by Caitlin Meadows
Conflict is the key ingredient to every compelling story. Without it, there’s no plot.
This ingredient captivates the audience’s attention. The more impossible the situation, the more difficult it is to put the book down or turn the movie off.
Why is this so? Human curiosity? Our tendency to relate with the protagonist? Or maybe its our familiarity with the tendency to face obstacles?
Even though it is a common fact of life, conflict is widely viewed negatively as something to avoid.
As influential Christian communicators facing conflict, the questions to ask ourselves are:
1.) What is the underlying message I wish to communicate through my life, and subsequently, through the way I handle this conflict?
2.) To what or to Whom do I want my life, including how I handle this conflict, to point others?
If the answer to both questions is the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom, rather than fearing and avoiding dealing with inevitable conflicts, we can see them as an opportunity for good.
So how can we handle conflict in a God-glorifying manner?
How Can Conflict be a Good Thing?
1. When Handled with Humility
A lie I once believed was that conflict is the same thing as competition. While this can be true, as Dr. Emerson Eggerichs teaches, disagreeing does not necessarily make one person right and the other wrong; it just makes them different. And that’s okay.¹
In Acts 15:35-41, Paul and Barnabas mutually decide to take separate paths because they disagree on Mark joining them in their joint ministry. This has widely been interpreted as a quarrel between the two men. However, all Scripture reveals is that they had a conflict of desires and found a mutually satisfying solution.²
Conflict does not have to result in a fight or even in hurt feelings. When handled with humility, it is productive and beneficial.
A conflict handled with humility provides the opportunity for self-reflection. One can prayerfully consider his/her fault, intentional or not. This is refining. And once self-reflection has taken place, one can humbly pursue resolution.
Jesus instructs in Matthew 5:23-24 that if we have offended someone we should go to this person and seek reconciliation. Later in Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus instructs that if someone has offended us, we are to go to them and seek reconciliation.
Whether the offender or the offended, it is our responsibility to take the initiative and go pursue peace. To do either takes humility. It means owning up to our fault in the situation and listening to understand the other person’s perspective. Conversely, to say “well, the ball is in his court…” is to have pride. In this way, one avoids both dealing with the conflict and achieving the reconciliation that Jesus instructs us to pursue.
2. When Handled with Holiness
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” – Hebrews 12:14
Though interpersonal conflict is unavoidable, we are to handle it with holiness. This means approaching it prayerfully with the goal of peace for God’s glory.
When handled with holiness, the influential Christian communicator asks, “How can this be dealt with in a way that honors the Lord?”
Viewing conflict in light of Christ prevents bitterness from taking root and turning a disagreement into a battle. Hebrews 12 goes on in verse 15 to say that bitterness causes many to be defiled. The anecdote for bitterness is peace through Christ’s holiness that He extends to us, His disciples.
To be holy is to be set apart by and for the Lord. As a result, we are empowered by Him to be like Him. Therefore, a defining attribute of holiness is forgiveness.
“As the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive.” – Colossians 3:13b
When handled with holiness, conflict is an opportunity to offer our offender forgiveness in response to the forgiveness God has provided us. This is a good thing.
3. When Handled with Leadership
Passivity prevents one from handling conflict as the Bible instructs.
In humility, Christ-followers are to self-reflect so as not to be hypocritical in dealing with others (Matthew 7:5). They are to go seek reconciliation with anyone whom they have offended or who has offended them (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15-17).
In other words, Christ-followers are to take the lead when dealing with conflict.
Leadership & Effective Communication
When reading a book or watching a movie, what do we want to yell at the conflicting characters?
“You just need to talk about it!” “Tell him such and such!” “If she knew this and that, she’d understand!”
Effective communication is the life blood of every successful relationship. Without it, there is no intimacy, no growth, no understanding, and no conflict management.
To effectively communicate, someone has to take the initiative. Someone has to lead. As followers of Christ, we are called to lead.
In so doing, the negative aspects of conflict (fear, intimidation, anger, etc.) can be removed.
Conflict is not just the main ingredient in every good story, it is an unavoidable fact of life. But it doesn’t have to result in wounded relationships.
Influential Christian communicators can use conflict as an opportunity for good. Leading through effective communication, the Christian can handle these challenging situations with humility and holiness in pursuit of reconciliation, and ultimately, glorifying the Lord.