Resolving Conflict In Your Church
by Rick Warren
If you don't deal with conflict, then it's going to stop the work of God in your life. If you're going to be a leader, you've got to learn how to resolve conflict. This week I want to look at what Nehemiah (chapter 5) teaches about conflict management. Nehemiah knew conflict could blow up in his face and the wall never get rebuilt. His people were exploiting each other and fighting against each other. This is much worse than fighting an outside enemy. An external enemy often rallies the troops; it builds unity. When you're fighting each other, it tears you apart.
The first thing we see is that Nehemiah got angry.
Sometimes anger IS appropriate. According to Ephesians 4:26, it is possible to be angry and not sin. God got angry. Jesus got angry. You can get angry and not sin. One of the first things you need to do if there is disharmony caused by selfishness -- you as a leader better get angry. Take it seriously!
Now, there is the right kind of anger and the wrong kind of anger. Leadership is knowing the difference.
Nehemiah's anger is not a personal reaction. Nobody was hurting him. He's not getting angry and striking back because somebody bruised his ego. That's the wrong kind of anger. He's not striking back in revenge. That's the wrong kind of anger. He has a justifiable indignation. He's angry at the selfishness of the rich people and how they're exploiting others. Their selfishness could halt the building of the wall.
The second thing we see is that Nehemiah reflected first, and then he spoke.
Nehemiah's first reaction was to get angry, but before he did anything else, he talked to himself about it. He got alone with God, prayed about it and thought about it in order to get the perspective right. There are some times when a leader needs to talk to himself. You don't need to go talk to anybody else. You need to ask, "What's really going on here? I'm ticked off. I'm irritated. I'm upset. But what's really happening?" Set aside some time for reflection, because when you get angry, your first reaction is usually wrong. You should get upset when you see selfishness preventing or harming the work of God. But before you do anything about it, you should think before you speak.
James 1:19-20 says, "Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. For man's anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires." This is the antidote. It's not a contradiction. It's clarifying Ephesians, "Be angry and sin not." There is a difference between man's anger and God's anger. Man's anger is when we act in revenge. God's anger is when we act in righteousness. There is no personal vendetta involved. In other words, make sure you're not angry out of your own selfishness because somebody didn't live up to your expectations.
The third thing we see is that Nehemiah PRIVATELY confronted the offending party.
You go directly to the source. You don't deal with somebody else about it or talk with five or six different people to get everybody on your side.
If somebody has offended you and you go to somebody else besides him or her first, you have already sinned. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus tells us how to handle conflict: "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you've won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he still refuses to listen, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."
How did Jesus tell us to treat pagans and tax collectors? Love them. He just didn't treat them like brothers. That's the difference between acceptance and approval.
First, go see the person. Try to resolve it with your boss or whoever. If that doesn't work, take another person along. If that doesn't work, then you involve a larger group and bring the church in on it. But God doesn't say, "First, go tell the whole church and then the person." If you go to someone else first, you've sinned.
The fourth thing we see is that Nehemiah dealt publicly with public divisions.
Obviously, in this situation everybody knew about what was happening. The rich people were ripping off the poor people. It had to be dealt with publicly. You deal with things publicly to the degree that they are known publicly. If it is a personal sin, you confess it personally to God. If it's a private sin between you and another person, confess it privately. If it's grossed out the whole church, then you have to deal with it publicly.
Then in verse 7, Nehemiah publicly repeats what he told them in private. He says, "In Persia when I was the cupbearer, I used to use my personal wealth to buy Jews out of slavery and I come home to the capital, to Jerusalem, and we're selling Jews into slavery to our own people. This doesn't make sense. It's inconsistent. Why are you doing this sin? Buying your own brothers and sisters in order to make a profit? You obviously know that Leviticus says that it's illegal for you to do that, so why are you doing this?" The response was silence.
Do you imagine that Nehemiah was nervous? This takes guts. He publicly took on the city leaders. He rebuked the wealthy owners of Jerusalem, the very people he must depend on to fund the rebuilding of the wall. It's a real gamble.
But he knows that discord is always a poor testimony. When a church gets a reputation for being a fighting church, it looses its effectiveness. The world laughs at churches that fight each other.
The result was they repented. Nehemiah must have breathed a sigh of relief at that point. That was quite a gamble to challenge the people -- those wealthy owners. Then, Nehemiah didn't just let them get away with saying they wouldn't do it any more. He made them take an oath, a public contract.
The fifth thing we see is that Nehemiah set an example of unselfishness.
The foundation of Nehemiah's leadership is that he led by example. When he asked them to rebuild the wall, he was also out on the wall rebuilding it. When he asked them to pray, he had already been praying. When he asked them to stay up all night to get it built, he stayed up with them. When he asked them to help the poor, he'd already been doing it. He's setting the example.
In your church family, Ephesians 4:3 is part of your job description: "Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace."
The fact is internal differences -- wherever you've got a group of people -- are inevitable. When two people agree on everything, one person isn't necessary. So, there are going to be differences. There's no such thing as a perfect church. There's no perfect family. There's no perfect business or office. There's going to be conflict. But God wants us to minimize the conflict for His glory, especially in church.
The testimony of a church should not be the beautiful buildings, great sermons, and lovely music; instead it should be how they love one another. That's the mark of a Christian. Jesus said, "By this shall all men know that you're my disciples, that you love one another." (John 13:35 NIV)
Until next week,