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Managing Conflict #2: Fight or Flight

By November 19, 2013April 5th, 2016No Comments

What is your natural response to conflicts and disagreement? Fight or flight?

Those of us who are fighters get defensive and go on the offense against the other person, often causing the disagreement to escalate into an overt fight. The flee-ers verbally ignore the issue because they hate conflict, and run off to let the problem fester in their minds and hearts, leading to deep-seated anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness.

We cannot deal well with conflict that arises in our homes, churches, workplaces, or communities if we act naturally.

There is a third way, which is not natural but supernatural. Through the power and grace of God we can change the way we deal with conflict and move toward unity and peace.  Jesus prioritizes unity among his people. In John 17, his prayer for all disciples, he focuses on unity/oneness in vv. 20-23, asking God that his followers be one three times. Twice he says that such unity results in the world’s recognition that Jesus was sent by God. When we are one, it is so supernatural that the world recognizes that it comes from God and is drawn to follow him, too.

Our church and family experiences, however, are often far from this picture. Because we tend toward either fight or flight, we have permanent anger and unforgiving, bitter hearts toward one another. Jesus’s prayer, of course, points to Christian marriages and churches, relationships he designed to reflect the oneness of the Trinity. The way we believers react to conflict in other situations, however, bears witness to our faith as well.

Yes, there are times to ignore and times to confront, but those choices must be made carefully, not in anger or fear. Disagreements and conflicts cannot be avoided. Oneness isn’t about agreeing all the time; it concerns unity of heart and of action despite differences of opinion. So how do we get there?

Fighters, take time to think before responding when conflict arises. Read the book of Proverbs, focusing on the verses about words. Remove yourself from the situation if possible to have time to pray and seek wisdom from others to find the mind of Christ. Carefully choose your words when you must reengage the conversation. Remember that often the disagreement is not about you, so take your feelings out of the mix and consider what the conflict is really about. Is it something that needs to be hashed out so that your relationship can be at peace or can you love and forgive without further conversation? If it is a difference of opinion that must be dealt with or if you cannot forget it, you confront in a loving and honest way.

Flee-ers, instead of running off, talk. Speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), and get the issues and feelings on the table. Don’t allow fear of conflict to rule your choices. Real progress in your relationships cannot be made without discussion about the issues. If you cannot forget what happened or the words that were said, you must confront lovingly and have real conversation over it. Ask God for the grace to speak the truth in love, forgive, and more forward toward peace and unity with your brothers and sisters.

As leaders of others we deal with conflict in our small groups, families, church groups, and teams. It is imperative that we seek God about such problems. Often we ignore it, hoping it will disappear on its own, but that is unlikely. It is important to confront lovingly when we realize the harm being done to the peace and unity of the group.

This is hard, hard, hard. I prefer to ignore it, but for the good of the group and for the oneness of the group, church, or ministry, I have done this many times. Some situations worked out easily while others were more challenging to solve. You will grow as a leader when you face the challenges and move forward trusting God to guide. Ask for wisdom without gossiping about others from those who are trained and experienced in conflict-solving and mature in faith.

For the sake of the gospel and relationships we value, let’s choose to lead when opinions differ and conflicts arise. It is well worth the effort.

For further help, go to the Peacemaker Ministries website.

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