Conflict Resolution 101: Starting with What We Know

March 29, 2011

Tuesday Re-mix –

On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. Galatians 2:7-8

Most of us approach a jigsaw puzzle (or any other problem) the same way, whether we know it or not.  We start with what we absolutely know to be true.  When chaos and confusion abound and there is so much we do NOT know, we all have an intuitive notion to go back to what we know and then slowly work forward from there.  In the case of the traditional jigsaw puzzle, it is the corner pieces.  They are what we know, they define the parameters of the puzzle.  Whatever else comes along, we know that the answer lies within the four corners of the puzzle.

Finding solutions to conflict within the church, even interpersonal conflict, works the same way.  We always start with what we know: what we know about God, what we know about God’s Word, and what we know about what God is doing.

I don’t think the conflict in the early church was any small thing.  I think the prejudices and potential doctrinal conflict between Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles and Peter’s ministry to the Jews was every bit as dangerous and troubling as our conflicts today.  It had a cultural (racial) element, a doctrinal element (e.g., circumcision) and even a leadership style element (Peter was not the only leader with whom Paul’s temperament clashed).  Reading Acts 15 and Galatians 2 and other similar accounts, you see that the potential for devastating conflict was there.

And so, they went back to what they knew.  Clearly, Peter’s ministry to the Jews was filled with the Spirit.  You just don’t find Spirit-filled power and authority any clearer than in the accounts in Acts 3 and 4.  But the power and authority of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles (especially in Antioch) was equally clear.  The “freedom in Christ” which he preached, while flying in the face of his Hebrew brothers, brought God-sized results in terms of transformed lives.  And so, both Peter’s ministry and Paul’s ministry were obviously Spirit-led…they were “corner pieces”, so to speak, in this doctrinal and cultural puzzle in the early church.

Once we establish what we KNOW God is doing, we can then begin to work toward understanding what is next in light of what we know. In Paul’s case, it was clear that God was leading both Peter and Paul.  The Jerusalem Counsel, then, needed only to figure out how to move forward together in light of that truth.

That’s what we must figure out in the church today.  Take, for example, the two different ministers on a staff who have radically different approaches to ministry–different personalities, different ministry visions, different ministry styles, etc.  Once we agree that God called them both to this church, knowing full well their personalities and propensities, we need only figure out the rest of the puzzle of how they can move forward together.  Unless we are questioning God’s call on one of them or the other, it really isn’t a question of which one should be leaving and which one should be staying.  Those are not options within the parameters of our corner pieces.  So, God must be up to something altogether different from that.  And so on…

I believe it is NOT God’s desire that His will be so difficult for us to discern.  I believe He is spelling it out for us in no uncertain terms through His Word, through His people, through our prayer and through circumstances.  We need only to start with what we know…what is clear and absolute.  Then move forward from there.  What are the “corner pieces” in your conflict?  What do they tell you about what God is doing?

© Blake Coffee
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