I’ve been a pastor of local churches both as a staff pastor and as a senior pastor, and I have seen plenty of conflict over the years. One thing I have learned, however, is that conflict cannot be ignored, because even the smallest of conflicts can cause harm.
The Apostle Paul had a few things to say about conflict. In his letter to Timothy, he shared an important truth that every believer should embrace: “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24–25). Yet when encountering an angry brother or sister in Christ, this is a tough teaching to follow. So what do you do?
Here are four ideas that you can keep in mind as you respond with love and truth:
- Remember the gospel. In instructing Timothy to be peaceful, Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:8: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and descended from David, according to my gospel.” When we encounter conflict, we must resolve it out of a love for the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 4:19–20:
“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother or sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
We love others because God loves us, and our love should compel us to resolve any strained relationships that might exist between believers in Christ. The decision to resolve a conflict is made before any words are ever spoken.
- React by listening. In most cases, the first and best response to take is to be a good listener. As a culture, we are usually poor at this skill, because many people listen for the purpose of defending themselves rather than attempting to understand the main concern. Be different than the culture—listen to the other person, being careful not to interrupt. Proverbs 12:15 says: “A fool’s way is right in his own eyes, but whoever listens to counsel is wise.” Listen first, then talk later, because the other person might be speaking truth into your life.
- Recapture by paraphrasing. The second part of listening to others is to clarify through paraphrasing. This is different than merely parroting words back to the person. Instead, paraphrasing puts their ideas in your own words to show that you understood the other person’s perspective. It might start by saying, “Now if I understood you correctly, you said…(their position)…is that right?” By recapturing what the speaker said, you affirm that they have been heard.
- Reframe with the Word. Ultimately, everything is to be filtered through the Word of God. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.” Know, study, apply, and teach the Bible, and as you do so, take real life issues and frame them in the Word. Is the issue you are hearing about in alignment with a principle from Scripture? Even more, does the conflict draw people to the cross or away from it? These are the issues to consider as you seek wisdom during conflict. Any response that you have, therefore, should be clothed in the Word of God as you aim to be gentle, patient, and truthful (2 Timothy 2:24).
Because we are all sinners, we will always encounter sin in the church. Conflict is bound to happen. However, conflict handled well can bring unity, helping to advance the gospel and expand the kingdom.