After more than 30 years in ministry and many of those years serving with the GBMB, one of the primary biblical principles that continues to impact my life is found in Proverbs 27:17. “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (NKJV).
With life as in ironwork, it’s all about the angle of contact between two objects. Too much pressure and the friction between the metals will dull and damage one another. Too little contact and it will not make enough frictional contact to sharpen. The principle of personal interaction has two possible primary outcomes: it will either sharpen one’s character toward the likeness of Christ or dull one’s character into a self-centered life that eventually moves toward conflict with God, others, self and the Church.
As a conflict management consultant serving in Pastor Wellness, my goal is to reduce friction, thus reducing or managing the amount of conflict within Georgia Baptist churches. Paul speaks to the importance of maintaining unity in Ephesians 4, and that unity within the body is not optional. Some years ago, the Barna Research Group reported that 30% of all evangelical churches across the country were experiencing measurable conflict annually.
We know that Matthew 18 gives us the foundation and process for addressing conflict among believers within the local church. However, if individual attempts at this process are unsuccessful, one possible next step is to call for outside mediators (i.e., GBMB/Pastor Wellness). We are glad to assist churches and associations in conflict management. There are primary tools used by most conflict management teams to reduce and manage conflict within a church.
Below are the four key elements that work in harmony with one another to create a pathway forward to manage conflicts:
Comfort of Prayer (Philippians 4:6-7)
Scripture encourages believers and the church to have a healthy and devout private and corporate prayer life. Therefore, be very diligent in prayer during all efforts to address, reduce or manage conflict.
Clarity of Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
All recommendations and attempts to manage conflict must be biblical in nature and in application. We encourage all parties involved to meditate upon God’s Word daily, seeking biblical wisdom and understanding during this difficult journey. (Note: We also utilize the “Peacemaking Principles, Responding to Conflict Biblically” guide from www.peacemakers.training).
Compassionate Listening (Proverbs 1:5)
The general purpose of a listening session is to assist the conflict management team in hearing clearly and confidentially the heart of the conflict within leadership or a congregation. The goal is to clearly interpret those concerns to reduce the emotional and relational stress of conflict on a congregation.
Careful Conflict Level Assessments (Philippians 1:9-10)
Assessments help churches, associations and the conflict management team know how much conflict energy exists within a specific situation or event. As the conflict energy increases, traditionally the conflict management team has fewer options to work out a healthy response to the growing conflict.
That is why we recommend contacting a team in a timely manner.
These tools are very helpful, but every situation is different and requires hours of prayer and wise conversations with individuals and groups to find a graceful place of agreement. The ministry of reconciliation is not for the faint of heart, but you and I are reminded in 2 Corinthians 5:18 that we have received it as a part of our commitment to the body of Christ.
Finally, although conflict is often a fact of life, it should never be a way of life. The gospel that saves is the gospel that provides a way out of conflicts into His lasting peace.