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Conflict Is Your Friend by Rev. Grant Woodley

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Luke 12:51 “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

This saying from Jesus is not one I’d expect. I am more accustomed to Jesus saying things like, “My peace I give you.”

When Jesus says things like this I’m convinced he wouldn’t make a very good Lutheran. Our idea of heated conflict is when two people accidently occupy the same space and avert with a simple “ope, didn’t see ya there, lemme scootch right past ya.”

However, I don’t have to look far in scripture or around the world and realize, of course Jesus brings division and starts fights. I mean a dude can’t be walking around with friends like tax collectors, prostitutes, and fishermen and doing things like healing lepers and saving adulterers from stoning without making some people hoppin’ mad.

That also means that if we are pastors of congregations engaged in God’s ministry and mission for the sake of the world, we will find trouble!

Conflict is not the enemy. Conflict is our friend.

Conflict is the crucible that propels a congregation forward into all sorts of really important challenges. Of course, there is a difference between conflict that is toxic and conflict that is constructive. Our pastoral role invites us into the adventure of helping our congregation find freedom and life through conflict. Here are a few things I’ve found helpful over the years.

Lean on parliamentary procedure.

There is a reason our congregational constitutions set rules for how our council and congregational meetings work. These rules help keep everyone “in bounds.” If this really isn’t your thing, get in touch with your local FFA chapter. They have contests for this stuff.

Ground rules.

Use a generative process with your council to set ground rules for meetings. A few examples that help keep conflict headed in a constructive direction could include: keep focused on the topic, stay in the present, speak for yourself, state facts as facts and opinions as opinions, be action/solution oriented.

Be pastoral.

Be the person in the group paying attention to emotions. An issue becomes a conflict when stakes are high and then fears develop that significant loss could occur. Ask out loud, “Are you afraid of losing something here?” Often the pause required to think and answer that question gives space for breath and consideration that the fear may be unfounded or about something else altogether. Notice your own emotions! What are you afraid of losing?

Name the stakes.

The conflicts we face are important. The stakes are high. Jesus died for this stuff so that we might wrestle over it. That unites us in a mission and vocation that is stronger than any difference of opinions we may have. At the same time, this same Jesus is risen from the dead and already conqueror over all things. We can’t mess this up, whatever the conflict might be. The only way to fail is to not try anything and submit to the fears of “what if.”

I was recently asked, “What do I do if I’m on the losing side? Or what do I say to those who feel they lost?” I suppose I’m still looking for practical ways to say this, but the victory of Jesus kinda keeps things in perspective. Honestly, without hindsight we often won’t know what decision was right or wrong. In the meantime, together we can hang on the vastness of God’s grace that is more unbreakable than any conflict that might pull us apart.

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