Thursday, August 10, 2006

Communicating in Conflict

Healthy small groups will occasionally experience conflict. A successful community is not one void of conflict, but one that handles conflict well. The Bible instructs us that “iron sharpens iron,” and there are growth opportunities found in the friction and refining fires of conflict. iIf approached with a humble heart, an attitude of learning, and a Biblical perspective, conflict can be a tremendously rewarding growth opportunity for every person involved and it can foster a deeper level of commitment and community.

Jean Vanier said, “Communities need tensions if they are to grow and deepen. Tensions come from conflicts… A tension or difficulty can signal the approach of a new grace of God. But it has to be looked at wisely and humanly.”

As a small group leader, you will set the tone for the way conflict is viewed and resolved within your group.

There are two basic types of conflict that may be experienced in a group. The first is sinful behavior. If we truly love the people that we are walking with in community, then we must skillfully address sinful patterns in their lives and be open to others addressing sinful patterns in our lives. If someone is unrepentant, then Matthew 18:15-17 provides the foundation for navigating this type of confrontation.

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’If he refuses to listen to them, 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."

No other commentary is necessary; that’s the way to do it.

The second type of conflict that must be addressed is relational breakdown, and that is the most common type that erupts in small group circles. This occurs when two or more members of your group get into a disagreement that escalates to a level that requires reconciliation. Such a breakdown may occur over a disagreement during group discussion or it may occur outside of the actual group time. Our model for navigating this type of conflict is Matthew 5:23-24:

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

The following guidelines for managing conflict are taken from Building a Church of Small Groups by Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson.

Framework for Conflict Navigation

  • If it happens in group, process it in group.
  • The small group leader is responsible for process, not outcomes. In other words, your ultimate responsibility is to ensure that the conflict is handled Biblically; you are not responsible for the final decisions and attitudes of those involved.
  • Validate the conflict. This is a key step in the reconciliation process– recognizing that the problem exists and providing a safe place for working that out.
  • The conflict does not need to be resolved in one meeting. Navigating conflict is a process. Think in terms of steps.
  • Conflict must be processed with trust and confidentiality.

Flowchart for Conflict Navigation

  • Start soon. If feelings are extremely raw, then a short “cool off” period might be necessary. But err on the side of starting sooner rather than later.
  • Meet face to face—NO EMAIL! I can’t stress that enough. Email is an inappropriate vehicle for navigating conflict.
  • Affirm the relationship. Begin by affirming the friendship and fellowship within the Body of Christ and use that as a point of reference for the entire process.
  • Make observations, not accusations.
  • Get the facts.
  • Promote resolution, reconciliation, and restoration.

John Ortberg said, “People who love authentic community always prefer the pain of temporary chaos to the peace of permanent superficiality.” The question is not if you will encounter conflict, but how you encounter it once it springs up.

Use the comment thread to share what you have learned about navigating conflict.


At 8:49 PM, Blogger Allen Arnn said...

I attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit today. Peg Neuhauser spoke as a conflict resolution expert. Her teaching is not specific to small groups but I thought she had good things to say.

1) Think a lot BEFORE a meeting aimed at discussing a conflict. Work to be able to state the other person's position or feelings as clearly (or even more clearly) than he or she can.

2) Each time there is a conversation aimed at conflict resolution between two people or a whole group there are four possible impacts to the relationship. You are either:
- building it
- maintaining it
- repairing it
- damaging it

Those are the only four choices. Ignoring that a conflict exists is in the "damaging it" category.

3) DISCIPLINE yourself to LISTEN

Are people at NCC attending the summit?

At 11:00 AM, Blogger Heather Z said...

Great thoughts, Allen! Thanks so much for sharing! We are usually at the Leadership Summit, but we skipped out this year. Pastor Mark and others are on mission trip in the Galapagos Islands!

Please post other thoughts from the Summit!

At 10:11 PM, Blogger Allen Arnn said...

Heather... FYI I'm going to try to post on my blog one thought-per-day on each session from the Summit if you are interested.


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