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When Conflict Comes to Church: How to be a Church Member Who Makes Peace

When Conflict Comes to Church

The local church is an amazing place. There is nothing like it in the entire world. The church is a spiritual family adopted by God, purchased by Jesus, and united by Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:4-7). The church is a spiritual greenhouse where Christians are discipled into maturity and engage in mutual care. Because all these things are true, conflict in the church can be particularly disorienting and damaging.

As Christians, we are called to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). If you want to obey this commandment, you must know how to help resolve conflict in the church.

Here are three steps you can take to help those who are in conflict at church.

Step 1: Address their Heart

If you want to solve a problem, you need to address the root cause of the problem. The Bible says that the root cause of conflict in the church is sinful attitudes in our hearts (James 4:1–2).

A wise peacemaker will start by uncovering the heart attitudes that are producing conflict.

A classic example of church conflict is the adage of members fighting over the color of the carpet. If you want to be a peacemaker, you must see through the surface problem (carpet color) and identify the sinful heart attitudes that are generating the conflict.

In this case, you will want to help both parties see that Jesus doesn’t allow them to insist on their own way (1 Corinthians 13:5) and put their preferences above others (Philippians 2:3-4). To achieve peace, each party must identify and uproot the sinful heart attitudes that produce conflict.

People in conflict must also replace the old sinful attitudes with new righteous attitudes. These new attitudes include putting the needs of others above themselves (Philippians 2:1-11), bearing with difficult people in love (Colossians 3:13), and seeking to preserve unity (Ephesians 4:3).

As you work through this first step, you must point both parties to Jesus since he offers not only forgiveness but also the power to change (Titus 2:11-12).

Step 2: Adjust Their Eyes

People who are in conflict have tunnel vision: all they can see is the other person’s sin. Jesus understood this and taught us how to fix our tunnel vision in Matthew 7:3-5.

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Jesus uses hyperbolic language to make a simple point: Before you correct your brother or sister, you need to deal with your own sin through repentance. Only repentant people will be able to help those who need repentance.

Ask each party a series of questions: How have you contributed to the conflict? What could you have done better? What are sinful or unwise actions you can take responsibility for?

Once you adjust their eyes, the person will see the conflict with a fresh perspective. This renewed perspective will open the door to the final step.

  1. Advise Their Mouth1

If you want to be a peacemaker, you must help those in conflict offer a robust and biblical confession that is marked by three qualities.

A Confession that Takes Ownership

Help those in conflict to avoid “if,” “but,” and “maybe” statements. “IF I hurt you…” “I know I yelled, BUT…” “I MAYBE was too harsh…” These types of statements show a lack of ownership and will dilute the potency and effectiveness of the confession.

A Confession that Uses Biblical Language

“Mistakes were made.” “I had a lapse in judgment.” P.R. consultants may recommend these words, but such statements fall short of a biblical confession. In David’s confession to God in Psalm 51, he uses language that communicates the seriousness of his sin. He confesses his “transgression,” “iniquity,” and “sin” (Psalm 51:1-2).

A Biblical confession happens when our words match our offense. Sin is not a mere error, mistake, or lapse in judgment. It is ultimately an offense against God. Help people embrace language that reflects reality.

This means the person should confess the specific offense and call it for what it is. “I yelled at you. That was sin.” “I was harsh. That was sin.” “I gossiped about you. That was sin.”

A Confession that Asks for Forgiveness

Jesus wants us to forgive one another just as God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). This is why a confession must include a request for forgiveness. It provides an opportunity for the offending party to obey Ephesians 4:32 and demonstrates a picture of God’s forgiveness in Jesus.

This means the guilty party must say those four crucial words: “Will you forgive me?”

While the other person is required by God to extend forgiveness (Ephesians 4:31-32), they may need time. In such cases, it is a good idea to give them time and space and not demand immediate forgiveness on the spot.

The Glory of Peacemaking

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Sons are like their fathers. The point of this verse is that peacemaking is a God-like activity because God is in the peacemaking business. Every time you decide to be a peacemaker, you are showing the world what God is like. You are displaying the glory of our God, who makes peace through the gospel of his Son. Peacemaking can be a challenging task, but there is a glory to it that far outshines the difficulty.

[1] I am reliant on Ken Sande’s book The Peacemaker for this point.

Listen to Pastor Trevor’s sermon on Caring for Those in Conflict from the Sunday night series entitled Reclaiming Love: People of Compassion in a World Full of Hate.

Trevor Komatsu (M.Div., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is First Baptist’s Next Gen Pastor.

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