The Basic Essentials of Christian Leadership
Module 7 : Managing Conflict
Getting Started          

   A reporter interviewed a 100-year-old man on birthday
   and asked what he was most proud of.  
   ‘Well’ he pondered ‘I do not have an enemy in the world’.
   The reporter responded ‘That is wonderful’.
   The old man replied ‘Yes, I have outlived them all’

It is true that when two or three are gathered together in His name, He is in the midst [Matthew 18:20].

But like me, I am sure you have also experienced that when two or three are gathered together....... there can be conflict.   

Conflict is part of life.
               ‘In this world, you will have trouble’.
                                             [John 16:33] 
It is part of the way we learn.

Indeed, it is one way that God uses  - in order that the fruit of the Spirit grows in us as we are moulded to be more like Jesus

However, if conflict is not handled correctly the results can be damaging and it is easy to end up in a vicious downward spiral of negativity and recrimination.


Causes of Conflict      

1. Genuine Misunderstandings

Even the best of relationships are not free of misunderstandings. 

Reflect: Misunderstandings often occur because we don't listen properly. 
   Read James 1:19. What can you do to increasingly
                                 avoid misunderstandings?

2. Disagreement on Use of Limited Resources

Often disagreements on how money should be used or how time should be used. 
Congregations may want the pastor to spend more time evangelising than pastoring .... or vice versa. 
Often they have unrealistic expectations that he can do more of both!!!

3. Differences of Opinion

There may be:

  • Conflicting visions
  • Contrasting attitudes to change
  • Theological differences

                                                See Acts 15:39

Question : Can you see any dangers in having a church where there are no differences of opinion?



4. Lost Trust

We saw in Module 5 the importance of trust. 
Lost trust comes from broken promises, feeling betrayed, being lied to, and a lack of integrity.

Lost trust invariably leads to conflict. 
See how the troops lost confidence in Saul [1 Samuel 13]

Reflect : What are the different emotions you feel, when someone has let you down?
What must happen for you to trust them again?



5. Personality Clashes

We are all different with different preferred ways to behave.

    Some people are: 
While others are:      
    Outgoing and talkative
Serious and quiet      
    Spontaneous... instinctive Concerned about detail and like time to consider      
    Sensitive to feelings and emotions Logical and analytical      
    Concerned for people Concerned for projects      


These differences are usually strengths for a team,
  as we have seen in Module 5.

But they can also be sources of conflict.

       Someone wants to get on with the project NOW
       while there is an opportunity...

       ... whilst another person wants to know more details
       about the project - and what the exact costs will be.

Reflect : Which personality type are you?
Which type do you enjoy spending time with?
Which type do you find most difficult?



6. Sinful attitudes and habits

See James 4:1-2 and Galatians 6:19-21

7. Satan promotes conflict

See 2 Tim 2: 26 and 1 Peter 5:8

Do you know any difficult people? 
Do you think you can ever be difficult?


Approaches to managing conflict      

Some people use the ‘Avoidance/denial approach’.
This includes pretending there is no conflict or running away from a conflict situation. 
This is a common approach in church situations as we know the teaching of Jesus on unity and loving one another

Other people use the ‘Attack approach’. 
This can include harsh words, manipulation and in extreme cases even physical threats. 
Sadly this is more common in churches that you might expect



The Christian approach should be the ‘Peace-making approach’. 
This approach seeks to find a way forward that listens to, respects and where possible accommodates other people’s views whilst recognising that there will always be differences and rarely does everyone have outcomes that all wish. 

In recognising that conflict exists and avoiding aggression, this approach is very different than the ‘avoidance/denial’ and ‘attack’ approaches.

     The ‘Peace-making approach’ is not the easy option. 
      It requires a commitment by leaders to transform your
      church/organisation into a Peace-making community.  



Reflect :
Which approach do you think you most naturally use to manage conflict?

Peacemaking is not easy.
And we need tools to help us.

