Conflict resolution is a vital part of church planting. Many people with deep needs can be attracted to church plants. Also, people trying to escape hurt feelings or conflict somewhere else, often bring it with them when they come. Let me introduce a conflict from my own ministry.
I was in conflict with a member of our youth leadership team. After a decision was made to discontinue the ministry, the member became very upset and it led to us not communicating for a time. This “falling out” was unexpected, considering the relationship or connection that we shared outside of the church setting. Not only had I baptized her children, but we were business partners, she was close friends with my wife, and she even helped coordinate my wedding. We considered each other as family. For months, our families went without speaking to each other because both were hurt and affected from the situation and it became evident in church interactions. Although there were attempts to reconcile the situation, these efforts fell short of true restoration. After about six months, we finally had a conversation where we apologized to each other, admitted and accepted our wrongful contributions to the matter, and decided that it was hypocritical for us to call ourselves Christians, but hold on to grudges and not properly deal with the conflict to restore the relationship. Here are four lessons learned from this conflict in light of Ken Sande’s book, Peacemaker (Baker Books, 2004).
- Seek to serve the other person.
While the restoration did not happen overnight, we understood that communication was the key to success and knew that we could both grow in this area. Ken Sande says, “When others are weighed down with problems and stress, God will sometimes use us to encourage them and help carry their burdens… Best of all, conflict can provide the opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ and give witness to the gospel, even to people who are attacking us” (p. 143). I know that I played a role in the misunderstanding above and I know that my response, or allowance for the continuation of bitterness, was not Christlike and I could have done much better. I found numerous burdens my friend was carrying, of which I was previously unaware. Communication gave me a chance to serve her by listening to her.
- Show respect and concern for the other’s traditions.
Sande says, “Whatever the situation might be, we should always show respect for the concerns, traditions, limitations, and special needs of others and ask God to show us how to communicate with them in the way that is most appreciate and helpful to them” (p. 147). I could have been much more considerate and respectful of her concerns rather than focusing so much, and holding on to my own. People bring expectations and ideas and beliefs to church plants and their personal traditions are important, even if they are not going to be replicated.
- Listen carefully.
Sande writes, “Another element of effective communication is to listen carefully to what others are saying” (p. 165). When we finally talked, I found myself doing more accusing than I was of accepting responsibility. Not that I did not understand her point of view of my wrongs, but I also shared my perspective as well. I know that I could have done a better job in not only speaking, but listening, even in the initial attempts to reconcile the relationship.
- Choose your words carefully.
Lastly, Sande says that “[m]any conflicts are caused or aggravated by misunderstandings. People may say things that are actually true or appropriate, but because they did not choose their words carefully, they leave room for others to misconstrue what they mean and take offense…. You should communicate so clearly that you cannot be misunderstood” (p. 176). After looking back on the situation, it all stemmed from a misunderstanding based upon unclear communication. I know that I could have prevented some of the reactions by being clear and concise with the decision. I will share and communicate decisions differently in the future and if conflict arises, I will not run from it, but rather deal with it in a Christ-like way. Clear communication is the key to success.