Conflict is one of the principle avoidable reasons for mission workers leaving the field, whether conflict within their own team or with their agency leadership. This issue is a chronic festering ulcer in the missions world, which has existed since the dawn of missions nearly 2000 years ago (Acts 15:39), and will in all probability continue till its end, though that is no reason to not to try to resolve the situation.
Conflict exists for many reasons, and some of them are perfectly understandable such as the clash of cultures in multi-cultural teams. There is not necessarily anything wrong in this, but when different groups of people have been brought up with differing assumptions about the way the Kingdom of God works, there will be challenges as we work together in grace and humility to resolve such issues.
There will also be perfectly understandable character clashes. Sometimes people just rub each other up the wrong way. That’s normal, and not the issue. The issue is can they continue to love each other, serve each other, bless each other as they work together for the good of the Kingdom?
But much conflict comes from selfish pride, ambition, insecurity – yes, among the Christians! So the first thing each of us must do is think before we speak. Ask yourself why feelings of anger or frustration are rising in you. Has somebody injured your pride? Challenged your self-esteem? Why are you reacting?
Next we must listen. Who is speaking? Why did they express themselves that way? What are they saying in addition to their words? What pain are they speaking out of?
Then we must speak carefully. Often we can speak hotly, out of passion, and not think through our words. They can easily be misunderstood. How we express ourselves can pour water on the flames of disagreement, or petrol (Proverbs 15:1). Conversations can easily turn bitter, with expressions like “You always’’ becoming accusing. It is better to say “I get the feeling that…”
Finally, we must reconcile. Even if we cannot find agreement, we must try to stay in communion with one another. Sometimes after a robust conversation we need to go to the other person and make sure that we forgive each other for any harsh words. Taking communion together confronts us with our need to be in fellowship with one another, as Jesus teaches that it is important to put things right with one another before we come to God (Matthew 5:23-24) and the practice of saying the Lord’s Prayer together makes us keep short accounts as we recite “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us” together.
In an age when road rage is common and internet trolls seem to encourage meanness, Christians should be a shining example of disagreeing well, of valuing others despite having different opinions, and continuing to love those who disagree with us and forgive those who hurt us. Let us always remember that it is more important to love than to be right.
Blog post first published on syzygy.org.uk on 3 July 2017.