Dealing With Conflict in the Family of God

This past Sunday, we considered our church’s mission statement: we are a loving family who glorifies God by building people up in Christ. In the family of God, we love one another best when, in our words and deeds, we constantly lead one another to Christ.

As with any family, the church is not a conflict-free zone. If we’re going to let God use us to build one another up, then occasionally sparks will fly. This is a good thing… so long as we approach conflict in the right way.

In his book on biblical conflict resolution, The Peacemaker, Ken Sande talks about three ways we can respond to conflict. We can escape, attack, or make peace.

  • Escape – We either pretend nothing is wrong or we run and hide. This is a common move, and it’s usually based on a false assumption that conflict is inherently wrong and that agreeing in the Lord means we have to see eye to eye on every single point.
  • Attack – Instead of avoiding the conflict, we lean in and try to win. Attackers are usually strong and self-confident, wielding their size and/or intellect against others. They can be bullies who like to be in control, but they can also be the prophetic types who think everything is a gospel issue and their mission in life is to cleanse the church.
  • Peacemaking – This is the third response, so you know it’s the right one. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said, “for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9).

Unlike escape, peacemaking sees conflict as something to be appreciated even as it laments the conflict’s sinful cause . Unlike attack, peacemaking does not appreciate conflict as a good in itself. Conflict is the vehicle—not the destination. If you spend your evening circling the block instead of pulling into your driveway, then something is terribly wrong…

So, how do we do conflict well? How do we hash out our differences in a way that manifests the love of Christ and builds up the family in Him? Sande gives 4 big steps. I call them big because they take an entire book to unpack. But you’re busy, so here’s a 175-word summary:

  1. Glorify God – Recognize that every interaction represents an opportunity to glorify God (and enjoy Him forever). As you enter into or respond to conflict, stop and pray that He would show you how to proceed in ways that bring Him glory and honor.
  2. Get the Log Out of Your Eye – We’re great at observing flaws in others, yet terrible at seeing our own (Matt 7:1-5). Before, during, and after any conflict, ask yourself what you’ve contributed to the situation. Repent early and often.
  3. Gently Restore – Seek not the destruction of your brother or sister. Instead, seek their good. The goal of all church discipline is restoration (1 Cor 5:1-5). Speaking the truth in love means using your words to lead others to new life in Christ.
  4. Go and Be Reconciled – Insofar as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Overcome evil with good (Rom 12:14-21). Forgive others as God in Christ forgave you (Eph 4:32). Put their welfare before your own self-centered concerns (Phil 2:4).

If we’re going to be a loving family who glorifies God by building people up in Christ, then we’ve got to get this right. If we avoid conflict, we will miss opportunities to build and be built. If we relish in conflict, we’ll do little more than tear down the ones for whom Christ died.

Let us be a people of peace—the real peace won for us at Calvary. Christ did not run from conflict. Nor did He grind His enemies into dust. Rather, He laid Himself down for the good of others so that God might be glorified in the restoration and reconciliation of rebels like us.

Your brother in Christ,