Most of us dislike conflict, and run from confrontation as fast as we can.
And in one sense we should. My spiritual father, Duane Harder, used to say that anyone who loves confrontation is a dangerous person. And yet in all my life I never met anyone who handled conflict and confrontation better than he did.
He did it by modelling the ideal: someone who is fearless in confrontation without actually enjoying it.
It is so critical that we learn to deal with conflict rightly. If we can come without fear when we sit down at the table, then we can come in principle and not in emotion.
Fear and hurt are emotions. So is self-protection, which is the desire to bulldoze our opponent.
One of the greatest tragedies of the Christian life is when principle goes out the window, and emotion rules supreme. That is the fatal place where friendships are ruined and fellowship is destroyed. In extreme cases, it is the place where entire churches and even movements go down.
So here’s a few practical items of wisdom I have to offer. Most, if not all, come out of failures on my part.
Number One. To confront is hard, and possibly agonizingly hard, but to allow problems to pile up without ever being addressed is always - not sometimes - worse. This is true in individual friendships and in churches.
Number two. The best place to confront is face to face. Writing letters always brings out the negative, while obliterating the positive. Sometimes it is helpful to put things down on paper beforehand to establish a basis or provide background information for a face to face discussion. But be very careful.
Number three. Never conduct your confrontation in public. Speaking ill of people in a public place is something most of us would never do, even if we felt like it. But why do we feel we can do the same thing in personal conversation or on social media? Never dishonour a brother or sister when others are listening. Private message them or, better yet, go talk to them in person.
Number four. Allow the Holy Spirit to be the filter for your emotional garbage. I remember very well an occasion on which a brother dumped all his emotional garbage on me, and at the end said he felt a lot better. Of course he did, just like you do when you’ve been sick. Don’t vomit on a brother or sister for whom Christ died.
Number five. Never respond impulsively. How many times have I been upset because I heard that someone said or did something, but before I was able to rush over or pick up the phone to confront them, I found out they never said any such thing. Or if they did, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. When you hear something hurtful, take a deep breath and proceed to step number six.
Number six. When you’ve been hurt, take proper Biblical counsel. Don’t go dumping your hurt feelings on a sympathetic friend who really doesn’t know anything about the other person, or who doesn’t like them either. Go to someone you respect, who is a person of principle and authority, and who is not afraid to adjust your perspective if need be. That’s called accountability. And pray hard, and ask God for his perspective. Be assured, he has one.
Number seven. Always try, with God’s help, to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Never assume they are deliberately trying to hurt you. Listen to them first. Don’t judge them before they have a chance to open their mouths. And remember, while you may think they are intimidating, they may be thinking the very same thing of you!
If we fail to confront, the cancer of gossip, backbiting and slander will continue unabated until it has destroyed everything around it. I admit I have been guilty of those three deadly sins as much as I have been the victim of them. God is still helping me into greater maturity. I pray he will help you too.
A lot more than you think is at stake.