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3 Healthy Ways to Handle Conflict

Written by Madeline Twooney, Germany

A few Sundays ago, an acquaintance of mine from church pulled me aside before the morning service to talk to me about a weakness in my character. She thought that l was too occupied with accommodating other’s needs in church, that I neglected my own needs. In her opinion, l could do with standing up for myself more.

l smiled and muttered some vague thanks for her concern.

But in the back of my mind, l was fuming—absolutely fuming. I found her words condescending and her intervention inappropriate. I was not a frightened, insecure person. While I am fallen and flawed like everyone else, l believe that God has gifted me with a kind and generous heart that is always seeking to help others—I’ve always looked at that as an asset.

To this day, my acquaintance doesn’t know how l feel. I opted out of negatively responding to avoid an unnecessary storm.

And yet I wonder. . .was avoiding conflict by ignoring her confrontation the correct thing to do?

As the body of Christ, we need to be able to respond to conflict within the church and in our lives in a healthy way that does the following:

  • Gives us peace as individuals
  • Promotes love
  • Lifts us up as a body of believers that can serve God both in the church and out in the world

So, how do we do that?

The apostle Paul approaches this dilemma in his epistle to the Christians in Colossae. Because of false teachings, the church was suffering from severe division. In Colossians 3:13-15, Paul shows us three principles that we can use today to help us respond to conflict.

 

1. Forgive Others As God Forgives Us

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

The act of forgiveness is of such great importance to Paul, that the word is used three times in this Bible passage. Not only are we called to forgive others, we need to strive to forgive them in the same way God has forgiven us.

This means that whatever harm the other person might have caused us, we do not hold it against them. This also means blotting out any bitterness or anger we may feel towards them. Forgiving as the Lord forgives not only frees the person who wronged us—it liberates us as well.

My acquaintance has an impression of me that may be untrue. But that’s ok. I know who l am, and God knows who l am. Irrespective of what prompted her to push her opinion on me, l am practicing every day to forgive in a way that frees us both.

 

2. Put on Love

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14)

Jesus commands us to love one another (John 13:34-35). However, how do we love someone we have a conflict with? In that case, we need to make a conscious decision to love them—to accept them for who they are, warts and all, and recognize that they are a work in progress, just like we are. We need to put on love.

Loving someone with whom we are in conflict is easier when we understand the motives for their actions. My acquaintance had good intentions in mind, so showing her anything but love would only promote confusion and hurt in her heart.

That doesn’t mean that l shouldn’t talk to her openly about her actions and their effect on me—l can, and l might at some point in the future. However, if l confront her, l need to do it from a place of love, not from hurt or accusation.

God is love. When we were still His enemy, He loved us (Ephesians 2:4-5). If His love can unify us with Him, shouldn’t we be sharing this love with others?

 

3. Let Peace into Our Hearts

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace (Colossians 3:15)

Being in conflict is stressful and takes up a lot of our mental energy. Why would anyone choose to live that way, when we have the option to receive the peace Christ offers (John 14:27)?

Choosing to accept Jesus’ peace has been a great blessing for me in my situation. It isn’t always easy to apply, but it helps to think of how much inner turmoil and stress l am avoiding in my life by simply trusting Jesus to work things out in His perfect timing. With that in mind, choosing peace is a better option!

The church is of great importance to Jesus. For it to function well, He requires us to be at peace. So, if you are holding tightly to an issue or a conflict today, could you let it go for Jesus’ sake?

 

It would be nice to say that conflict is something that can be avoided. Unfortunately, we are imperfect people living in a broken world—a prime breeding ground for discord and strife.

How comforting it is, then, to know that we have a perfect God who loves us in our brokenness, and guides us to respond or deal with these conflicts in a Christlike manner, through His love and teachings!

Moving From Guilt to Freedom

Written By Deborah Lee, Singapore

My heart was tense. I kept remembering the recent conversation with my former church leader. I had explained to her my decision to leave for a new church,* and apologized for letting her down.

But she was visibly upset, and directed hurtful, accusing words at me. After that conversation, I tried texting her once a week, but her reply was always short— “I’m fine. Thank you.” The last time I texted her, she stopped replying altogether.

This leader had been a great help to me during my discipleship journey. I remember when she first brought me to the church five years ago. I was facing some complex family issues then, and she was one of the persons who directed me to God and showered me with love.

I grew spiritually in that church. I was grateful for the comfort they provided, and I made a promise to stay faithful to the church and to eventually bring my family there for worship. But that never happened, and now with my departure, it won’t be happening at all.

