From time to time conflict arises. This is something we’re all painfully aware of. Even among Christians, even among members of a single church family, conflict arises. It’s a part of being human – it’s been pointed out that for conflict to cease, all relations between individuals will also need to end. Where you have more than one person together, conflict is inevitable. And conflict is uncomfortable. Particularly so when it’s among church members. We all generally expect the Church to be full of people who we can be vulnerable with (they’re not looking to cause us hurt, right?); we generally expect the Church to be a safe place (people don’t bring personal agendas here, do they?); we generally expect Christians to have each other’s backs (we do, don’t we?).
Conflict can arise, and does. And so I want to outline our three-pronged, or three dimensional, approach to addressing conflict in our parish.
The first way we address conflict in the parish needs to be preventative. We are people who pray, and who trust that God hears us when we do. So pray for this fellowship of Christian believers, this motley group of people who are banded together – not as perfect, finished products, but as struggling pilgrims whom God is working amongst to make them holy. Pray for God to conform hearts to His, to rid us of ill-intent and soften us to understand one another more deeply.
Particularly when you notice traces of bitterness or enmity working their way, pray for the circumstances that are causing that. Offer those circumstances to God, offer each other up in prayer – offer yourselves up in prayer. Seek the transformational work of the Holy Spirit in your life, and expect to see change. Trust that God wants unity among His people, and will give it to us when we seek Him with our whole heart.
In Matthew 18 Jesus outlines an approach for His followers to use when dealing with conflict. He says that first we should approach the offending party one-on-one. In our church, if you’re unable to do this then please take the priest, a warden, or a vestry member with you – but keep the conflict between you and the person who’s offended you. Don’t talk to all of your friends. Don’t create factions. Don’t engage in the “he said/she said” gossip. Just deal with the person who has caused you offense. It could be that no offense was meant or realized, and that an apology will be forthcoming. It is only if this approach produces no result that Jesus suggests we bring the problem to others in the Church.
It is important that we don’t sweep this aside. When someone hurts you, that’s a real thing that’s happened. If you don’t acknowledge it and address it with them, you’ve passively given them permission to do it again. And again. And again. And not only that, you’ve given them license to treat others the same way. For the sake of the whole people of God, it is vitally important that we address hurtful behaviour and speech when we encounter it. To fail to do so leaves open avenues for the disintegration of community and the fellowship God has given.
God’s desire for us is that we would grow more and more into the likeness of Jesus. Some of the Church Fathers made an important distinction between the image and the likeness of God – the image is yours by birth (as a human); the likeness is yours by the transformative work of the Holy Spirit in your life after being brought to saving faith in Jesus. That is, you may look “like” Jesus without actually being like Jesus, but the work of the Holy Spirit is to make your like Him. This means a change in your life and lifestyle. So how is this brought about?
One important way is through intentional interaction with other Christians that is geared towards growing disciples of Jesus – becoming more like Him. As iron sharpens iron only when the two pieces of iron meet and are rubbed against each other, so too are Christians only made sharper Christians when they meet with one another and engage Jesus’ invitation to follow Him interactively. We push and urge each other to deeper levels of discipleship; we keep one another accountable as Jesus’ followers; we gain insight and maturity into the nature of discipleship from one another.
Without this transformation, this deep transformation of the inner life and character of the people in the pew, we can go through the motions of conflict resolution and conflict address but it is only skin deep. For this reason, we are urging all members of the parish to join small group Bible studies – as a means toward inner transformation, the kind that really counts. Interested?