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Confronting Conflict

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“Can You Hear Me Now?”

Confronting Conflict

       “Can you hear me now?”  If you can’t hear or understand me, communication is impossible!

       Communication is the oil that lubricates the engine of relationships, without it everything grinds to a halt.

       Unresolved conflict, not conflict, acts like termites in a relationship.  Quietly, and imperceptibly, it can bring down great oaks!

       We are working on a series of messages entitled “Can You Hear Me Now?”  We are working on effective communication, active listening, and conflict resolution.  These skills can help us develop meaningful relationships, whether we believe in them or not.  We can no longer wait until our hearts get right.  Let’s take effective action, while we’re repenting and waiting on God.

(Listed are the Roman Numerals we’ve already covered.)




(We are picking here, where we left off.)


“Conflict has been called one of the most pervasive and confounding of all human activities.  It is a struggle which occurs when two or more people have goals which appear to be incompatible, or want something which apparently is scarce.”[1]

A conflict is “a situation in which two or more human beings desire goals which they perceive as being attainable by one or the other but not by both.”[2]

“Stated somewhat formally, people in conflict ‘face the problem of reconciling their individual needs for power, success, attainment, and winning with their relationship needs for trust, affection, collective benefits, and mutual growth’.”[3]

“The root meaning of the word is ‘to strike.’[4]

       While conflicts are often destructive and threatening, they also can serve a useful purpose in 1) clarifying goals, 2) unifying a group, and sometimes 3) bringing previously ignored disagreements to a point of discussion and resolution.  “According to David Augsburger, conflict is natural, normal, neutral and sometimes even delightful.  ‘It can turn into painful or disastrous ends, but it doesn’t need to....It is not the conflicts that need to concern us, but how the conflicts are handled....How we view, approach and work through our differences does-to a large extent-determine our whole life pattern.’[5]  Augsburger adds that people can be helped to view conflict as honest differences which can be resolved by those who are willing to treat each other with respect and to confront each other with truth expressed in love.”[6]  That is what I’m working to do!

(Let’s move on to:)


It has been suggested that people and groups have their unique conflict styles which sometimes are very rigid, and as a result, contribute to furthering the conflict.[7]  Some people throw adult temper tantrums, pout and stomp away when they are in conflict.  Others resort to such conflicting approaches as speaking quietly (using a ‘soft answer’), shouting, interrupting frequently, attempting to intimidate or attack the opposition, ignoring the other side, trying to manipulate subtly or openly, attempting to bribe, pretending to avoid the situation, openly discussing the issues honestly, attempting to be deceitful, or engaging in ‘behind the scenes’ politics-to name a few.”[8]

(But where does conflict come from?)


There are four different sources of conflict.  It will not be possible to isolate only one of these in real life conflict situations.  For they tend to interface with each other.  In most situations of conflict, however, one primary cause of the conflict can be isolated.  Determining the specific nature of the conflict will be important in providing ministry in that situation.  (Circle the problem that you think you have in this area.)

       Attitudinal conflict emerges when individuals have differences of feelings or perspectives about persons and issues.  Prejudices, stereotypes, or particular beliefs are all attitudes which people carry with them.  When attitudes differ, people find themselves bumping into each other in conflictual ways. (Even if we all fully believed in and accepted the Word of God, we have different perspectives, feelings, attitudes, etc.)

       Substantive conflict emerges when there are differences of opinion about facts, goals, ends, or means.  Two groups in church may disagree regarding the Bible’s teaching on the proper mode of baptism.  They have a substantive conflict.

       Emotional conflict results when personal value is attached either to attitudinal or to substantive forms of conflict.  Persons who have been harmed physically by a member of another race may have great difficulty in holding Christian attitudes toward any person of that race.

       Communicative conflict is a by-product of a breakdown in healthy, open communication about the sources of conflict.  We believe communication is the key to a reconciling ministry in each of the other forms of conflict.  Poor communication heightens the hurt which can emerge from attitudinal, substantive, or emotional conflict.

(Before we can begin to handle conflict properly, we must be aware of:)


“Conflict ministry begins with an awareness of developing conflict.  It is quite difficult for some persons to be sensitive to the conditions which foreshadow approaching storms in human relations.

       The sources of an ability to ‘read’ the signs of potential conflict are experience, rationality, and intuition.  A few persons are capable of intuitive feelings about emerging contests within a church.  While we cannot give you either on-the-job training or intuition useful for spotting potential conflict, we can offer suggestions regarding a rational understanding of what is happening.

       First, conflict potential can be spotted in the assumptions persons make about conflict.  Assumptions are educated guesses about the way things work.  They mold what persons do when facing difficult times.  One develops these guesses about conflict from thoughts and feelings about conflict.  Assumptions influence how we act when faced with conflict.  (I’m trying to teach those around me how to discern or make more education and Spirit-controlled guesses about conflict!)

       Assumptions about conflict may cause one to view its consequences as positive or negative.  The more negative one’s assumptions about conflict are, the more difficult it will be to face conflict productively.

       The assumptions of this book can be stated rather simply.

