Early on in ministry, I noticed everything. One of the things that I saw over and over again was conflict. I saw it in the teenagers that I worked with. I saw it inside family units and in marriages. I saw it with neighbors and even in the church. I am now 27 years into ministry and I still see the same kinds of conflict almost on a daily basis.
My first pastor was a former Marine Drill Sargent. He was not only a great pastor but he became an incredible mentor to me. I remember clearly a day early in my ministry that I was dealing with an avalanche of conflict all at the same time. I had two teenage girls that were leaders in our ministry that were at each other constantly over a boy. I had a family (with teenagers that were a part of our ministry) in the church that had lost a loved one and they were fighting over the estate. I had three family units that were contemplating divorce and two men on my volunteer leadership team that could not see eye to eye on anything. As a brand new student pastor, I was overwhelmed at being in the middle of all of this conflict and not really knowing what to do. I decide the best way to handle it was to go sit down with my pastor/mentor and tell him I was quitting…I did not sign up for all of this garbage!!
As I sat down with my pastor/mentor he smiled and asked me what was wrong. He knew about every situation and was a calm as he could be. It made no sense to me at all. He went into teaching mode and reminded me that conflict is a part of life and a great opportunity for pastors to step in and help. As he continued to coach, he gave me four things that I still use today to help people resolve conflict in a healthy way.
- Acknowledge and define the conflict
You cannot hide from the conflict. It will not go away. It’s there so acknowledge it and begin to develop a plan to attack it. That plan has to begin with defining the issue(s) as simply as you possibly can. Cut out all of the drama and get to the point so that you know who and what you are dealing with.
- Take a hard look at yourself and pray
It is so easy to be in the middle of conflict and only see the faults of others. We are wired that way and we have to fight against that tendency. The first way to do that is to look at yourself and be honest about your part of the conflict. As you begin to see place you are at fault it should drive you to begin to pray and ask the Lord to help you own up to and fix your places of responsibility. Own it and allow the Lord to work through it.
- Go to the person(s) involved and seek reconciliation
No one wins when there is constant friction and conflict. Work the plan that God has given you as you have been praying. This is the opportunity to put it down and seek peace and reconciliation with the person/people involved. This needs to be done in place where everything can be dealt with in private. Show initiative and be the bigger person and make this time happen sooner rather that later. Be prayed up and ready to share your heart and your desire to seek peace and reconciliation. Expect emotions to be high. Be calm and allow the Lord to take over your heart and words as you share. It is incredible to see what God does in these moments as restoration, peace and reconciliation take place.
- Vow to continue to pray and spend time with person(s) involved in the conflict
It is not over at step three. Many times step three is just the beginning in the restoration process. Keep praying and work hard to reconnect with the person/people involved in the conflict. Spending time together will help reestablish the connection and trust and it will tell the skeptical world around you see that Jesus is bigger than the conflict that you have just walked through.
I learned a lot that day. I went from ready to quit to feeling like I had the tools to really help all of the people that were in the midst of conflict. I would like to tell you that every situation I was dealing with worked out perfectly…that did not happen, but I did watch God restore many of the people and families over the next few months. It has been a great joy to step into many situations where conflict is seen at every corner and offer these steps and watch God work. Give them a try and watch God do a work that only He can do in the middle of your conflict.