My church is having a Sunday school about dealing with conflict. I think this is a fabulous idea and wish more churches had classes like this. Most of conflict management teachings I've heard start and end in Matthew where people are being confrontive about other people's sin. But there is a lot of conflict in life that may or may not have to do with sin per se, and even if the source of conflict is sin, focusing solely on Matthew 18 without taking in the larger context just makes for a lot of heartache.
I believe that God uses conflict to transform his church into his bride. It is in large part how we learn. Each of us have insights as to how God is leading and together we discern how to grow and change. Change itself creates conflict with the past. And as we lead others along the paths that God is leading us, we inevitably have conflict with others.
Of course, not all conflict is either so noble or ignoble in origin. Much of conflict has to do with the fact that we are all individuals who have our own interests, gifts, and talents, and that it is very easy to misunderstand each other or accidentally cross one another's boundaries. Learning good communication skills is necessary for avoiding as much conflict as possible.
But beyond learning good communication skills and confrontive techniques, here are some spiritual practices that I have found helpful in dealing with people with whom you have conflict:
forgive -This may seem egotistical, but when you are in conflict, you usually think that your way is the better way and whomever is objecting with you is wrong. This may be true or not; either way it is important to not let any hurts get in the way of your relationship and to do that you need to forgive. Jesus, when he was on the cross is our example when he said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing." Jesus did not make any exceptions for those he forgave and neither should we. If we don't forgive, then evil has won the battle, even if we win the conflict.
listen -this is part of treating them as I would like them to treat me. If I listen to them, then maybe they will listen to me. If I listen to them, then maybe I can learn what the pain and fears are that drive them into what I perceive as denial, hopelessness, apathy, or clinging to lies. If I listen to them, maybe I can hear how the spirit is moving in their lives and affirm and encourage the path he is taking them on. If I listen to them, maybe I can find a place of common ground from which we can both work.
respond kindly with substantiated facts -this is the iron sharpening iron, the having an answer for the faith I believe. Not everyone learns in a quiet, subdued, or grateful manner. Some people learn by challenging others. Only by being kind, yet well informed can I win such a person over to my cause. And if I do win them over, they will become great crusaders. In many ways I am grateful for those who challenge me, because they help me to learn about what I believe in more thoroughly and they teach me to articulate what I believe in better, more convincing ways. Each time I am challenged, I learn better and better how to cut through the lies to the core of the truth.
reframe the issue so that it sits on common ground between you and those with whom you are in conflict -I believe that global warming is a moral issue because it kills people.I believe that it is an issue of justice because those who suffer from the consequences are not the same ones who contributed to the problem. Framing global warming as a moral/justice issue is something that any Christian can understand.
be an example -people will never listen to my words if my actions don't follow. Since I believe global warming is a moral issue, then I feel like I need to do all I can, even if its not much, to live as low a carbon emitting lifestyle as I possibly can. Global warming as a moral issue is no longer an issue that I can deal with if its convenient or affordable. I need to treat global warming as I would assenting to someone's death or condoning thievery.
pray -God's spirit gives us discernment as to where we should put our energies. Some people only want to argue for the sake of arguing and that takes a lot of energy away from other productive things. Some times while we won't convince the people we are debating, we may convince the people who are listening. There are a lot of things that happen that we cannot see or don't know about. Only through the Spirit's guiding will we know whether or not to continue.
patience -change comes slowly. Remember how long it took you to get to the place where you are now. God is in charge, so you can rest in following him instead of trying to be responsible and driving for the change. We can have confidence that he will move his church in the direction he wants, when he wants.
love -no matter what, we should show love for those who disagree with us, even if it means going the second mile and giving up our cloak as well as our coat. We need to show our 'enemies' hospitality like Elisha did for the armies who came to crush the town where he lived just because he informed the king of their where abouts. Paul quote Psalms in saying that true kindnesses done to those with whom you have conflict is like putting ashes on their heads. It serves to wake the conscious like nothing else can.
serve -most people cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps. In fact it usually takes a community to make significant changes in a person's life. Be an encourager. Be an enabler. While sometimes serving others puts you in the spotlight, most of the time it puts you in the pigpen. I take comfort in the fact that Jesus commends us that if we want to be the greatest we must become the least. He commended the humility of tax collector over the pride of the pharisee promising that the reward that God gives later is much greater than any recognition we might get now.