The next section lists the Peacemaker’s Tool Kit...



The Peacemaker’s Tool Kit


1. Overlooking

This is different to the avoidance/denial approach.  
There is a difference...
    ... in that you make a decision ...
                       ...that the issue is not worth a ‘fight’. 

        By nature I am untidy. 
        My wife could harass me about this ... but chooses not to.
        Likewise my wife is usually late for meetings ... but I choose
        not to harass her about this. 

        We live with each other’s weaknesses as we value much more
        each other’s strengths.

‘A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offence’
        [Prov. 19:11]

Many disputes can be resolved by quietly overlooking an offence and forgiving the person who has wronged you
        [Prov. 12:16; 17:14; 1 Pet. 4:8]



Can you think of a situation you have recently been involved with that could have been more easily resolved by taking the 'overlooking' approach?



2. Good Communication

Good communication reduces the opportunities for conflict situations to emerge. 

Note four key things required in good communication:

  • Communicate respectfully
  • Communicate on time (or at the right time, if communicating to a group),
  • Communicate concisely
  • Communicate honestly

See Communication section in Module 4 for more on this important issue.



3. Fitting 'round pegs' into 'round holes'  not square ones

Matching the right people to the right jobs can also reduce the opportunities for conflict situations to arise. 

See section on 'Building a Team' in Module 5



4. Preach and Practice the Power of Loving One Another

As the life of Jesus on earth came to an end, He focused on one issue of paramount importance to Him...
...which was that His followers should get on with one another

      ‘A new command I give you; love one another. 
      By this all men will know that you are my disciples’.
                                              [John 13:34]

Scripture has much teaching on our relationships with one another.  Teach it and live it in your own life as you seek to transform your church into a peace-making community

a) Preach and practice the power of an apology - and ask for forgiveness if appropriate. 
   'I regret I did that'.
   'I will not do it again’. 
It is powerful when a leader has the courage to say this.

b) Preach and practice the power of forgiveness.
If we do not forgive...

  • The Holy Spirit is grieved. [Eph 4:30]
  • Our prayers will not be answered
  • The devil gains a foothold
  • We waste time nursing a wounded spirit
  • We become enslaved to the people you hate

c) Preach and practice the power of encouragement

d) Preach and practice the power of serving each other



5. Do not let problems fester

Problems do not go away – if left, they only get worse.
    [See Ephesians 4:26]

Also see in Nehemiah 5:6-13 the way Nehemiah immediately deals with problems when he hears about them.



6. Consider using the 'Sandwich technique'

Most people are a mix of strengths and weaknesses.
When confronting a person about a difficult situation, a good approach is to use the Sandwich technique :
                    Make a first Positive comment
                         Present a Challenge
                    Make a second Positive comment

For example:
                    Acknowledge the person's strengths
                         State the issue to be dealt with
                    Reassure the person of their ability

This is what Paul did when encountering Philemon:

  • He compliments [Philemon verses 1-3 and 7]
  • He makes a request – not a demand [v 9-10 and 14]
  • He states his confidence that the person will deal with the issue
    [v 21]

Remember the golden rule:
         "Treat others as you would wish them to treat you


Managing Difficult People      

Managing difficult people can feel like trying to roll a rock uphill. 
And in the end you cannot force other people to act in an acceptable way. 
God will not hold you responsible for actions of these people or for the ultimate outcome of a conflict.

If a dispute is not easily resolved, you may be tempted to say,
            "Well, I tried all the biblical principles I know, and they
             just didn't work. It looks like I will have to handle this in
             another way (meaning, 'the world's way')." 

However, when you try to resolve a conflict but do not see the results you desire, you should continue seeking God even more earnestly through prayer, through His Word and through the advice of other Godly leaders.

Do not forget the teaching of Romans 12:14-21.



It can be expected that some difficult people who do not share your vision will choose to leave your church.
That is not a problem. 
If your vision is from God, he will replace them.
You will find that fresh people - attracted by leaders who have Godly visio
n - will join you.

