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conflict resolution

conflict resolutionWho likes conflict?

Hmmm, I don’t see any raised hands or hear any resounding “I dos.”

Yeah, I hate conflict too. It is painful and scary and it makes me feel out of control and vulnerable.

And yet, conflict is a part of life. God allows it, God assures us that we will have it and we have all experienced it.

We don’t learn how to cause conflict. We just automatically know. Even as little kids not able to talk, we know how to grab something we want from someone else, thus causing them distress.

Conflict. If there are people, there will be conflict.

How do you handle conflict? Usually we run from it, or pretend like it isn’t happening, or get angry, blow up and escalate the conflict, or blame someone else for causing the conflict, or do things we don’t want to do to please someone else and on and on. Anything but walk into the conflict, walk thru the conflict and walk out on the other side of the conflict.

Even though we don’t learn how to cause conflict, we can learn some ways to handle conflict. There are all kinds of instructions on “conflict management skills.”

Just google it. All the steps to resolving conflict are at your fingertips.

However, in order to implement those conflict management skills, I want to propose the idea of changing our thinking about conflict.  A new “conflict paradigm.”

So here are two ideas to begin thinking about conflict differently.

1. What if we begin to look at conflict as an opportunity?

Since we know we are going to have conflict, what if instead of dreading or dodging it, we began to see conflict as an opportunity. Because when I hear the word “opportunity” it sounds like a good thing. Like something positive is about to happen.

When people walk thru conflict together, tolerate the uncomfortable feelings, talk about the feelings, talk about the need to repair, confess their own wrong actions and come out on the other side of the conflict, they are usually more emotionally bonded.

Doesn’t emotional bonding sound like a positive thing?

Also, going thru something hard, like conflict, and coming out on the other side is character building. Having a stronger character sounds like a positive thing, right?

2. What if we begin to look at conflict as something to be redeemed?

Typically a positive outcome of working through conflict is that it gets resolved.

But think about the even more positive idea of conflict as being redemptive. We know our God is a Redeemer, so what does the idea of redemption really mean? To me it means making something good out of something bad.

If we look at conflict as an opportunity, we are already halfway there to thinking of conflict as being redeemable. Going into the pain of conflict, walking through it with others and coming out on the other side, will give us a new appreciation for the beauty of the process. We will see the positive results. We will bond with others and have a new appreciation for doing something hard and scary.

So, use your conflict management skills. Learn some new ones.

But consider thinking about conflict in a positive light and notice if your conflicts become more of a creative challenge than a fearful encounter.

What conflicts have you encountered that seem impossible to go through?

When are some times that you have successfully gotten to the other side of a conflict?

“Run Forest Run”- That often seems the best advice on how many managers, parents and friends manage conflict. But is avoiding conflict really the best way to manage it?

When we avoid or run from conflict rarely do we see it go away. Sure it might go away for a while, but all to often, it rears it’s ugly head again and often, while at rest, the beast grows even larger!

What if we took the time to understand conflict for what it really is and learned to manage the process of how to resolve it? For example let’s begin with the premise that not only is conflict normal but it is even profitable! 

A wise supervisor once told me if we all thought the exact same thing that the company would only need one of us. Each of us brings a unique point of view, skill set and perspective to any situation. That is what makes us valuable and it is also what is the root of conflict-differences. The issue is not whether we have differing points of view but rather how we manage our emotions and ego through the process.

This makes sense at a core level, however managing, and profiting from conflict is not so easy to do! The key in handling conflict is to be prepared before you enter the fray. There are lots of books on the subject, anger management classes and web sites devoted to the topic. How do you choose?

Well if you believe in God, it might be a good idea to understand how the creator of the universe, the One who invented emotions, the Alpha and Omega of human development and understanding designed a process for us to be both unique and to live together in peace.

Worldwide Discipleship Association, Inc has discovered nine key Biblical principles, drawn from scripture, which provide key understandings and methods for resolving conflict.

For example have you read about how Paul taught the Philippians to work at developing agreement, not just being agreeable?

Or how we can receive correction without it damaging our self-image?

These and other key methods are covered in “Developing Healthy Relationships” one of several key leadership skill trainings found at disciplebuilding.org.

