Living with other people has never been easy, not even among Christians.
However, there are a number of actions and attitudes we can adopt to minimise conflicts with people within or without our church or ministry.
13 ways of preventing conflicts
Accept others as they are
People are different in their upbringing, attitudes and expectations of life. The adage “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” is a reality in ministry too. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans re-echoed this point.
Romans 14:3 states: “Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.”
He affirms that although people may be different, it is God’s prerogative to judge them. Since God has received all of us in spite of our differences, we must endeavour to receive other brothers and sisters as they are.
The early church which began among the Jews in Jerusalem had its fair share of people feeling marginalised.
Acts 6:2 and 3 says: “Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”
A few years later, the Jerusalem Conference of Elders was provoked by a similar complaint about marginalisation on grounds of ethnicity and church traditions.
Acts 15:3 to 6 reads: “So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.’” Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.”
Every man of peace should seek any available opportunities to involve as many willing hands as possible.
Watch the talebearers
Although it is uncertain how many conflicts are initiated by talebearers (osisi, labobhudi besinyeyo), many conflicts are fuelled by them. Tale bearers often exploit existing weaknesses in relationships.
The wise man in Proverbs saw this frailty of men.
Proverbs 18:8 states: “The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, And they go down into the inmost body.”
Proverbs 26:20 reads: “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.”
Talebearers often succeed when their listeners have itching ears, wanting to hear more “pleasant news”.
The “pleasant news” may sometimes be an “evil report” about their perceived opponents.
Talebearers have the potential to develop mistrust, suspicion and sometimes hatred for people living or working together. One effective way of dealing with this cancer of talebearers is to subject their tales to “strict proof” in a transparent manner.
It may involve the hearer demanding that the talebearer recaps all that has been said in secret about an individual before that affected individual in public.
A conflict may aggravate or subside depending on what happens in the first few hours or days. Like fire, the longer it takes, the more difficult it is to put off. More often than not, a minor misunderstanding may affect a whole township if not addressed immediately. It is often said that “bad news sells best”.
As time elapses, talebearers get involved, old wounds are revived, the pride of parties heightens, more people are offended and the general dynamics for resolution change.
Mathew 5:25 states: “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.”
Our Lord Jesus affirms this position by urging saints to abandon all offerings and sacrifices to pursue reconciliation as soon as practicable.
Conflicts tend to be protracted because some parties refuse to adhere to basic procedure in addressing misgivings from the onset. All sections of leadership should desist from creating the impression to any faction in any personal conflict that they have their subtle or open support, especially when that faction orparticular person is under discipline.
1 Corinthians 14:40 reads: “Let all things be done decently and in order.”
The Apostle Paul urged the church to do all things in order. He (Paul) personally gave directions on handling deviant saints including the brother who took his father’s wife.
Prefer one another
In today’s world where even the six-year-old knows his or her rights, it is becoming more difficult for people to make concessions in favour of others. Very few people are willing to subdue their will for others to have the edge.
Romans 12:10 says: “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another.” Here the Apostle urges us to make way for others even when we know we have a better case. This is one of the key tests of our pride.
Forbear one another
Most people find it difficult to live with others. This is especially true when those other people come from a different background or share different views on some fundamental issues of life.
However, true love has the ability to bear all things.
1 Corinthians 13:7 states: “(Love) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
It often takes a while for people of varying background to agree.
During this while, relationships are tested by all kinds of situations, some of which lead to permanent conflicts even in the church.
Transparency is a major antidote to conflict at any level. Conflicts are often aggravated when one party discovers that the other has not been truthful as both parties pursued the path of peace. It is worse if third parties seem to know better about this truth. It develops mistrust between parties and triggers on more conflict at the least provocation.
1 John 1:6 and 7 reads: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
John the beloved urged the church to operate in a transparent manner in relation to each other. He refers to our Lord Jesus Christ the light of the world as our role model in this endeavour.
Focus on agreements
In life, any two personalities or groups, no matter how close, will have minor points of disagreement. However, most people can live in harmony as a body when they learn to focus on issues of common agreement.
Romans 14:19 says: “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.”
The church in Rome had been quarrelling over food, drink, times and seasons. When Paul wrote to them, he noticed that many of them were entrenched in their beliefs. He then urged them to focus on their points of agreement to be able to live in harmony.
Watch the tongue
There are countless interpersonal, intertribal and international conflicts caused by loose comments by one individual or the other.
Proverbs 15:1 states: “A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.”
James 3:6 reads: “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.”
Both the wise man (Solomon) and James were perfectly right in their description of the destructive potential of the tongue.
(The same tongue, used by almost all for kissing can start world wars).
Job 19:1 and 2 reads: “Then Job answered and said, how long will you torment my soul, And break me in pieces with words?
Job’s graphic description of the effect of foul words tells it all. Even though his friends thought they meant well, they were actually hurting him by their words.
Watch pride, unforgiveness and selfishness
Of all the obstacles to peace, none surpasses this trio of pride, unforgiveness and selfishness. Pride frustrates efforts at confronting the conflict directly. A proud party may even be unwilling to sit at the negotiating table.
The unforgiving party finds it difficult to let go of past hurts even when issues have already been clarified and apologies rendered.
The selfish party is only satisfied when his need is met in the process of mediation. Once his need is not met, he is unwilling to spend more time to finalise the resolution of the issues at stake.
Make an effort
Peace is often not attained on a silver platter. When people are offended or suspicious of the moves of others, we should not expect them to respond immediately to our perceived “peaceful gestures”. This requires some steadfastness and focus to ensure absolute peace.
Ephesians 4:3 reads: “… endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
The use of the word “endeavouring” clearly shows that peace is something worth pursuing with one’s whole strength. It does not come to us that easily.
Pray for your enemies
Jesus urged us to pray for our enemies. This is a sure way of securing peace through a spiritual means.
Mathew 5:44 states: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
Whenever we pray for our enemies, we acknowledge our human frailty. We recognise that we could have been at fault like our perceived enemies. It makes us more cautious when we set out to condemn others.
To be continued… don’t miss out next week’s edition of God’s position on conflicts (Part 3)