe her eyes. Smack dab in the middle of the circle of attention were several baby skunks. The alarmed mother screamed at the top of her voice, “Children, run, run, run.” At the sound of her voice, each child grabbed a skunk and ran. I think you can picture what happened next.
This mother learned a valuable lesson that day. It turns out that panicking, screaming, and overreacting are not the way to handle skunks. All you end up with is a stinky situation. I say this – this is not the way to handle conflict in the church unless we want to end up with the same result. There are many “skunks” that can pop up in the church and cause problems. I define a “skunk” in the church as a situation that has the potential to blow up and create a stink if it is not dealt with properly. Some of these “skunks” include what style of songs we should sing, what kinds of changes we should make in the church, and what we do when someone does something that angers us. Basically, a “skunk” is a situation that involves conflict.
Larry Crabb once wrote, “The difference between spiritual and unspiritual community is not whether conflict exists, but is rather in our attitude toward it and our attitude in handling it. When conflict is seen as an opportunity to draw more fully on spiritual resources, we have the makings of spiritual communities.” Notice that he did not say that the difference between the world and the church is a lack of conflict. You only need to be in the church for a little amount of time before you realize that there is conflict in it. The truth of the matter is that relationship can be strengthened through conflict – if we handle them correctly. What makes or breaks churches and relationships is what they choose to do in conflict because conflict is going to come. This morning, we are going to see what advice Jesus can give us for dealing with our “skunks” and conflicts. Turn with me to Matthew 18:15-20 or follow along in your sermon notes.
“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. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Jesus shares some tremendous wisdom with us here about conflict. Before we dive into it, let’s go to the Lord and ask for His guidance in this area.
We should handle conflict using Jesus’ three step plan.
A few years ago, my wife and I received a house warming gift from a parishioner. They had bought us a dresser which we desperately needed at the time. It was a very thoughtful gift and we were gracious to take it. However, there was one problem. The dresser came unassembled in what seemed like a million pieces.
As most of you know, I am a bit deficient in the area of craftsmanship, but I decided to take on this project so we could finally take our clothes out of boxes and put them in a dresser for once. As I rummaged through the box of pieces, I was pleased to find a book of instructions. I am not too proud to admit that I used them. I started through and had few troubles for the first half of the build even though it took a tremendous amount of time to interpret the instructions and translate their words into actions. After the dresser started to take shape, I began to gain confidence in my building skills, so I began to stray from the directions. After all, I could put the drawers together and install the hardware to make them slide out. I had no trouble with the drawers, so I moved on to the hardware. It installed in a snap. Then, I went to slide the drawer in, and the problem hit. It would not line up right at all. I could not even force the drawer to go in. As I began to survey the situation, I realized I had placed the tracks in backwards. I was a little discouraged as I took all ten of them back off, turned them around, and fastened them back on. I picked up the drawer again, but it still did not seem to go in right. There was too much gap between the top drawer and the top of the dresser, and there was not enough room for the bottom drawer to fit. I began to wonder if I had put the whole thing together wrong and became distraught about the wasted hours of the project. Then, I went back to the instructions. I thumbed through the pages to find the section about the drawer hardware. In big, boldface letters, the instructions said, “Make sure the black arrow is on top of each piece of hardware and is pointing towards you. I hadn’t even noticed the black arrow before. I took off one piece and noticed I now had every piece of hardware on upside down. I once again had to remove and reattach each piece. I was frustrated, but it all could have been avoided if I had just followed the directions of the company.