I felt helpless, and God seemed so far away. I was so consumed by that feeling of helplessness that I woke up one Sunday morning, and didn’t feel like worshipping God. But I figured I should at least go to church and listen to the sermon, so I eventually dragged myself out of bed.

 

The Bondage That Held Me

As the worship leader led us to begin singing the song “No Longer Slaves,” I remember praying, “Lord, show me what is hindering me. I just want to worship you.”

God brought to light my guilt over leaving my previous church. While it was not necessarily wrong for me to leave, I felt guilty for not fulfilling my promise to my former church leader.

I had also raised my voice during the discussion with my church leader. I was defensive and somewhat bitter as I explained my reasons for leaving. Hence, I was guilty also for taking offense instead of seeking peace (1 Peter 3:11, Matthew 5:9). I should have answered with gentleness and respect (Proverbs 15:1), thus keeping a clear conscience. Instead, I sinned, and in turn, led my church leader further into sin also.

As we continued singing, I became immersed in the lyrics: I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God. . . We’ve been liberated from our bondage, we are the sons and daughters, let us sing our freedom. . .

I found myself lifting up my hands as we sang. Tears filled my eyes as I recalled how the Lord had rescued me again and again in the past. Though I have faced many tough situations, the Lord has always carried me and walked me through my darkest moments.

At the end of the song, I felt as if God were speaking into my heart, “Don’t hold onto the guilt of leaving anymore. Look at My redemptive work on the cross. Lay down your burden; I will carry it. You are no longer a slave. You are mine. Be set free.”

 

Where Freedom Is Found

As I shared my worship experience with a trusted friend, she pointed me to Romans 8:1-4. If we are in Christ, there is no condemnation; the Spirit is life-giving and sets us free from the power of sin and death. No matter what mistake we have made, Christ has died to set us free from condemnation. As long as we put our faith in Him, His sacrifice on the cross justifies us. No human work can do or undo this justification.

When we live according to the Spirit by faith, we can repent, experience Christ’s forgiveness, and move on by His grace even if the person we have wounded has not yet forgiven us. Our flesh is weak. We do things we should not. But there is power at the cross. At the same place where God freely offers forgiveness when we ask, there is a redemptive work that empowers us to live differently—to let go of guilt, and focus on leading a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way and bearing fruit in His kingdom (Colossians 1:10-12).

Through the worship on Sunday morning, God taught me to focus on the power of His cross—even in our confusion and brokenness, it brings both healing and direction for a way forward.

Though my former church leader has yet to forgive me, I know that God already has. Because I am set free from the guilt, I can now pray without hindrance for my church leader to also find healing at the redemptive work on the cross. I continue to pray for the eventual reconciliation of our relationship.

 

* I do not encourage changing churches lightly. No church is perfect, and generally we should remain in our home church and seek to grow spiritually there, encouraging and supporting one another to grow in Christ. However, if you do feel led to move on to a new church, it should be done only after careful consideration, a period of prayer, seeking the Lord through reading His Word, and counsel from mature Christian mentors or church elders.

My Journey From Megachurch to Modest Church

As the darkened stage gave way to flashing lights and rousing music, the worship band emerged, urging the congregation to stand up to worship Jesus.

People rose to their feet, clapping and dancing along with the band. I stood among the worshippers, my hands lifted in the air. Ensconced inside a state-of-the-art auditorium equipped with advanced surround sound to absorb any outside noises, and music pulsating from the stage, I was immersed. By the time the auditorium lights dimmed, I felt like I had entered a sacred space.

My family and I had been attending this church for 17 years, watching its metamorphosis from a medium-sized church to the megachurch it is now, with various campuses operating locally and internationally.

I love the church’s modern building, complete with a trendy cafe serving barista-made coffee before and after services, and immaculately dressed volunteers welcoming guests with big smiles as they file past the church doors.

For the longest time, I was convinced modern megachurches were the best way to do church. Even more than electrifying Sunday praise music, delicious coffee and warm greetings, a large church meant that there was a large pool of volunteers to rely on to carry out community work. It meant there were also financial resources to host Christian conferences headed by renowned speakers, drawing in large crowds to hear the gospel and inviting staggering numbers of people to salvation.

Furthermore, I thought the church’s modern amenities was a great way to dissolve the stereotype non-Christians held about church life—that it was about kneeling at cold, hard pews, clutching onto weather-beaten Bibles and hymnals, and people mostly over the age of 60 holding narrow, outdated views on life.