They are:

1)    The quality of human relationship within the group affects the degree of conflict within it.  The more people are aware of each other’s assumptions, the more nearly they can work together.  Many conflicts in churches could be avoided if more time were spent building relationships before working on tasks.  Lyman Coleman says a group ought to use a least one fourth of its time getting to know one another.

2)    Churches, like families and associates in work and play, experience conflict.  Conflict is a facet of every human group.

3)    Conflict within churches can have either positive or negative results for the persons involved.  The commitment of individuals in conflict to positive results will lead to positive results.

4)    Clergy and laity can learn how to understand and to diagnose the conflict within a church.  The more adequately a church is prepared to deal with conflict, the more likely conflict is to be a positive experience.  You cannot do much of the work of conflict ministry after conflict has occurred.  One experienced conflict minister said, ‘When I am tense I want to talk about the problem, not what should have been done.’

5)    Effective verbal and nonverbal communication within intimate relationships is the most appropriate means for dealing with conflict within the church.

6)    Wise decisions concerning conflict can lead to Christian growth toward maturity for the persons involved.

       Very often fear of conflict prevents clear, open communication.”[9]  Many have learned to deny or avoid all conflict.  It’s not conflict that will wreck your relationship or marriage, but unresolved conflict.  When conflict is avoided, denied, or repressed it acts like termites destroying the relationship invisibly from the inside.  You don’t have to like conflict, but you must adjust your attitude to realize that it is a necessary part of human communication.

(All right, we are ready to address some strategies for properly handling conflict.)


Direction 1:  Avoiding the Conflict


(a)    Postponement.

(b)    Arguments and discussions about “how to proceed in resolving the conflict.”

(c)    Resorting to the use of formal rules.

(d)    Precueing--giving prior clues about your position so the other person knows what to expect.  This defuses the intensity of the issues.

(e)    Keeping track of gripes and grievances which later are “dumped” on the other person.  The following discussion or arguments concern the gripes rather than the more basic differences.

(f)    Coercive, strong-arm tactics--including bribes.  These squelch the opposition and hence avoid issues.

(g)    Refusal to recognize the conflict.

Direction 2:  Maintain the Conflict


(a)    Striking a bargain.  Each side gives something to please the other and maintain the status quo, but the real issue of conflict is not resolved.  (A couple, for example, may decide to live together “because of the kids” but their marital difficulties are not solved.)

(b)    Combining escalation and reduction tactics.

Direction 3:  Escalating the Conflict


(a)    Name-calling (describing another person or issue as “stupid,” “rigid,” etc.)

(b)    Issue expansion (pulling in other issues to increase significance of the conflict).

(c)    Coalition formation (finding other people to serve as allies which increases your power).

(d)    Threatening.

(e)    Constricting the other person (frustrating a person by cutting off discussion, announcing time limitation, etc.).  This increases the other person’s tendency to fight back.

(f)    Personal Attack.

Direction 4:  Reducing the Conflict


(a)    Fractionation (breaking the conflict into smaller issues and dealing with these one at a time.).

(b)    Asking for more information about the other person’s point of view and trying to understand.

(c)    Talking about what is happening and what each is feeling as you communicate in the conflict.

(d)    Stating your own position clearly and concisely.

(e)    Compromising--relying on a situation where everyone loses something and everyone wins something.

(f)    Resisting tendencies to criticize, attack, or use emotionally loaded words (like “rigid,” “unreasonable,” “stupid,” etc.).

*Adapted with permission from Joyce Hooker Frost, and William W. Wilmot, Interpersonal Conflict (Dubuque, IA:  William C. Brown Company, Publishers 1978), copied from Gary Collins, Christian Counseling, Word Books, Waco Texas, 1980, p. 340.

(Now is the Day of Salvation.  Come to Jesus, now!)


Call to Discipleship


[1]  Joyce Hooker Frost and William W. Wilmot, Interpersonal Conflict (Dubuque, IA:  William C. Brown, 1978), p. 1.

[2]  The Dimensions of Human Conflict, comp. by Ross Stagner, Detroit:  Wayne State University Press, 1967), p. 136, quoted in Church Fights:  Managing Conflict in the Local Church, pp. 28-29.

[3]  Joyce Hooker Frost and William W. Wilmot, Interpersonal Conflict (Dubuque, IA:  William C. Brown, 1978), p. 1.

[4]  Speed B. Leas and Paul L. Kittlaus, Church Fights:  Managing Conflict in the Local Church, Philadelphia:  The Westminster Press, 1973, p. 28.

[5]  David Augsburger, Caring Enough To Confront, Regal Books, Ventura California, 1984, p. 3.

[6]  Gary R. Collins, Christian Counseling, Word Books, Waco Texas, 1980, p. 335.

[7]  Joyce Hooker Frost and William W. Wilmot, Interpersonal Conflict (Dubuque, IA:  William C. Brown, 1978), p. 1.

[8]  Gary R. Collins, Christian Counseling, Word Books, Waco Texas, 1980, p. 335.

[9]  Ibid., p. 4.

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