When people act without thinking, they can cause irreparable harm to themselves and others. Nowhere is this truer than in the area of conflict management.
Several years ago my father, who was a preaching minister, witnessed a family feud at a wedding rehearsal. The bride had fired her sister as her maid of honor and given the role to a friend instead. To make matters worse, the sister didn’t find out about the change until she arrived at the church building on the night of the rehearsal. The first indication my father had there was a problem was the sound of a police siren in the parking lot where the bride and her sister had gone to grab some decorations out of a van. The policeman had been driving by the parking lot when he saw the sisters tumbling out of the van, pulling one another’s hair and swinging wildly with their arms. By the time my father walked out of the chapel the struggle was over and the two sisters were stationed at opposite ends of the van screaming at one another. Needless to say, the rest of the wedding weekend was a bit tense.
I would put this bizarre incident in the category of “stupid stuff.” Stupid stuff happens when people allow normal human conflict to spiral out of control. The fight at my father’s rehearsal could have been averted if the bride had addressed the issue in advance. It was unwise for the sisters to walk to the van together, and there is little doubt they both knew what was going to transpire between them.
Ironically, my father used to teach a course on conflict management. He believed organizations and churches weren’t a whole lot different from families when it comes to resolving differences. One of his favorite lines was, “If some families don’t have something to fight about, they will create something!” My father knew what he was talking about.
I think one could also say, “Some families choose not to fight and look for creative ways handle conflict.” But don’t take my word for it.
In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus gave us a formula for conflict management long before corporate conventions and leadership seminars. If a brother sins against us we should discuss the matter with him in private in an effort to reconcile. If he refuses to listen we should take one or two others with us as witnesses, presumably to make a bigger impression. If we are unable to bring about change with these first two steps Jesus directs us to bring the brother who has sinned against us before the church in a final attempt at resolution. There is some debate as to whether this last step refers to church leaders or an entire congregation and whether Jesus was using the context of the synagogue or the Christian church to come. Yet, the principles He uses apply regardless. Brothers (and sisters) in the Lord should not rush to fight. Instead, they should do everything possible to address their differences at a low-level of conflict in an effort to contain the controversy and avoid drawing bystanders into the fray.
In the church family I serve I have a rule. If someone comes to me with a conflict with another church member I ask if he has tried to resolve the issue through a private conversation. If he says no, I tell him he needs to do so before involving others. If the same member returns with another complaint I ask him if he followed through on the private conversation. If he says no, I tell him I don’t want to hear anything else about the matter until he takes personal responsibility for a resolution. The only exception to this rule is when I sense someone is in physical danger or is being bullied by an habitual offender. It is amazing how much less conflict a church family has when people are forced to work problems out themselves, and how much less gossip exists when people know they can’t rally others to their side with half-truths and selective information.