Other difficult people will become less difficult in time as they see you 'walk the talk’ and see the benefits of the changes that you have introduced.

Nevertheless, it is likely that a final group of difficult people neither leave nor change. Rather than becoming frustrated, recognise these people as ‘thorns in your flesh’
        [2 Corinthians 12:7]


Church Discipline      

Scripture gives clear guidance on the formal procedure for church discipline.
This approach should only be followed when there is outward, serious, and unrepentant sin.

[This complete procedure  is not appropriate in the context of a personal quarrel with a church member.]

The steps are:

   1. Seek to restore the person gently  [Gal 6:1] and in private
      [Matthew 18.16]

   2. If that fails, seek to restore them with one or two others
      [Matt 18.16]

   3. If that fails, take the matter to the church**
      [Matt 18.17]

   4. If that fails, then the person should be suspended from
       church membership or excommunicated from the church
      [Matt 18.17]

   5. If a person who has been disciplined through suspension
       or excommunication comes to repentance, the church should
       warmly and lovingly restore them to fellowship within the church
       [Matt 18:13; Luke 15:11-32]

      ** Normally this would not be the whole church but a group of
      senior people within the church such as the elders. 
      This group would then report the outcome to the whole church.



Reflect :
Prayerfully consider...
      'Do I have the courage and the humility to follow
       the above steps, when necessary,  in a Christ-like way?'


Joseph : A Biblical Example of Peace-making      

You know the story of Joseph.
He had every reason for being bitter towards his brothers and he was in position of power that allowed him to take revenge.

But read Genesis 45.

      ‘Have everyone leave my presence’.
As Prime Minister, Joseph was usually  surrounded by advisers.
However, he did not want everyone to know what the brothers had done to him.
This was to be done in private

       ‘Come close to me’.
Joseph did not want his brothers to be afraid of him.

       ‘Do not be distressed’.
He did not want his brothers to go on guilt trip.

       ‘It was to save lives that God sent me
            ahead of you to Egypt’.

Joseph allowed his brothers to save face.

As Joseph said later,
           ‘God meant it for good’


Some Quotes      

‘One of the main tasks of theology is to find words that do not divide but unite, that do not create conflict but unity, that do not hurt but heal.’  
      Henri Nouwen (professor of pastoral theology at
         Yale Divinity School in 1970’s)

‘If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relationships, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This principle is the key to effective interpersonal communication.'
      Stephen Covey (author of many bestselling management books)

   Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones is
   not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not
   about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to
   the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse,
   the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse.
   It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because
   in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring
   real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial

'Forgiving is not forgetting; it is actually remembering -- remembering and not using your right to hit back. Forgiveness is a second chance for a new beginning.' 
      Desmond Tutu (first black Archbishop of Cape Town)

'If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner'
      Nelson Mandela

'An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.' 
      Mahatma Gandhi



Biblical Models and References                
     Take time to read the following passages. Then consider the questions below.
  • Genesis 33
  • Genesis 45
  • 1 Samuel 18
  • 1 Kings 3:16-28
  • Matthew 5:9
  • Luke 11:4
  • Acts 15:36-41


Reflection and Questions

  • In Genesis 33, in what ways had Jacob prepared for his peace-making encounter with Esau?
    How had the attitude of both brothers changed since Genesis 27?
  • In Genesis 45, what do you see as the key things Joseph said and did to convince his brothers he had overlooked their wrongdoing?
  • In 1 Kings 3: 16-28, Solomon shows tremendous God-given wisdom in resolving a conflict. Reflect on the characteristics he exhibits in verses 6, 7 and 15, and the challenges of verse 14.
  • Prayerfully consider the passages above, and draw up a list of 6 key areas of attitude and practice which you feel God wants you to grow in, so that you will become a better peace-maker.


You can now move onto Module 8:

                Review, Feedback and Goal-setting