Rarely a week goes by when I don’t get a call from a fellow pastor who says something like this: “I’ve had enough! I’m so tired of all the conflicts, and it seems it’s always the same struggles over and over again. Nothing ever gets resolved.”
Sometimes the conflict is with congregational powers-that-be. Sometimes it’s with fellow staff members. It really doesn’t matter all that much because the effects are mostly the same: high anger levels, family tension, fatigue, discouragement, feelings of inadequacy, and thoughts of going back into the family plumbing business!
Most church fights never lead to resolution because they’re not fought according to a holy battle plan. We tend to fight from a reactive posture, using whatever tactics and weapons we have available to preserve our position. God, on the other hand, calls us to stop using weapons of the flesh and start using his tactics for resolving conflict. Having helped hundreds of churches, here are some essentials to conflict resolution God’s way:
Abandon the concept of fair
God’s way has nothing to do with fair. Think, “Was Christ on the cross fair?” Do you really want God to treat you fairly – in other words, like you deserve to be treated? It’s easy to spot how someone treats you unfairly and only natural to notice when someone isn’t carrying his/her share of the load, but God calls you to lovingly and kindly apply mercy.
The Bible says, “Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! … Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3:3-6 NLT).
Truth is your guide
Truth is very simply defined: Truth is what God says it is. Your feelings cannot have the final word; your thoughts alone do not determine the ultimate truth. The opinions of others – even a majority – do not have the final say-so. God alone is given the authority to interpret the situation, and everything else must be submitted to his perspective.
Believe God fights for you
The enemy would love for you to think the battle is just against you. It’s easy to believe this, particularly when you’re fatigued. People who believe they’re separated from God tend to get desperate, and then they yield to desperate measures. Simon Peter is an excellent example of this: his use of blustery words, swords, curses and lies were all desperate attempts to take care of himself apart from God. Leave it up to God to fight the battle.
Use Jesus logic
It’s only human nature to make your understanding the standard by which you judge others. After all, your story makes perfect sense to you. But God says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of that way is death.” (Proverbs 14:12) If your intelligence or logic is fueled by self-preservation, by what’s best for you, or by what you understand, then you gain none of God’s wisdom. The apostle Paul says we have the mind of Christ. His holy logic says we should prefer the interests of others above our own. His mind puts us in a position to see what God sees in our conflict.
Your conflict is not against flesh and blood
Satan wants you to think the enemy is the deacon who opposes your vision, the staff member who sabotages your dreams, the spouse who nags you, or the teenager you argue with daily. But the Bible clearly teaches us that they are not the real enemy. As long as Satan keeps you looking at a flesh-and-blood opponent, you’re more likely to fight with ‘weapons of the flesh’.
God says our battle is with “unseen spiritual forces of wickedness.” Therefore, “flesh and blood” weapons, such as manipulation, argument, gossip and slander are of no use whatsoever (Ephesians 6:12). In fact, they only serve to make matters worse. Until you fully believe that you’re wrestling against unseen spiritual powers, you’ll never actually get to the root of the problem. This is one of the reasons that churches keep repeating the same cycle of conflict over and over again.
Stop fighting like someone who has no faith
The apostle Paul says we must stop fighting with weapons of the flesh. Yet, the truth is these weapons are commonly used in church conflicts (2 Corinthians 10:4-5) . They include intimidation, ridicule, threats and unholy alliances with individuals or groups in power. Church power struggles often rely on blame, gossip, manipulation and the withholding of blessings or acceptance.
These weapons create a cycle of evil-for-evil and that is like trying to fight a skunk with ‘stink’: everybody loses! God calls us to release the sweet fragrance of Christ.
We’re vulnerable to using these weapons for one reason only – they work! If they didn’t work, we wouldn’t use them as often as we do. But they only work for the short-term! With enough intimidation, we may overpower a foe. If we withdraw acceptance, we may get our way. If we nag long enough, we might get what we want. But while we’re experiencing short-term gains, we’re also piling up long-term losses. That’s the tell-tale sign of most carnal weapons: short-term gains and long-term losses (For instance, think about screaming and how well that works long-term.).
Trust in the weapons God gives
Prayer is one of the most overlooked spiritual weapons available. I’m constantly amazed at the number of Christian people who never think to pray together in the midst of a fight.
· It’s prayer that re-centers us, reminding us who God is and who we are as his children.
· It’s prayer that draws us into the eternal perspective so we’re no longer locked in a temporal point of view.
· It’s prayer that gives us God’s interpretation, revealing to us his perspective on the conflict.
I often suggest “fighting prayers”, where each person involved in the conflict takes time to submit all of his/her opinions beneath God’s opinions, to submit all of his/her interests beneath God’s interests, and to submit all his/her interpretations of events under God’s interpretation.
Forgiveness is another powerful ‘Spirit weapon’ that releases everyone involved in the conflict. Remember the Forgiver lives in you, and that means God may call you to make the first move toward genuine healing. He may ask you to die to your rights and privileges. Or, he may call you to speak the truth in love, but don’t forget the love! In a holy fight, you should never attempt to overcome any evil until you can overcome it with the goodness of God. Start by meditating on Ephesians 4:25-32 and Romans 12:10-21.
Steve Pettit is pastor of CenterPoint Christian Fellowship in Gainesville, Florida, and director of One In Christ ministries, where he specializes in staff conflict and pastor burnout.