How to Handle Conflict in the Church: 5 Healthy Steps

How to Handle Conflict in the Church: 5 Healthy Steps

I could feel the tension between the two of us, without even saying a word. I had no idea what caused the conflict. Had I offended her? Was I the problem? I tried flooding her with kindness to smooth things over, but it only seemed to make things worse. This particular morning at our monthly women’s ministry breakfast, I hoped our relationship would improve. I wanted to resolve this, but didn’t know where to begin. So I continued to ignore the uncertainty I felt and hoped it would work itself out.

We would be wrong to assume that we can completely avoid conflict with our sisters in Christ. Different personalities, experiences, and seasons of life bring variety and vibrance to our churches. However, we are not immune to relationship struggles, just because we are inside a church building. Like with families, jobs, or anywhere we interact with people, there is potential for disagreement. Even the early church experienced conflict within the body of Christ.

The good news is that there is hope for reconciliation when conflict happens. God’s Word gives us everything we need to work toward resolving our differences and moving forward in unity. By looking at a portion of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, we can learn 5 healthy steps for handling conflict within the church.

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  • 1. Address conflict quickly. Refuse to let it linger.

    1. Address conflict quickly. Refuse to let it linger.

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    Confrontation makes me squirm. Just the thought of approaching someone who’s mad at me takes the word uncomfortable to a whole new level. When I sense an issue arising, my Martha-mentality kicks in. I compliment the person, do nice things for her, and go out of my way to prove my worth as a friend. I’d much rather try to make someone like me than deal with whatever may be causing problems between us.

    Kindness is important, but it cannot solve the issue because it leaves the root to grow deeper. Although confronting someone about possible conflict will be hard at first, it’s the best option. Paul demonstrates this as he urges two women to resolve their differences in Philippians 4.

    “Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement.” (Philippians 4:2 NLT)

    Paul shares this bold statement not in a spirit of frustration, but out of love for these two women and the incredible work they’ve done for the Lord. It is interesting to note that his admonition comes a few short verses before the often-quoted wisdom, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything…” in Philippians 4:6. Not only can we find the peace of God that passes understanding to replace our worry, but that same peace can replace conflict as well.

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  • 2. Seek out a trusted leader to help you.

    2. Seek out a trusted leader to help you.

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    “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.” (Matthew 18:15-16)

    God is a restorer of brokenness. He longs to see our hearts, our health, and even our relationships made whole. Because of this, God provides us with a prescription for handling a disagreement with another believer. Paul gives an example when he calls on someone to fill that crucial role for Euodia and Syntyche. “And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News” (Philippians 4:3). When two people struggle to resolve their differences, it’s time to enlist the help of a trusted leader.

    Who do you believe could offer godly wisdom? Is there a leader you both trust to speak truth to your situation? Involving a neutral third party is the next step in handling conflict. Pray and allow God to reveal the right person to guide you through this. God can use another person to foster reconciliation when we can’t seem to make progress on our own.

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  • 3. Keep your heart and mind focused on the bigger picture.

    3. Keep your heart and mind focused on the bigger picture.

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    When life demands our attention, we can easily get distracted from what matters most. We have a real enemy who enjoys seeing bitterness and bickering turn our focus from God’s purpose for us. That’s why God offers encouragement through the apostle Paul to keep our eyes fixed on the ultimate goal.

    “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:14)

    When we stay centered on salvation and the grace we’ve been given, our personal conflicts don’t seem so insurmountable after all. Keeping that focus takes a daily commitment to renewing our hearts and minds in a way that pleases God.

    Unending joy in the Lord and patience with others can provide salve for even the deepest hurts. Paul emphasizes this also. “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon” (Philippians 4:4-5). Let’s “fix our eyes on Jesus” today (Hebrews 12:2). We will be amazed at how our relationships improve as we work together, keeping Him at the center.

  • 4. Pray and ask God to reveal any misunderstandings.

    4. Pray and ask God to reveal any misunderstandings.

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    A sweet young couple once visited our church a few times. As the pastors, my husband and I enjoyed getting to know them and developing a relationship. After several weeks they stopped coming. I just assumed they found another church that was a better fit for them. But when we crossed paths again nearly a year later, I learned the shocking truth. There had been a misunderstanding between us, and I didn’t even know it. A misunderstanding that caused a conflict.

    There will be times in life when something we say gets interpreted differently than we mean it. Or we may be on the receiving end instead. It happens all the time. This type of miscommunication can be a catalyst for conflict to develop. When we think we heard something a certain way, we would do well to remember this truth before forming conclusions. Misunderstanding happens, but we don’t have to let it define our relationships.

    The chance meeting we had with the visiting couple gave me the opportunity to ask for forgiveness. I didn’t have to know the details of the confusion between us, because the hidden beauty in misunderstandings is in realizing no one is actually at fault! Apologizing for any perceived wrongdoing breaks down walls and allows healing to take place.

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  • 5. Remember, my silence makes room for God to be heard.

    5. Remember, my silence makes room for God to be heard.

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    I’ll admit; I enjoy being right. In fact, I’ve been known to deliver a strong three-point sermon to my husband just to prove it. But the pride of being right never brings the results I desire. Pride has no place in the body of believers. When resolving conflict, we need to resist jumping into defense-mode.

    “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (James 1:19)

    Listening says to the other person that I value her and care what she has to say. It ushers in the gentleness we will need to move forward toward reconciliation. When I’m tempted to interrupt, this verse in James reminds me of an important lesson. My silence makes room for God to be heard. And wouldn’t we all rather listen to God’s voice over our own?

    If I had chosen to listen to God’s voice regarding conflict with my friend, I feel certain things between us would be different today. Unfortunately, doing things my own way didn’t bring the outcome I had hoped for. Seeking out practical steps in Scripture to apply to our struggles takes time and effort, but our relationships are worth it.

    Are you facing conflict with someone in your church body? Have you witnessed a disagreement between others at church? May these 5 healthy steps encourage you. Together we can rediscover our common purpose as we seek to resolve conflicts. One goal, one body, and one Heavenly Father. “This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other... All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:25, 27)

    Kristine Brown is a communicator at heart, sharing insight with her readers in relatable ways. Her life experiences serve as a backdrop for her lessons that highlight God’s powerful Word and redemptive grace. She is the author of the book, Over It. Conquering Comparison to Live Out God’s Plan, and founder of the non-profit organization, More Than Yourself, Inc. Read Kristine’s weekly devotions at kristinebrown.net or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter

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