Facing Conflict Within Community

A couple weeks ago I was invited by Pastor Bobby to share some principles with the Elders about facing conflict in healthy, biblical ways. I welcomed this opportunity because for a long time I have been really interested in biblical peacemaking and its important role in maintaining – and yes, even fostering – genuine community among believers.

A little background: A couple years ago I did some research into “intentional Christian communities” – where a group of people choose to live under the same roof and seek to worship God and love each other; a kind of “new monasticism,” as it is sometimes called. I interviewed members from five different intentional Christian communities in the Boston area asking them: What did they think was the one determining factor that caused their community to either be successful or to fail? I was hoping to learn something that the broader church could benefit from.

I was struck by their unanimous answer. For all of them, the key to successful community was an unwavering commitment to face and deal with conflict the moment it arises.

I was surprised – but it made a lot of sense! Differences and misunderstandings happen all the time when you live close to people. And even though we, as believers, mostly don’t live under the same roof with each other, the kind of closeness and commitment expected between us is really that of True Family – which we genuinely are in Christ.

Therefore, we ought not to tolerate anything that would threaten our unity and harmony. (Particularly our own mistakes, sins and foolishness!)

Let me share a few principles about peacemaking and conflict resolution discussed with the Elders:

  1. Conflict is normal. People have differences. Offenses and misunderstandings happen. Why not, rather than fleeing from conflict or treating others as the enemy, we instead see conflict as an opportunity to learn and grow together? After all, that is how God sees it: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15).
  2. There are six acceptable (i.e. biblical) ways to deal with conflict:
  • Overlooking – deciding an issue is not serious enough to address and can be easily forgiven and forgotten
  • Reconciliation – speaking personally with another to talk through the situation to seek clarity and peace
  • Negotiation – working out a mutually acceptable compromise
  • Mediation – where a neutral party helps you communicate and find understanding
  • Arbitration – where someone helps you to reach a mutually acceptable compromise
  • Accountability – restoration from a clear offense, with the support of another
  1. There are six unacceptable (i.e. unbiblical) ways to deal with conflict:
  • Denial – avoiding the problem
  • Flight – either physically or emotionally from the relationship
  • Suicide – “taking yourself out” rather than the other person
  • Attacking – physically or verbally (directly or through gossip)
  • Litigation – bringing others in to prosecute, either in the court of public opinion and/or through the secular court
  • Murder – actually “taking the other person out”

Think about your responses to people and issues lately. Which category do your responses tend to fall into?

  1. There are two foundational biblical principles for facing and dealing with conflict, which I believe we must all know and commit to following:
  • Matthew 18:15-17 – Jesus commands us to first, go to someone personally to talk about an offense or concern. This must be done clearly, but humbly, recognizing that we may also have logs in our own eyes. This is very hard to do, but there are those who can, in confidentiality, help coach and assist us.
  • Matthew 5:23-24 – Jesus says that if we realize that someone has something against us, we must leave our gift at the altar and go and be reconciled. Could it be that Jesus considers reconciliation between his children to be even more important than worshipping Him?! Yes, it is true.

Jesus really gives us no other option than to face our conflicts head on with courage, faith and grace. May we at NSCBC think about these things and learn, with God’s and each others’ help, to do them! May we be able to also make an unwavering commitment to face and deal with conflict the moment it arises and as a result, experience the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” promised in Hebrews 12:11: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Are you with us?

Guys on stairs

Katherine Horvath is a member at NSCBC and our Deacon of Personnel. She also studied conflict resolution as part of her doctoral dissertation.