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