Here’s the situation:
Paul wants to go hang out with his buddies, but his parents told him he can’t… Paul is a Senior, and it’s April… Last time he hung out with these friends he came home at 1:00am… Smelling like smoke and with beer stains on his shirt… He claims he was just at the party but didn’t do anything wrong.
What would that conversation sound like? It sounds like a recipe for an explosive argument to me!
Growing up in church I never heard anything about conflict resolution, but I heard plenty about humility and forgiveness. I assumed that as a Christian that meant I should be a doormat for people to walk all over me and to take advantage of me and to trust that to be a godly witness to them as they get whatever they want from me. Below is a great guide for Christian conflict-resolution.
The image below is used by permission from PeaceMakers Ministry, you can learn more about them by clicking the link above.
You’ll notice that there are three general shaded areas: “Escape Responses,” “Peacemaking Responses,” and “Attack Responses” (elsewhere they’re referred to as “PeaceFAKING,” “PeaceMAKING,” and “PeaceBREAKING” responses). What these mean is that when you encounter any type of conflict you can choose any of these three types of responses; you can avoid the conflict (escape), you can add to the conflict (attack), or you can address the conflict in order to resolve it (peacemaking).
Below is an explanation of what is meant from each of the particular types of responses possible:
- Suicide – Unfortunately, many people feel that suicide is the only way they can get away from the conflict and unrest in their lives. This is NEVER the answer! There is always hope, please trust that. God is the God of life and new beginnings, do not give in to conflict by committing suicide; if you are having suicidal thoughts please talk to someone trustworthy ASAP! (see Matt. 27:1-5)
- Flight – This means that you recognize the conflict, but you absolutely refuse to deal with it. There are times when need to walk away and “cool down” – but make sure you address the conflict once you’ve cooled down or else you’re guilty of Flight. You metaphorically take the conflict and purposefully shove it into the basement of your heart entirely unresolved. When you do this, it will only mold and fester until your basement gets so filled with unresolved conflict that it explodes and leaves a total mess all over you (and others). (see Gen. 16:6-8)
- Denial – “Flight” at least recognizes that there’s a problem… Denial pretends that there’s any conflict to run away from. Usually, people whose “Conflict Response” is Denial have very sensitive, caring hearts and don’t want anyone to ever get hurt… which is a very noble and considerate desire. The problem is that conflict is a normal part of life, and mature people must know how to resolve conflict (rather than pretending that everything’s just fine when it’s not). Also, like Flight, these unresolved conflicts just mold and fester and get really really messy to clean up the longer they’re ignored. (see 1 Sam. 2:22-25)
- Overlook – The difference between Overlooking and Denial is that when you realize that the conflict isn’t a big enough deal to be worth the conflict and rupture in your relationship. There are some things that should NOT be overlooked and that should be dealt with, but there are plenty of conflicts that simply aren’t worth it… wisdom is knowing the difference! (see Prov. 19:11)
- Reconciliation – This happens when you and the person you have conflict with don’t ignore the issue, but you work through it and resolve the conflict. Your relationship is healed and a productive decision is made regarding the conflict. (see Matt. 5:23-24;Gal. 6:1; Col. 3:13)
- Negotiation – Think about making a compromise. Where can you find common ground? When you negotiate, you both still disagree with each other, but you value peace above getting your own way. (see Phil. 2:4)
- Mediation – This is the least severe of the “assisted responses,” which brings in a neutral, trustworthy third person into the conflict to help bring about a peaceful conclusion. The “Mediator” helps you work through the issues and leads you into finding common ground to agree upon. Note: Don’t be so quick to get involved to get tangled in others’ conflicts, this person should be trusted in by both parties to be able to effectively negotiate peace. The Mediator has authority to ask questions and give advice, but not to decide upon a conclusion. (see Matt. 18:16)
- Arbitration – This is very similar to Mediation except the Arbiter is given the right to make the final decision (rather than assisting the two people find a peaceful resolution themselves). It is essential that both parties involved in conflict agree ahead of time to do what the Arbiter says. (see 1 Cor. 6:4)
- Accountability – Sometimes people simply don’t want reconciliation or peace despite anything you do to make peace with them. There are times when it’s necessary to hold people accountable for their actions and to keep them from unjustly getting their way. This may mean excluding someone from fellowship in a church, or cutting off a friendship, or a variety of other means of accountability. (see Matt. 18:17)
- Assault – We all know people who seek their own way through physical or verbal assault and intimidation. This simply is not healthy. Physical, emotional, and/or mental violence is absolutely not the way God intends his children to live. If you are a conflict maker (and not a peace-maker) and you consider yourself a Christian… that’s a problem. (see Mt. 5:9; Acts 6:8-15)
- Litigation – There are times with bringing someone to court is the right and proper thing to do (see Acts 24:1-26:32; Rom. 13:1-5), but I’m convinced the majority of court-cases today are simply unnecessary. Lawsuits break relationships and often fail to bring about the “justice” people are seeking. More than that, when Christians sue other Christians it is a poor witness to an unbelieving. (see Matt. 5:25-26; 1 Cor. 6:1-8)
- Murder – Clearly, this is the opposite extreme of Suicide, where the “victim” feels so threatened and so desperate that murder is the only solution to the conflict. As with Suicide, Murder is NEVER the right answer to conflict. We must also remember Jesus’ words, that we are guilty of murder in our hearts when we hold others with deadly contempt and hatred. (see 1 John 3:15; Matt. 5:21-22).
Which is your Default response to conflict? I urge you to spend significant time praying through these categories and working through how God wants you to respond to conflict.