Constructive Conflict

A Guide for Making it Work

Guest preacher Rev. Dr. Paul Bramer spoke about Creative Conflict at St. John’s on Sunday, May 10, 2015. You can view the full talk here, or keep reading for a summary.

The Reality of Conflict

Conflict. The hard reality is that conflict is inevitable in every person’s life, and it is sometimes painful. We sometimes hear of people coming into sharp conflict. That term “sharp” makes one think not just of pain but of a situation where someone could get hurt.

In Acts 15, we read about a conflict between Paul and Barnabas as they started their second missionary journey. They could not agree on whether to bring John Mark along; Barnabas wanted to include him but Paul lacked confidence in John Mark. The conflict caused a split: Barnabas and John Mark set out on one mission, while Paul set off on a separate mission.

It’s easy to let conflict hurt us, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It is easy for conflicts to go out of control, when emotions and impulse cause us to make regrettable actions. With some effort, however, we can use conflict to constructive ends. With goodwill, creativity, and time, we can ease the pain, come to a positive resolution, and grow in personal spirit.

Rev. Paul’s Checklist

When you find yourself in a conflict, here are six things you can do:

  1. Determine to grow. Choose to find ways of tacking the issue and finding a resolution. “Don’t waste your pain – make it do something in your life.” To grow, you may need to do some things – perhaps journalling or talking to a councillor or pastor – to help you on your way.
  2. Seek God. It’s too easy to let your heart grow hard and become bitter and hateful. Look toward God to find where love is in this. The Book of Psalms is a great book for this – almost half of the psalms were written in times of conflict and are prayers for us to express our hopes and our fears to God.
  3. Manage your Emotions. Conflict can fill us with anger, with frustration, with fear. When these emotions get hot, we can easily do things we regret. When you feel overwhelmed, stop and take time to cool down. Consider a time-out: take a walk, try deep-breathing, or agree to put the dispute aside for a while.
  4. Work to Understand. Don’t make assumptions about the other person in this conflict; instead listen to them. Seek to understand more than you seek to be understood. Meet face to face, ask questions, and listen carefully.
  5. Take Responsibility. Take ownership for your actions. If you did things that the other person found hurtful, muster the strength to say “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” Instead of working to assign blame, work to fix the issues causing the differences.
  6. Speak the Truth in Love. Maintain courtesy under stress – we might not be able to get to the level of love that Jesus talks about, but we can maintain courtesy throughout the conflict. Fight fair. Through courtesy and listening, show the other person that they are worthy of respect and worthy of your love.

Jesus calls us to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). If we can honour this command, we can honour those we come into conflict with, and we grow ourselves spiritually.

A Closing Thought

Listening is a way that we can work toward the kind of love that Jesus talks about. To put it another way:

Being heard is so close to being loved, that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable. Within each human there is a deep need to be heard as a real person, a person of importance who merits attention and respect. Care, not cure [or correction], is the primary goal of listing.

– David Augsburger, Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard

And what of Paul’s conflict with John Mark? About twelve years later, when Paul is imprisoned, he writes a letter to some churches saying that he has asked John Mark to visit and strengthen them. With time, they had grown in worthiness, replaced mis-trust with trust, and resolved their conflict. In the years that followed, John Mark went on to write the gospel that is known as Mark.

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