For more on this topic, check out this resource by Tony Merida: Christ-Centered Conflict Resolution: A Guide for Turbulent Times.
Preparing to plant a church? Prepare to deal with conflict. And I don’t mean in three years—I mean on your core team. Before you launch. And after that, too. In every season of ministry, we’ll be laboring to bring unity, harmony, and reconciliation to our friends, families, churches, and communities.
But we aren’t alone, and we aren’t hopeless. The Prince of Peace is with us as we seek to be peacemaking planters and pastors. And one day, he will end all conflict and crush Satan under our feet.
Until then, though, we need resources and methods for dealing with conflict. (I’ve just written a book to help pastors and ministry leaders with this important work.) Here are five practical questions to present to those who come to us for counsel and care.
1. Me First: Is There a Log in My Eye?
When we’re in conflict with someone, the tendency is to point out all that’s wrong with them while avoiding our own sins. But Jesus said to first consider our sin and failure (Matt. 7:1–5). Pride compromises our ability to see accurately; once pride is removed, we’re better able to assess the other person’s actions. Clearer vision often leads us to consider their offense as a speck compared to our log, and to have the right heart in helping them remove it—free from anger or resentment. We’re likely to realize we, not they, are the major contributor to the problem.
2. Minor: Can I Overlook This Offense?
Some matters should be overlooked. How much better would it be if we lived out this proverb: “A person’s insight gives him patience, and his virtue is to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11)? So many conflicts could be resolved if we mercifully overlooked minor offenses. So, when should we overlook an offense? This requires discernment, but here are some questions to consider.
- Was the act done unintentionally?
- Is it an isolated incident and not a recurring one?
- Was it insignificant?
- Did it harm others or the offender?
- Did it harm the witness of the church?
- Is it non-moral or moral? Meaning, is this action due to simple differences in personality or preference, or is it due to overt sin?
3. Major: Does This Offense Require the Process of Restoration?
A major offense is any offense in which a person’s action dishonors God, damages your relationship, hurts others, hurts the offender, or disrupts unity. These actions call for a restoration process. At Imago Dei Church, we often talk about the need to have awkward conversations. Some call this confrontation, but we should remember that if there’s been a major offense, the goal is not to confront or rebuke (though we may need to do that), but to restore (Gal. 6:1). When we need to have an awkward conversation, our attitude should be one of grace and love—not harshness and anger—because the goal is to see restoration and renewal (Matt. 18).
In preparing for ministry, many aspiring planters give a lot of time thinking about preaching and leading mission. But it’s important that attention also be given to the ministry of peacemaking.
4. Material: Does This Offense Require Restitution Related to Property, Money, or Other Rights?
Sometimes conflict extends beyond personal relationships into material issues. So certain actions will need to be included in the restoration process. If you’re at fault and need to restore someone’s money or property, I’d encourage you to remember Zacchaeus, a little man who experienced a big change. Jesus declared salvation had come to Zacchaeus’s house (Luke 19:9), and one evidence of this grace was Zacchaeus’s response: “Look, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord. And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay back four times as much” (Luke 19:8). Zacchaeus was ready to do more than apologize; he was ready to pay people back four-times the amount he’d extracted from them!
5. Mediation: Does This Offense Require Another Party to Assist in Peacemaking?
Paul wrote to the Philippian church about 10 years after he planted it. He loved this great church, but even great churches have conflict: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I also ask you, true partner, to help these women who have contended for the gospel at my side, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:2–3).
Not much is known about these women or the cause of their strife. The issue doesn’t seem to be doctrinal, but relational. In asking for help, Paul shows the importance of others assisting in the reconciliation process. Paul also reminds everyone that these two sisters should be reconciled because their “names are in the book of life.” The common faith and hope of two believers should both spur and shape the restoration process.
In preparing for ministry, many aspiring planters give a lot of time thinking about preaching and leading mission. But it’s important that attention also be given to the ministry of peacemaking for the good of the church, the good of our witness, and the glory of God. And while we engage in this work, we take comfort in the fact that the Prince of Peace is with us, and one day soon, there will be no more conflict in our homes, or conflicts in the streets.