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Congregational Conflict: Preparation For Resolution

Everyone who is either trying to resolve conflict in his own life, or assisting others with settling their differences is looking for ways to become better at this. When I studied the way that Jesus dealt with conflict, I saw how he got people better prepared to resolve their disputes. I want to share with you some of the insight I saw in his life and ministry in this article.

When it came to dealing with conflict in his own life, Jesus was a good example to those of us who mediate, facilitate discussions, or help others resolve disagreements. He was relational and everything he did was motivated by the law of love instead of selfishness. He taught people to settle their differences with each other through proper discussion: “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18: 15). He also practiced what he preached.

When he realized that people were upset with him, instead of allowing them to sit and remain angry with him, he would immediately discuss the issue with them, to see if the matter could be quickly resolved. Jesus did this whenever the people murmured (quietly expressed displeasure among themselves) about what he was doing or what he preached (see John chapter 6, verses 43-51, and verses 60-64). This kind of response made it clear to the people who were at odds with him that he was open to reason with them to settle their differences, without compromising on the important values he lived by.

When Jesus knew that people disagreed with him, he would often further elaborate on the subject so that they could understand where he was coming from. He also gave people the chance to ask him questions or explain why they were upset with him to try to open the door to have dialogue, to properly end the strife. All this showed that he wanted understanding instead of living in misunderstanding with them. People were not comfortable dealing with Jesus, because his way of addressing these issues was different than they were accustomed to.

His way of dealing with people who approached him for help settling their differences with each other was also different than some of us are used to. The story of the young man who sought Jesus’ help settling a dispute with his brother over an inheritance shows this: “ Then one in the crowd said to him, Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (Luke chapter 12, verse 13).

In reply to such a request, some of us would immediately try to figure out when we could get the parties together to sit down and try to amicably discuss and resolve their differences. But, not Jesus. In this case, he refused to do this: “ But he said to him, Man, who made me a judge or an arbitrator over you” (Luke chapter 12, verse 14).

Jesus was not saying to this young man that he did not want to assist him. But, before he could help these brothers end their disagreement, Jesus knew that there was a deeper issue that needed to be dealt with in this situation. These brothers had covetousness in their hearts that kept them from being fair with each other in dividing this inheritance. Unless the greed was dealt with, they would be unable to end their disagreement with each other. For this reason, Jesus points out this problem to the young man who sought his help so that it could be addressed by him: “ And he said to them, Beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke chapter 12, verse 15).

Jesus gave them counsel to deal with the things in their hearts that kept them from settling their differences with each other, because he knew that sitting down with them to have discussions before doing this may be a waste of time. If these young men accepted Jesus’ counsel, and dealt with the greed and selfishness in their hearts by repenting of their sin, they would be able to sit down and quickly divide the inheritance amongst themselves.

Jesus did something similar to this when he learned that his disciples were fighting each other over which of them should be accounted the greatest (Luke chapter 9, verse 46). In that situation, he also did not follow the normal mediation custom of having each person involved in the conflict to tell his story. Instead, he dealt with them about the desires in their hearts that caused them to be at odds with each other: “And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark chapter 9, verse 35).

While greed was what keeping the brothers from being able to resolve the inheritance issue, with some of us, it is our intense anger that stands in the way. Some of us get so angry when people hurt, mistreat or betray us that we do not want to talk to them or hear anything that they have to say. This is why Proverbs 18: 19 says that “a brother offended is harder to win than a strong city”. As along as we are this angry, and our hearts are so hardened, discussion, without first dealing with the issues of the heart, would be a waste of time.

Jesus makes it clear that dealing with the “deeper issues”, those things in our heart that keep us from properly settling our differences with others is essential preparation to help us better resolve our disagreements; but, how do we do this in real life ? It starts with spending time in prayer to God.

Most conflict resolution professionals do not have the same spiritual training and insight that Jesus had to detect what the problems are in people’s lives that needed to be addressed. Because of this, it is best for them to encourage individuals to seek guidance in prayer from God, and to go to their Pastor and church leaders for help. If recommending that people do this causes you, as a mediator, to have to delay the mediation, it will be for the good because people who deal with the heart issues are often more amenable for you to work with than those who still have things like stubbornness and pride keeping them from accepting reasonable settlement offers to end the dispute.

When you tell people to seek spiritual help, and they properly address the issues that stand in the way of resolution, you may lose a fee for mediation because these people will no longer need your help. Despite such a loss, I believe that you will feel good about yourself because you did the right thing under the circumstances.

When we pray for God to help us to settle our differences, we need to pray for His will to be done, rather than for our will and our desires to be met: “ Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew chapter 6, verse 9-10). As we seek God’s will, I believe God will show us the things that stand in the way of resolving our differences because he does not want us to remain bound in conflict. He wants us to be free and able to live at peace with each other.

Another novel thing that Jesus says that we should do is to pray for the person we are at odds with: “ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless them those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew chapter 5, verses 44-45). You probably have found out like I have that it is hard to stay angry with people that you are praying for. This is true because God softens our hearts as we pray, taking away the anger and resentment we are harboring against those who hurt us. As God does a work in our hearts, it puts us in a position where we are better able to discuss and resolve our differences with the people we are at odds with.

There is nothing complicated about what Jesus said, and what I am recommending be done in these situations. The reason why this works is because we are availing ourselves of God’s power to work mightily on our behalf in these situations: “ When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverbs 16, verse 7).


Lester L. Adams

Lester L. Adams is an attorney, author, a trained mediator and arbitrator, and an ordained minister. Lester has been a mediator and arbitrator for the following organizations: National Association Of Securities Dealers; National Arbitration Forum; Better Business Bureau; New York Stock Exchange; Circuit Court Of Baltimore County, and the Maryland… MORE >

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