My mother used to tell my brother and sister and I to “fight nice”! As I continue to study and grow I find that conflict is not to be avoided. Wade right in. Learn something in the process but understand that it is a process and equip yourself how to do it well.

group of womenAs a counselor, I meet with people one-on-one all day long. It’s rewarding, exhausting and humbling. As much as I believe in the value of individual counseling, there is another way of helping people heal that I believe is, in many ways, more powerful.

The group.

Oh, how I love a group, in all its messiness, closeness, vulnerability and intimacy.

At WDA, our materials are designed to be used in groups. We believe in the vast restorative power of a group. We use groups for our discipleship materials and for our Restoring Your Heart materials.

There is a reason “small groups” are so popular in churches today. We all crave intimacy. We are designed for intimate relationships with each other and a healthy small group is the perfect place to “figure out” intimacy. Most of us really don’t know how to be closely connected to others because we have been hurt by others. We don’t trust, it is risky, and we would rather not take the chance. Yet, in avoiding closeness, we go against our created design. So, we get caught in an approach/avoidance relational intimacy dilemma.

With that in mind, I want to encourage you in three ways.

1.  Embrace the risk of either being in a small group or starting a small group.

No matter what the stated purpose of your small group, whether it be Bible study, fellowship, discipleship or emotional healing, no matter what materials you use or don’t use for your small group, there is an overriding transcendent goal for your group.

Cloud and Townsend, in their book Making Small Groups Work, refer to this goal as the ministry of reconciliation. In aiming for this goal, we (the group) are not supposed to be the moral police, we are supposed to be the restorer’s of life. We achieve reconciliation in a small group by combining grace, truth and time with our desire to connect with God and with others. We use a small group to be restored to God, to learn how to relate to others and to experience and practice grace and forgiveness.

And, yes, it is messy sometimes. There will be conflict. There will be unease. There will be anxiety and unsurety. But, don’t you have all of those in your life anyway? And isn’t it frequently hard to navigate those waters?

The beauty of a healthily functioning small group is that all these things can happen, but all these things can also be successfully navigated, dealt with and the group members restored to relationship with each other. There is nothing more exciting and bonding than to experience this reconciliation in a group.

2. Read Making Small Groups Work by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. 

Take notes while you are reading it and think about ways you can use these principles in your own life. This book is one of the best books available about small groups.

3. Read this Short Story.

I was leading a Restoring Your Heart (RYH) group several years ago. When leading these groups, I use one of several workbooks dealing with emotional issues that are written by WDA staff. With this particular group, I was using the Processing Pain Workbook, which deals with childhood issues and then moves into grieving and forgiveness.

The group consisted of myself, the co-leader and three other women all of whom had bi-polar disorder. (If you want to learn more about bi-polar disorder, click here.) My “starting out” goal for the group was to help these women see the impact their past had on them and move them joyfully into emotional health within the 18 week group time frame.

About three weeks into the group, I realized that my lofty goal was out the window. These women could not focus on the material or on their past long enough to gain much insight from it. They were having so many problems navigating their daily lives, largely because of their bi-polar disorder, that they were overwhelmed. Each week, one or all of them would come in with a present day crisis that needed to be discussed.

So, I readjusted my goal for the group. Once I let go of my agenda, I realized that these women were gaining much more benefit from the group just by being in a place where they were heard. So we moved through the workbook slowly and incrementally. Usually each week, we spent roughly one-third of the group time on the material, sneaking it in and out of our conversations. They all gained some small understanding of the impact of their past, and they gained a little benefit from talking about grieving and forgiveness.

But, the huge benefit they gained from the group was a chance to bond, experience intimacy and be heard. In other words, they experienced the ministry of reconciliation. Our group lasted about 6 months, much longer than the prescribed 18 weeks. During this time, I realized that the Holy Spirit was going to do a much better job of leading this group than I was and He was going to help these women experience intimacy at a more experiential level than the materials could. The group ended when one group member went to jail and another one went into the hospital. The workbook was still not completed.

Did this group challenge every aspect of my group-leading experiences and desires? Absolutely! Do I consider this one of the more successful groups I have ever lead? Definitely!  Grace, truth and time came together and created intimacy for women who rarely experience it.

