Dwight Fletcher | How ‘Wi love strong’ during conflict
This 'Wi Love Strong' series is about recognising that love has to be front and centre in all we do. As we continue this week, we look at one of the greatest challenges to us loving each other, that is, interpersonal challenges and conflicts with each other.
An interpersonal conflict is a disagreement (perceived or otherwise) involving significant resentment and discontent between two individuals or subgroups of an organisation. Interpersonal issues and conflicts are natural. Get two people in a room and eventually, some type of conflict is going to occur. Yet ever so often conflict just seems to floor us in the church.
But what causes conflicts among us? The leading causes of conflict in the Church include:
1. Unrealistic expectations - we somehow think that when we come to church, we have entered 'a bubble' - an environment where you will see the character of Christ revealed in every aspect of everyone's life. We expect that Church will be a place where we will all agree on everything because we all believe the same God, and this alone will solve all the problems. However, this expectation is unrealistic since you will rub shoulders with some people in church who may be downright unpleasant or selfish. Like you, they are being transformed but are not one hundred per cent 'Christ-like' just yet.
2. Misunderstandings caused by poor communication, or inaccurate or insufficient information is another problem that causes conflicts in the church.
3. Differences in values, goals, priorities, expectations, perceptions, or opinions. According to 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, we all have different talents and gifts, but "As it is, there are many parts, but one body" 1 Corinthians 12:20 NIV. So although we are all a part of one church, we are different in many ways.
4. Sinful attitudes and desires that lead to sinful words and actions. James 4:1-3 TLB says, "What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn't it because there is a whole army of evil desires within you? You want what you don't have ... You long for what others have, and can't afford it, so you start a fight to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don't have what you want is that you don't ask God for it. And even when you do ask you don't get it because your whole aim is wrong - you want only what will give you pleasure."
Beyond the problem of the conflict itself is the greater issue of resolving it. I don't know what it is about church, but we don't commonly know how to resolve interpersonal issues. And there is a big problem in maintaining the love that we want to be the standard in our midst. However, all the experts agree that unresolved conflict can damage or kill any community.
My experience is that in church, we don't work out our interpersonal issues for a number of reasons:
Our attitude enables the non-resolution of interpersonal issues. We say things like "Just let it go", when in your heart there is still something to resolve.
Past pain - the situation often resembles something that happened in the past, that we were never able to successfully resolve.
Bad teaching - we were taught that conflict is of the devil, so we believe that we should just rebuke it as something evil and move right along.
Nevertheless, the biblical view of community does not support us living with unresolved interpersonal issues. Throughout the Bible we see conflict being resolved between parties at dispute. Christians are connected in covenant and relationship with one another through Jesus. Our connection with the Father affects and governs our relationships with each other, and our relationships with each other affects our relationship with God.
It is so important that we have a right relationship with each other that Jesus said in Matthew 5:23 (GNT) "So if you are about to offer your gift to God at the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift to God." Now imagine that you have something against your brother, wouldn't the requirement to sort it out be just the same? It is not good enough to forgive him or her in your heart - resolution is required. In fact, the last thing that Jesus prayed for His church was that the Father would make us one as Jesus is one with the Father!
So how do we walk in love when there is conflict with each other? Larry Crabb wrote, "The difference between spiritual and unspiritual community is not whether conflict exists, but is rather in our attitude towards it and our approach to handling it. When conflict is seen as an opportunity to draw more fully on spiritual resources, we have the makings of spiritual community." In other words, it is how we handle the issue that determines the level of our spiritual maturity!
As a people, we need to be mindful of our behaviour and our attitude towards each other. Sometimes our behaviour makes it difficult for others to show us love. So while we are requiring love from the community, we too have a responsibility to work at behaving and responding appropriately.
The truth of the matter is that relationships can be strengthened through conflict if we handle them correctly. What makes or breaks relationships, and what makes or breaks churches, is what we choose to do in conflict and how we deal with the issues that we have with each other. We must learn how to walk in love while dealing with interpersonal issues or conflict. Join us again next week, as we look at how we can do this.