“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” says John Steinbeck in his classic novel, Of Mice and Men. That line seems particularly fitting when applied to the topic of conflict resolution. Despite diligent prayer, careful planning and a humble spirit, attempts at conflict resolution rarely go as planned. What happens if we are unable to reach an agreement? What’s next?
Let’s examine our options as we look at three, real-life scenarios:
Wendy and Ginger 1attended the same church. Wendy’s daughter, Christina , had severe food allergies. She approached Ginger, Christina’s Sunday school teacher, concerned about the types of food she served in class and offered to help be part of the solution. Ginger did what she could to accommodate Christina’s needs while maintaining as normal a class as possible.
They reached an impasse. Wendy and Ginger responded biblically; they took it to the next level and asked Marc Romero, the children’s pastor to help mediate the situation.
“I’m not trained in conflict resolution,” confided Pastor Marc. “I did the only thing I knew to do—go to the Bible and pray for wisdom.” As he prayed, he felt God revealed the root issue—the adults’ focus had shifted away from the child. Once he redirected their focus back to the child, they experienced unity and began to work together toward a solution. With Pastor Marc’s help, they are now working on guidelines that focus on the child’s best interests.
What makes this incident so compelling is that Wendy and Ginger’s church have no formal peacemaking structure. “Scripture has promised that God has disbursed his gifts in the body, and he makes good on his promises, even if there’s not a formal peacemaking ministry in the church,” says Ken Sande, president of Peacemaker Ministries and author of The Peace Maker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict.
But what if bringing in a third party to help resolve the conflict doesn’t work?
Consider a professional mediator.
That’s what Karen O’Connor did when faced with a conflict over her relationship with a friend. “She wanted a ‘best friend,’ status,” explains Karen while she wanted to enjoy a variety of friendships. “She pressured me with gifts, phone calls and time together.” Unable to manage the mounting tension in the relationship, Karen invited a mutual friend—a professional mediator—to help resolve the conflict. “With his help, we were able to ‘hear’ each other and to apologize for anything we did to hurt the other,” says Karen. Through it all, Karen learned to recognize unhealthy or 'toxic' relationships and to identify those personality types that best complement hers.
Karen’s situation is not unusual. We all carry baggage from our past that affects our relationships in the present. When unresolved heart issues result in the toxicity spilling over into the relationship through such destructive and manipulative behavior as verbal and emotional abuse, compulsive lying, denial, control and addictions, seek outside, professional help. If you’re unable to locate a professional mediator or conciliator in your area, talk with a Christian counselor who could guide you through the process of reconciliation and restoration.
When bringing in a third party fails to help, God’s Word calls us to “tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector (Matt. 18:17 NIV)." This raises the rarely discussed topic of church discipline. Although this remains a difficult doctrine to understand and an even harder one to implement, it rests on the divine authority of Scripture. For that reason, we must carefully examine this option.
Consider the situation I found myself in a number of years ago.
As a member of my church’s prayer team, I routinely met with members of the congregation to pray for specific needs. My prayer partner and I had met with a woman whose husband was involved in an extramarital affair. The wife confronted the husband about his sin, but he refused to give it up. She asked elders in the church to speak to him, which they did to no avail. Finally, the pastor met with a man. He refused to give up the affair.
This man’s wife, the elders and even the pastor admonished, warned and appealed in love to this man. Still, the man would not repent. Consequently, the pastoral staff asked the man to step down from leadership.
To my knowledge, he remains unrepentant to this day.
When we face difficult situations that fail yield to one-on-one confrontation and discussion, God gives us clear principles that we can apply to the situation. Even if those involved in the conflict fail to respond, we can rest in the knowledge that we have pleased and honored God by obeying his Word.
“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58 NIV).