I did not know it then, but I had subconsciously formed a specific view of how a church should feel and operate, and it would become an unhealthy standard I would hold other churches to.

 

Why Was I Attending Church?

A number of years ago, I moved to a smaller town for a job opportunity. Faced with limited options, I had no choice but to attend a small church that was close to my flat. The church had a modest band, and the worship was not accompanied by the throbbing lights I had grown accustomed to.

I remember feeling rather disillusioned when I discovered I was one of the youngest among the churchgoers. Refreshments after the service were instant coffee served in brown Pyrex mugs, and supermarket-variety biscuits laid out on a large white plate. The stark contrast between the refreshments available at my previous church and the current one was enough to make me yearn for the sophisticated, polished ways of my home church.

Before long, my attendance took a plunge as I was not motivated to attend church. Aside from the small music team, sermons, and refreshments, the town I had moved to was a strong farming community. Coming from a megachurch in a big city, I felt unable to connect with the other church attendees who were used to the rural life.

I did attend church occasionally, but most of the time, I stayed home and streamed videos of my favorite pastors. I missed my old church but due to work commitments, it was another two years before I made it back.

When I finally did make it back to my home church, it had grown even more over the time I was away, and as I was no longer serving in church, I had lost touch with the majority of the people. Very soon, I blended in with the furnishings; I was unseen and unheard, and it didn’t take me long to realize I felt invisible within the church.

The warm, welcoming ushers I had once loved felt a little practiced—smiles were too bright, handshakes too formal. Hanging around the bustling cafe with barista-made coffee after service is fine—if you have people to hang out with.

This little episode made me ponder on my real reason for attending church. Was I just looking to my weekly fix of coffee, bright lights, and thumping music? I have found experiences to be fleeting, where I would feel great during worship, but once the lights fade and the band packs up, I didn’t have anything concrete to hold on to get me through life’s difficulties. I wanted something more than an electrifying Sunday worship.

What Church Is Really All About

I’ve come to believe that God does not favor a church with a shiny auditorium more than He does a smaller church with its humble facilities.

The main purpose of church is for worshippers to gather and learn more about God, and to encourage one another. Acts 2:42 records that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).

In light of that verse, I reconsidered the small church I had reluctantly been a part of for the previous two years, and I realized that I had been discontented because I was superficially comparing it to larger churches. God brought to mind the times He was present at the Sunday lunches in the pastor’s home, and the evening visits with the pastor’s wife. I even remembered my cell group in a new light. At one meeting in particular, I found myself in tears, stressed from the pressures I faced at work. During these hard times, I didn’t need a posh building to find God, or His people. Because God is not found in a grand structure—but wherever worshippers gather.

After yet another move for work, a friend recently invited me to his church, and it’s a medium-sized one, with its service held out of a school hall. In the past, I would have immediately compared it to my old church. But this time, I appreciated the service for what it was, with its down-to-earth pastors and attendees who hung around after church to enjoy fellowship over lunch.

The difference this time was that I had come with a desire to genuinely worship God, with or without the flashy stage and the posh environment. I wanted to foster a strong relationship with church members. And on top of it all, I wanted to grow spiritually as a Christian. In the past, I was feeding off feel-good sermons, and I was coasting on relationships built on a veneer of polite smiles and hugs. But I wanted more than just a grand auditorium, an impressive band, and a host of well-dressed ushers.

I have come to look at a church based on healthier standards such as: are the pastors living up to God’s Word? Are their teachings biblically-sound? Are the sermons in line with Scripture? Importantly, are the sermons more than just a feel-good Sunday message—do they encourage me to grow and develop to be a mature Christian? What are the church’s small groups like? How is the church serving their community?

I know it can very easy to judge a church based on its building. For example, a big beautiful church could be seen as a healthy, growing one, and a church worshipping out of a rented community hall could be mistaken as a church that isn’t flourishing. But for me, I have learned to take a step back and think, if a church is to be stripped of all its furnishings, will their core still shine for God?

Focusing on trivial matters such as the auditoriums and the refreshments robbed me of the joy of truly seeking God, and helped me realize that I was in many ways, idolizing the lifestyle the church offered, when I should be putting God at the center of it. But thankfully, God has taught me to see that no matter the size of a church, what matters most is that a church is focused on Him and His teachings.

And that’s what church is really all about.

Episode 3: What Is The Best Way To Live As A Single?