Resolving Church Conflicts

Years ago, I came across a very helpful idea regarding marriage, but I think it is equally applicable to church conflicts between different people. Here it is adapted to a conflict in the church:

When two people in a church are upset with each other, usually there is plenty to point to on both sides. But pointing at another hardly solves any problems. To solve problems the two should begin by pointing at themselves. Scripture says the one must take the log out of his own eye before he is able to see clearly enough to remove the splinter from another (Matthew 7:3-5). That is exactly where so many go wrong, like in this husband and wife picture:There’s no communication when two people are squared off against one another. How do they get communication started? Two people communicate when they walk and work unitedly in the same direction, but how do they get moving in the same direction. They start by turning the attack from persons to a problem. When they focus on something outside of themselves, they take away the blame, and thus diffuse the animosity.But how can quarreling individuals begin to expend their energy on solving problems God’s way instead of continuing along the destructive course of tearing each other and their Church apart? That is the question! It’s very hard to agree to looking at the problem when there is so little agreement to begin with. It seems like evading to one or the other.

The answer is: through the right kind of communication. That is the only answer. They must begin by focusing in the same direction even if it’s not on the problem yet. Either one may do this by focusing on himself first.The other’s already focusing on you, so all you have to do is get lined up alongside the person as they focus on you. Then look at your own log first. Then for the first time in a long while the two will be focusing in the same direction. It is truly amazing how much instant agreement you can get from a person who previously may have disagreed with you concerning nearly everything under the sun, when you begin to say, “I have wronged you”. Then specifically and sincerely ask forgiveness. Or if you don’t know what you have done, humbly and without defensiveness say, “How have I wronged you?” And ask open questions to try and understand. That is where reconciliation often must begin. You never ought to begin by taking the lid off the other fellow’s trash can until you have cleaned out the garbage in your own can first. That is where communication begins. *

I have used this in a number of different church conflicts I have been in. Often when I confess to them and sincerely ask for forgiveness, they do the same. And the reconciliation happens. Or after I ask, “Help me to see where I have wronged you?” and I come to understand it from their perspective, they often will ask me the same thing. Then we are not only reconciled, but we are solving the real underlying problems.

* Adapted from Christian Living in the Home by Jay Adams, Presbyterian and Reformed, Nutley, NJ, copyright 1972, p. 33-35





The Four Levels of Listening

A mother and her teenage son were arguing in the kitchen. The issue was what time for him to be home on a weekend night. Standing by the sink, with her arms folded she just could not understand why he was so adamant about being out late.

He sulked in the chair at the kitchen table. “You never listen to me,” he complained.

Non-Verbal Communication

“Yes, I do,” she countered, “Look, I let you explain for quite a few minutes. I never interrupted; I was as quiet as a church mouse that whole time. What do you want me to do?”

He quickly flashed back, “Listen with your heart, not just your ears!”


“Yes, I could tell to everything I said, yes you never responded, but I could tell you had an argument for each thing I said.”

The son was right; he could read her body language and her non-verbal cues. He knew his mother well enough to see that though she was quiet, she wasn’t taking it in. She wasn’t really open to hear from her son. She had already made up her mind; she wasn’t really listening.

Are we really like that?

If we are good listeners we have to work hard so we totally understand the speaker. James 1:19 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” Listening is the priority over speaking!

day7When I first started doing intakes for men coming into Day Seven for counseling, I would come away exhausted from each session, and I couldn’t understand why. The prospective counselee was doing all the talking. But I soon realized listening is hard work, because you have to listen at a number of different levels.

Level #1 – Listening to the Words

The first level, of course is the words. Easy, right? But it takes some work with difficult issues to understand what they are really saying. People use words in different ways, sometimes we don’t even hear correctly. And more importantly we need to understand what they really mean. You will miss them altogether if you address the issue without fully understanding them. So you have to ask good questions to clarify their points.

Level #2 – Observing Non-Verbal Communication

The second level involves the emotions. You “listen” as well through observing them. What does their body language say? Perhaps their arms are crossed or they are looking down as they talk. Perhaps they are staring very intently at you, or they only respond with one-word answers. It is all part of their communication of their feelings to you. Seeing that can help you be more sensitive to them.

Level #3 – Communicationg While Listening

The third level for me is what I am saying to them. Though I am listening to them, I am saying a lot that effects the conversation. The tone of my questions, my sense of humor, my facial expressions, my body language; all tell them how I am reacting to what they are saying.

be-stillLevel #4 – Listening to God

And lastly there is the level of what is the Lord saying to you in the midst of this conversation. Any significant conversation is a sacred interaction between two creatures made in God’s image. We shouldn’t take that lightly. And it just may be that God has something for that other person that you would not have thought of on your own. He may whisper something to you for them. It may not be an amazing insight, but just the way you phrased a question said something to them. There have been times when somebody reported back to me an amazing breakthrough because of a conversation I had had with them, that I didn’t even remember. Somehow God used me!

So as you are reading this article, are you “listening” to it at all four levels? Are you catching the meaning of what I am saying? I am not there in person, but can you catch the tone of what I am saying? Are you aware of how you are reacting to it? And are you hearing what God is saying to you through it?

Yoo-hoo, are you listening?