My husband and I have been members at our church for nearly 23 years and while we have a lot of great memories, one stands out as a spiritual highlight – a conflict that landed us and another couple in the church offices with a pastor and an elder.
Yes, I did say it was a highlight.
Nearly a decade ago, my husband was having lunch with a pastor from our church. During their conversation, my husband mentioned he had been surprised earlier that day to be served with papers from a person taking legal action against him. Instead of just saying, “that stinks,” and moving on, the pastor asked my husband a lot of questions, including who had served the papers. My husband told the pastor and the conversation shifted as soon as the pastor realized the person bringing the lawsuit was also a member of our church.
And from here, this story could have gone a lot of different ways – mostly bad. As a matter of fact, I would venture to say in most churches our conflict would not have been dealt with in this way, or perhaps at all. We would have been left to sort it out ourselves, likely in court. However, within hours of learning my husband had been served papers, our pastor contacted the person involved in the lawsuit and asked that we all come together to resolve this conflict as brothers and sisters in Christ. We quickly had a date on the calendar to meet.
As the day approached, I didn’t know how our meeting would go, because frankly, I’d never been to or heard of a meeting like the one we were about to have. I know people in churches have conflict, but it usually ends in one party leaving the church to attend another, or if the church is big enough, the parties may opt to ignore each other and make everyone else deal with their obvious tension. Just reading that we can all see how dysfunctional, destructive, and unholy that route is, yet it’s an all too familiar road. But thankfully, that is not our story.
The day of the meeting came, and to be fully transparent, I entered the meeting angry and defensive at words that had been said to my husband. The other couple involved were also very angry and defensive, so we were off to a rocky start to say the least.
Our pastor and a church elder led the meeting, and before a word was said, they opened in prayer and invited the Lord to join us in the meeting. Every moment of the meeting was steeped in prayer and scripture. After each person spoke, either our pastor or the elder would say something to the effect of, “What I heard you say was…. Is that correct?” as they did not want to misunderstand or misrepresent either party. They wanted to make sure they were operating in truth and wanted to correct any misunderstandings. Each party felt heard and loved and we agreed that we wanted resolution.
As the meeting progressed, it was clear there were no grounds for a lawsuit, nor were the accusations against my husband true (their issue was with someone else altogether). No lawyers, no courts, no time, or money wasted. All the hostility that entered the room at the beginning of the meeting was gone and we left the meeting much lighter and on good terms. I remember the full sense of awe at what had taken place – the familiar awe we exhale when there is no other explanation except the Lord is good. Almost a decade later, I can honestly say when we see the other couple at church we stop to chat and truly wish them well. We hold no grudge nor animosity toward them.
What if every church dealt with conflict this way? Not only did our conflict not escalate, but it was dealt with in a biblical manner and extinguished. Our church dove into our mess and did the heavy lifting to clean it up. It was such a blessing to all parties involved to sit down and go through the biblical steps of conflict resolution using Matthew 18:15-17; Romans 12:17-21; James 1:19-20; Ephesians 4:15; and James 4:1.
Our issue turned out well, but conflict is a strange topic among Christians. We want to be peacemakers and at peace with those around us, but sometimes, that’s not possible. Conflict can and does arise with anyone who deals with other imperfect humans (the only kind of humans for us to deal with). Focusing on the word “conflict” this month has been humbling. Every single person I know (including me) has absolutely blown it when it comes to conflict. I could probably give many more examples from my own life of how not to deal with conflict than how to rightly deal with conflict (and Jesus does want us to deal rightly with conflict).
The Bible does not shy away from conflict, and neither should Christians. The Bible is clear that we should strive to live at peace with each other, if possible (Romans 12:18), but it also provides a clear path for seeking resolution (Matthew 18:15-17). What the Bible does not prescribe is relying on our default responses to conflict which are typically gossip, slander, hostility, or perhaps the other end of the spectrum, ignoring or people-pleasing – none of which are pleasing to the Lord.
I think back on our meeting with our pastor, the elder, and the couple who brought a lawsuit against us. I could have never calculated that being one of our spiritual highlights during our 23 years at our church, but it is. Praise His Holy Name.
Dear Lord, thank You for giving us clear direction in Your Word about conflict. Let us be honest in our dealings, be quick to resolve conflict, and communicate issues while they are small before they have a chance to grow. Lord, give us discernment when faced with conflict. Let us not give Satan a foothold in our lives through conflict. We long to see You face-to-face. Until then, may we honor You with our dealings on this Earth. Maranatha! Amen.