Resolving Conflict: Christ’s Way

April 23, 2024 | Jenn Adams

“I just want to set the record straight …”

Uh-oh. This is not the first thing you want to read when you open an email. It’s never excellent to approach conflict resolution from the viewpoint of “This is the way things are.” No set of eyes witness the same thing in any given scenario, and no one person’s experience is going to perfectly match another. Every conversation we are approaching should be going in with the understanding, “This is how I see it.”

Low and behold, the email was filled with allegations, assumptions, misunderstanding, and a whole lot of hurt. Luckilybecause of our relationshipI could set aside my initial shock and evaluate from where this pain was actually stemming. I calmly replied, set the record truly straight (from my perspective!), and we were able to move forward in reconciliation.

This encounter mixed with some promptings in my courses in Vineyard School of Ministry. We were also discussing conflict resolution from the perspective of leadership and shepherding, and this question arose:

What models does the Bible give us for resolving conflict?

There are many biblical examples of how Christ asks us to handle conflict, and these apply to being one of the hurt parties, a leader, friend, or mediator. Conflicts may occur in our personal lives, family and home, in working roles, or in volunteer ministries.

If you are a leader or shepherd of your family or service, resolution means tending to each person individually, possibly together. Get both sides of the story, listen carefully to each perspective. Discern the true issue. Shepherd leaders must nurture the individuals to their unique needs — sometimes your sheep just needs to vent and move on, sometimes the issue leads to a destructive grudge (which impacts future work and needs to be redirected), sometimes it escalates to hurtful, divisive practice that must be resolved.

Tending to these scenarios could look like consolation, encouragement, correction, or rebuke. It depends on the offense.

If the parties can work it out between them, that should be done according to Matthew 5:23–24:

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

The moment we realize we are upset with one of our brothers or sisters, we need to go and make every effort to right the wrong.

If it is a case of a personality type that refuses to take responsibility or downright rejects alternate perspective, sometimes that means validating & coaching ourselves or the other party to be above retaliation and forgive regardless, as in Matthew 5:38–40:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”

And Matthew 18:21–22 iterates:

“Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

(As many times as it takes).

If the conflict is stemming from sinful nature, our steps in the process are modeled by Matthew 18:15–20:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

If one (or both) of the offended parties feels unsafe approaching the other (i.e., confrontation to this point has led nowhere, or to more hurt), mediation is absolutely necessary. Part of that mediation was encouraged in the previous passagewitnesses are essential; a neutral, trusted third party must be involved.

But no matter what, it must look like relationship. Christ wants us to operate in unity. John 17:20–21 shares part of Christ’s final prayer in the garden of Gethsemane:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

He calls each of us to be Christ-minded despite our God-given differences. This is a huge part of representing the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

Reconciliation can mean a lot of things depending on the escalation, and may not always result in a handshake. Involve your parties in their solution. Sometimes it’s helpful to turn it around and ask them what resolution is acceptable to them, rather than mediating what you think should be done.

Depending on the damage, this sometimes also means breaking away and parting is the only way to bring peace to the situation. 

Operate in wisdom, pray for the Lord to be in your tongue and words. Respond, do not react. Regardless of the outcome, we need to embrace honor and love in every part of the conflict, discussion, and resolution. In Jesus’ name.