Conflict Resolution

with Pastor Bill Walden and Pastor John Bonner

Today’s Live Q&A is guest-hosted by Pastor Bill Walden, senior pastor at Calvary Chapel Vallejo, CA, and Pastor John Bonner, director of Calvary Chapel Bible College in Cajamarca, Peru.

Bill Walden: In pastoral ministry, we deal with people a lot. People have disagreements, and that’s okay, but sometimes disagreements turn into conflict, or create hard feelings, name calling, misunderstanding, or people losing their temper. It can turn into a very ugly situation, and feelings are hurt. Afterwards, sometimes we just don’t know how to deal with that situation. We might stay in the church but sit on the other side of the church and avoid them. We might not want to engage on social media with someone with whom we have had a conflict. Again, I’m not talking just about disagreement, but a situation where there’s hurt feelings. Sometimes people will leave a church over a conflict. Sometimes we might gossip about them, or they might gossip about us. That can happen in a sanctimonious way in asking others to pray for us because we said this or did that.

The Bible talks about the darts of the enemy. Sometimes thoughts come from the pit, and we think, oh boy, my reputation is probably spoiled. We experience many layers of emotions when disagreement goes to the point of conflict. We may even feel like we can’t reenter any kind of relationship with that person.

The Lord has given us methods and commands about this. First, I’d like to share two passages with you, and then I’ll invite Pastor John to make some comments as well. In Ephesians 4:3, the apostle Paul writes to the church of Ephesus, “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Now, the apostle Paul doesn’t say, “endeavoring to create unity,” because as Christians, we are organically and supernaturally linked together: we are one body in Christ, so we have unity.

Instead, he is strongly exhorting the Christians to keep that unity. In other words, to guard, or maintain, or protect, or practice, or desire the unity. I was chatting with a Four-square pastor one time, and he said, “Endeavoring is a sweat word. It takes a lot of work.”

Paul tells the Ephesians to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Let me substitute some other verbs in there: try hard to keep the unity, make it your aim to keep the unity, be deliberate about keeping the unity, make every effort to keep the unity. Strive to keep the unity; there is a holy striving that we can do.

But we sometimes go from disagreement to conflict and hurt feelings. In a moment of anger or seeming insult or being misunderstood, things are said or done. Now there are hurt feelings and people are kind of separated. We’re responding to these really strong emotions. These emotions can keep us from wanting to try to reconcile with a brother or sister. I’m sure you’ve seen it many times, Pastor John. Our emotions keep us from following through on this commandment. Any thoughts?

John Bonner: It’s a very hard thing. We are emotional creatures; the Lord has made us this way. I think many times He allows us to go through conflicts with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. It has been said, “Ministry would be wonderful if it weren’t for the people.”

Bill Walden: “The church would be great if it wasn’t for the people.” Wherever there are people, there’s going to be disagreement, and disagreement is okay. Disagreement doesn’t mean that unity is broken, but conflict is when unity begins to splinter. So how do we endeavor to reconcile with brothers or sisters when we have a certain level of fear that things might go badly? We don’t want to enter back into that hurtful relationship, especially since feelings were hurt, and accusations spoken.

Proverbs 14:10 – “The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy.”

Nobody can know how I feel, except God and me. My heart knows when it feels sad. My heart knows when it feels joyful. But other people can misread us and even assign ill motives to us and misunderstand us. Maybe we didn’t respond to them the way that they had hoped. They don’t consider that maybe we have a headache that day and were just kind of struggling.

They consider it like, “Oh, you’re rejecting me; you don’t like me; you don’t love me.” It’s so easy for us to miscalculate and misinterpret people’s responses. One thing leads to another, words are said, and accusations started. These things happen, and it’s tragic.

We are called to strive to protect and maintain that unity. But one of the things that keeps us from doing that is fear about how the problem going to be healed, and whether the other person will cooperate.

First, God commands us to do resolve conflict. We are not invited to maintain the unity of the Spirit only if we feel like it, or when we finally see some sign of evidence that the other person is willing to resolve it. We are called to be determined and deliberate and willing to do the work. When somebody hurts my feelings, I need to be able to say to myself, “I have these emotions, these thoughts, and these fears. But I need to be willing to do whatever it takes.”

