Steve Marr, President, Business Proverbs Management—a company providing biblical consulting to ministries and businesses.

To learn more, visit their website at www.businessproverbs.org.

Summary: Conflict in any organization is inevitable. Understanding and applying biblical patterns of conflict resolution makes workdays less stressful?

Introduction. Tom was the pastor of counseling in a growing suburban church. Because he wanted to protect the privacy and confidentiality of individuals in the congregation who came to him for marriage counseling and other personal issues, he would frequently schedule appointments away from the church office. Often, these appointments would stretch over several hours, during which time he was absent from the office.

Unfortunately, Tom also struggled with his personal time management, occasionally arriving late for appointments and appearing disorganized.

Over time, the administrative pastor and the church secretary, who usually had to ?cover? for the counseling pastor, became angry. Although they both agreed that something should be done, neither was willing to confront Tom about his absences or other problems.

A year had gone by when the senior pastor finally stepped in to investigate an increasing number of complaints. When Tom defended his habits as part of his job and seemed unwilling to change, the situation quickly became heated. Ultimately, the only feasible solution was to dismiss Tom.

Too often, even within the church, unresolved conflict creates workplace tensions. Issues that should be dealt with between individuals become staff-wide or church-wide problems. And when the principal parties won’t face the issues and resolve the situation, the senior pastor or board of elders must get involved. In the end, failure to resolve such conflicts affects everyone—pastors and staff, as well as parishioners.

Handling a situation like Tom’s may never be easy. On-the-job confrontations seldom are. However, if a biblical pattern of conflict resolution had been followed, the church would not have encountered such severe difficulties, and the pastor of counseling could have stayed on as a productive team member.

Conflict in any organization is inevitable. Everyone has his or her own perspective of the events and people that make up the workplace. These different perspectives don’t always mesh. In spite of disagreement, the key to growth and progress is to ensure that whatever the conflict, it is resolved in a positive way. The process is just as important as the end result. Even if the ultimate solution is not pleasant, the process of resolving the conflict can be a positive experience.

Three biblical principles govern the conflict resolution process. Implementing these principles can avoid the potentially divisive course of having a conflict spread throughout the congregation.

Principle 1: Deal with conflict right away

Jesus was attacked by the Pharisees many times. Each time, His strategy was to confront the issue immediately. He never let anything ?slide? for the sake of ?keeping peace.? With wisdom and enviable precision, He faced each confrontation when it occurred.

While the memory of an incident is fresh—act quickly—because time has a way of rewriting the ?facts.?

When we hold onto an offense or delay confronting wrongdoing, our minds build on the foundation of frustration until the whole situation becomes distorted. If we fail to act promptly when we have been wronged, we give our anger an opportunity to grow and increase the chance that we will act inappropriately when we finally do confront the issue.

Most importantly, when we fail to act quickly we lose the opportunity for immediate improvement of the circumstances. Had either the administrative pastor or the secretary acted quickly to resolve the conflict, the misunderstandings would likely have been alleviated and the scheduling problems would have improved measurably.

Principle 2: Deal directly with the person who has offended you

Jesus tells us ?If your brother sins, go and reprove him in private? (Mt 18:15, NASB). We must develop the biblical habit of going to the person who has erred or wronged us. Who else can immediately change the situation?

Explain your perspective of the issue clearly and calmly. Stick to the facts and explain the circumstances that have caused the problem. Recommend a solution. Stay positive by focusing the conversation on solutions rather than attacking the person or the problem. Avoid stating how you feel and how you are personally affected, or you and your colleague could easily digress into a personal conflict.

If you are unsuccessful in dealing directly with the person, continue to follow the scriptural model and ?take one or two more with you? (Mt 18:16, NASB). Talk to your associate pastors or staff members and request a meeting to openly discuss the issues. Remember, the only one who can effectively change the person’s behavior is the person himself. The purpose in bringing others into the discussion is to establish the facts of the case and bring a balanced perspective, not to exert additional pressure. Do not fall into the temptation to discuss the issue with others just to ?let off steam?—this is gossip, and it will only make the situation worse.

Principle 3: Deal with an issue completely

Don’t leave loose ends or ?wiggle room.? Make sure each person involved understands the issue. Ask everyone to state his or her understanding of the issues. When a solution is chosen, ask each individual to clarify his or her understanding. Have everyone verbalize their agreement with the steps to be taken, then set a time frame for these steps to be completed.

If future actions are to be different to avoid problems, clearly confirm the future change. It is a good idea to document the conversation in a memorandum to avoid further misunderstandings. A great meeting is often ruined by failing to follow through.

When you are determined to deal completely with a challenge so that it will not resurface, a deeper issue may emerge. It is only when the real issue is addressed that the conflict can be fully resolved; so be alert to the possibility of a deeper issue.

Tom’s desire to protect his counselees was admirable, but his methodology wasn’t. Setting limits early on through appropriate confrontation might have averted the year-long problem he created.

The church will never be a perfect place as long as imperfect people are involved. But your efforts to resolve on-the-job conflict can make it a better place for everyone. The next time difficult issues arise, remember: deal with the issue right away; speak only with the people directly involved; and make sure the situation is resolved completely. Then sit back and watch your church grow.

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October–December, 2002

The Workplace