And now, following the encouragement, a challenge for you.

Look for ways you can experience intimacy in a small group environment.

And,

Move towards the messiness that results in closeness and reconciliation.

couple disagreePursuing Peace is hard. Whether you are listening to the news or looking at your facebook feed, there are plenty of people including Christians who are faced with the choice of joining a heated discussion or logging out!

There are many who will go to Chick-fil-a this August 1 to show their support. There are also lots of people on the other side of the issue who will take their stand as well. My question is how can the Christians who stand on either side of this issue pursue peace when they disagree?

“Blessed are the Peacemakers.” (Matthew 5:1) Peace isn’t some passive experience that I gain by letting go. Instead peacemaking is active.* I have to work at making peace.

I believe that all Christians need to learn how to pursue peace and actively make peace.

Here are 5 things to remember:

1.  Every Christian needs to remember they are poor in spirit.  I’ve got to remember that log in my eye before I point out the speck.

2.  I need God’s Spirit, His Word the Bible, and people to reveal my heart.  True conviction and spiritual change don’t happen alone.

3. I am not the Holy Spirit: I don’t have to convince you! That is God’s work!  The point is not winning an argument but seeking to know God and what He says.

4. I need to remember that there is a bunch of pain under the surface!  If there is heat then usually there is something else needing to be addressed! Who among us hasn’t felt hurt and pain due to sinful actions, thoughts and words of others? Many times we argue most vehemently because of what is under the surface.

5. Pursuing peace and making peace doesn’t mean we agree.  I might never agree with you but that doesn’t mean we have no common ground.

So Christian, before you take to the streets to defend your position at your local Chick-fil-a or call your local talk show, how about opening your Bible and listen to Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7?

Matthew 5-7


You are not the first Christian to disagree about the Bible. I think that many of us need to stay in the tension and humbly open God’s word together to find His answers!

There is an alternative to this hard work of peacemaking: you could choose to separate and isolate, speak harsh words, attack anyone who disagrees, and form a new group that agrees with you. Jesus warned us against this as well! (Read John 17)

 

*My thoughts have been greatly influenced by my Pastor and Fellow Brother in Christ, Chris Robins. Listen to his sermon on peacemaking at St Paul’s Presbyterian Church Website. 

Bob Dukes

bob dukesGrowing up, there were times in our local church when being around other believers became troublesome and tedious.  That’s when someone would usually say:  “To live above with the saints in love…  that will be glory!  But to live here below with the folks I know…  that’s another story!”  Everyone would laugh, but too often there remained an undercurrent of frustration and disappointment.  This prompted me to wonder: “Why is church life so difficult?”

Being with other Christians can be wonderful.  God has placed us in His spiritual family, the Church, to encourage us, protect us, correct us, direct us, and provide for us.  There are specific situations that help believers experience beneficial relationships with other Christians.  Each of these experiences plays a unique role in helping to form us spiritually, but each requires some effort.  Christians who do not have connections with other Christians tend to stop growing. (cf. Hebrews 10: 24-25)

But sometimes being with other Christians can be painful.  Proverbs affirms this tension: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  A sharp tool makes work easier and more productive, but the sharpening file causes sparks to fly.  Anyone who’s been part of a church for a while can identify.  People can be petty and immature.  We’re all human, but we expect more from fellow believers.

In the first century there were very few church buildings.  Mostly the believers met together in private homes for Bible teaching, prayer, and fellowship.  This close proximity allowed for greater intimacy, but it also created the possibility of conflict.  No doubt this prompted the apostles to write such passages as Romans 12: 10-21.  The closer we get to people the more they encourage us, but we can also see their faults more clearly; and they can see ours!

So church life is both challenging and blessed.  In light of this, one of the commodities most needed in the church is maturity, evidenced by servant-hearted love.  Paul seemed to have this in mind when he spoke to a very immature church of a better, “most excellent way”: Love that never fails!  (I Cor. 13: 1-10.)  God is in the process of changing us into His likeness, but sometimes change takes time and requires effort.  The outcome (maturity) is worth it, but the process is still painful.  So we persevere, loving each other, and forbearing with each other.

What are some of the ways you have seen God use the church to help you grow to maturity?