Romans 12:18 – “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”

I can only do my part, and that will require faith. First, I need to believe that this is a command. And then I need to step back into what may feel like a boxing ring. But maybe the boxing ring has turned into a garden, and I don’t know it yet. But I need to be willing to do whatever it takes to step back into that relationship, and not try to practice self-preservation or self-protection or anything like that.

Matthew 16:24 –Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

Our natural response in conflict is to avoid it. We hope it goes away, or hope God speaks to the other person and changes them. We pray that God shows the other person that we were right, and they were wrong.

John Bonner: As with most things as believers, I think this requires an element of trust, humility, and faith. We trust that God has been working with this other person, and that He’ll give us the words to speak. Yes, there is a big risk involved and nobody wants to get hurt. Obedience to the Lord often requires that we put ourselves in that situation, and say, “Okay, Lord, here I am; I’m going to take this step of faith and talk to this person again.”

Bill Walden: Yeah, for that first part of endeavoring to keep the unity in the Spirit, we just need to be willing to do the work. I don’t see that God asks us to figure it all out. He is not saying, “Be willing to do the work when I give you a guarantee that the other person will change,” or “Be willing to do the work when you get the perfect plan.” I don’t see that. The Bible just says, “Endeavoring.” Make the effort; be deliberate about it. Like Nike says, “Just do it.”

In Matthew 14, Jesus and the disciples had had a very long day of ministry, when Jesus fed the multitudes with the fish and the loaves. Afterwards he told His disciples to get in the boat and to row across the Sea of Galilee, as it was starting to get dark. It says then that Jesus went up onto the mountain to pray. By about the fourth watch of the night, which according to ancient timetables was between three and six in the morning, the disciples had been rowing contrary to the wind all night long, and then a storm arose. And Jesus came walking to them on the water.

The connection in my mind is this: they had a very good reason to be afraid. Some of them were seasoned fishermen. At least some of them had probably seen storms like this; on rare occasions, waves can reach heights of up to ten feet on the Sea of Galilee. They weren’t overly sensitive; they had a legitimate fear.

Sometimes when we’re in conflict with people, it feels like we’ve been overwhelmed by 10-foot waves pushing us back down again. We don’t know what’s going to happen if we try to resolve things, but we don’t want to go back into that. Similarly, the disciples had a legitimate fear, and then they saw Jesus walking on the water. They knew Jesus well, but at this moment they thought He was a ghost. They had never seen Him that way. He was coming for their rescue in a way that they didn’t recognize.

Matthew 14:27 – But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

Sometimes I think it’s helpful to consider what Jesus didn’t say. He didn’t say, “Be of good cheer; you have a strong boat.” He didn’t say, “Be of good cheer; you’re seasoned fisherman.” He didn’t say, “Be of good cheer; the storm is going to pass.” He didn’t say any of those things to bring them peace or calmness. He said, “Be of good cheer; it’s Me.” As I understand it, He didn’t even correct them for being afraid. Any thoughts, John? I’m sure you’ve taught this passage many times.

John Bonner: I was just thinking that He told His disciples in verse 22, to prepare and get into the boat and go with Him to the other side. If Jesus says we’re going to go to the other side, then we are going to go to the other side. There are no “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts;” we’re going to get there. The fact that they thought they were going to perish in the storm tells me that they didn’t take Jesus at His Word. And that’s what we need to do. We need to believe what He says; if He says we’re going to get to the other side, we know that He’s going to get us to the other side. 

Bill Walden: Circumstances cause them to forget His promise. When I’ve been in conflict with somebody, it feels like a storm. But the remedy for all of us is to be of good cheer; Jesus is with me, and He’s with you. That’s the first place that I need to go.

Let’s connect those two passages together. I need to be willing to do the work. But when fear wants to redirect me somewhere else, and to forget about the promises of God, I can lose my peace. I can be willing to do the work, and then suddenly it’s challenging. The remedy is that Jesus is with me, so I can be cheerful. I need to remember what He has said: He will never leave us and never forsake us.