Handling Conflict Constructively

I love people. I love being around them, talking, interacting, and hanging out with them. I love the diversity of the people God created and the varying experiences they have. Human experience contains a wealth of diversity. It seems good to love people, but can this can also become a problem?

Why is conflict so hard?

I wrestled with my love for people when someone posed a question. "Do you love people more than you love the Word of God?" Off the cusp my answer was “of course not!” Then I looked inside myself and wrestled with that challenging question. As I interacted with people, I began to wonder if my actions showed a different truth! I love God’s Word but am I willing to stand on it while speaking truths into lives of others? Am I willing to risk relationships because I care about scripture?

I feel uneasy confronting the sin I see in the lives of others. Why? Because I hate confrontation. I fear how my confrontation will be received. Have I invested enough in the relationship that my criticism will be received as care rather than as condemnation? Will you take it with a grain of salt? Will you appreciate my concern? Will you get angry and storm out? Will you ever want to speak to me again? With these concerns battling in my mind, I just keep my mouth shut.

I had a “discussion” years ago with someone which blossomed into accusations and awkward silence. In the end one of us left the room. The problem? I completely failed at speaking the truth in the context of love (Eph 4:15). Difficult conversations require the relationship first have a context of grace.

Following our example

We interact with people every single day. Whether they a believers or not, we represent the love of Jesus. The Gospel message instructs “we should love one another” (1 John 3). The gospel resonates with grace because of the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. He is the example that we are called to imitate.

Do you love the Word of God more than you love God’s people? Our answer should be a firm “yes.” God loves people more than you or I do.

So what are we to do when brothers and sisters sin? What are we to do when the lives of others around us stray from the Word of God? How are we to move forward with speaking the truth of God in love?

Practical wisdom

Before charging into confrontation, pause and take a compassionate posture. Here are a few suggestions that I try to follow:

  1. Pray for God to provide the right opportunity to speak the hard truths of scripture in a loving way.
  2. Invite God to remove the plank from your own eye before you deal with someone else’s (Matthew 7:5). Before you correct others, assess your own contribution to the situation.
  3. Realize that you are in need of God’s truth just as much as the next person. Take a posture of humility recognizing that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
  4. Let the truth of scripture guide the conversation. We need to check ourselves while in hard conversations to avoid bringing our own agenda. We should strive for unity rather than for getting our way.
  5. Remember to ALWAYS speak the hard truths in the context of love. When love is guiding the discussion, transformation is possible.
  6. Tune in and listen, hear, ask questions, and try to understand. Everyone is more receptive if they feel that someone has heard their concerns.
  7. Let your body language resonate with compassion. Use your whole being to demonstrate the life-giving message of Jesus' love.
  8. Lead with empathy and put yourself in their shoes. How would you like to be approached? Choose words wisely that carry compassion and understanding.

Relationships are challenging and no one likes conflict, but sometimes hard truths need to be spoken. Place the situation at the feet of God so you can rest in his control of the situation. Assume a humble posture and speak God's truth.

Can we control how they will respond? No we cannot. But God does not hold us responsible for others. Romans 12 instructs, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." We are responsible only for what depends on us. So in as much as it depends on you seek to live out God's grace with one another.

For more advice on navigating conflict in relationships, check out our free 10 Rules for Fair Fighting ebook here.

About the author — Rev. Kelly Vander Woude

Kelly Vander Woude is always looking for something yummy to put on his smoker…and then getting friends and family to enjoy it with him. When he’s not smoking food he can be found playing and hanging out with his two kids, wife, and their dog, as well as preaching at Immanuel CRC in Fort Collins, CO. Oh…and he’s usually trying to learn some new musical instrument with the hopes of one day mastering at least one of them! You can find more of his writings at thesimplepreacherblog.wordpress.com

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