Is conflict always bad?
I have to admit it usually feels bad to be in conflict with another person especially for those who are naturally conflict-averse. However, I have enough experience to know that conflict has a vital place in the process of improving conditions within human relationships and within organizations. Sometimes progress is simply not made without using conflict to bring an issue to everyone’s attention. Conflict has a way of bringing much-needed energy and focus to a problem that is preventing a relationship or an entire organization from reaching full potential. I suppose in a perfect world, conflict would not be an issue since everyone would live in perfect harmony with no differences of opinion or clashes of will. Needless to say, we don’t live in a perfect world!
It is important to point out that this “positive” type of conflict presupposes that those involved are all seeking the best interest of the relationship or the shared organization and simply have differing opinions on how to proceed. There is plenty of “negative” conflict in the world where two parties are not seeking each other’s best interest or the interests of the organization or relationship. In these situations, one or more of the parties may actually be seeking to damage or destroy the other individual, the relationship or organization. Wars between nations and are examples of this type of conflict. Unfortunately, warfare can sometimes exist in our marriages, families, schools, workplaces and even in our churches. I’ll have more to say about negative conflict later. For now, the Apostle Paul instructs each of us in Romans 12:18 to “if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
With regard to positive conflict (as opposed to negative conflict) within an organization, it must be true that everyone involved in the conflict is truly seeking the best interests of the organization (and hopefully each other) and they simply have differing opinions on how to proceed. If the differing opinions are not reconciled and the conflict goes uncovered and unresolved, the issue can retard the progress of the organization. I have seen a lot of interesting attempts to “work around” or simply ignore sources of conflict in organizations and in almost every circumstance, the aversion to dealing with the source of conflict directly brings more harm and disunity to the organization than conflict itself would have created.
The question that starting me thinking about this topic in the first place was, “Is it possible to have conflict in an organization and still enjoy unity, especially the kind of unity Jesus spoke of in John 17?” As I have thought about this over the past several months beginning with Can’t We All Just Get Along (Part 1), I have come to the conclusion that in the real world it may not be possible to enjoy true unity without conflict. As odd or even controversial as that may sound, I point to the first century church as proof. Jesus prayed for them to enjoy the same “oneness” that exists between Jesus and God within the Trinity. I believe those disciples enjoyed that unity that Jesus prayed for and yet they also dealt with significant conflict within the church. Without that conflict I don’t believe they would have enjoyed unity and I don’t think the church would have impacted the world as it has done.
One of the biggest sources of conflict in the early church revolved around the treatment of non-Jewish converts to the Christian faith. Jesus had indicated the church would be inclusive of all people and the Holy Spirit through Peter ushered non-Jews into the church in Acts 10 with a miraculous sign. However, even after the church began accepting believers from non-Jewish backgrounds into the faith, there was disagreement about whether these new converts had to obey the strict requirements of the Old Testament Law of Moses. Even the leaders of the church were not in agreement on the matter. At one point as recorded in Galatians 2, Paul had a sharp disagreement with Peter on the subject and essentially called Peter out for his hypocritical behavior at the church in Antioch. The issue became so divisive that a church council was called to settle the issue. This is recorded in Acts 15 in what I call the great conflict resolution chapter of the New Testament.
Beginning in the next article, we are going to dig into Acts 15 and learn the conflict management and resolution lessons included in that chapter. Until then, join me in the commitment to be more sensitive to the sources of disagreement and conflict in our relationships. Let’s measure the positions that we take and the opinions that we hold against the best interest of the organizations we belong to, the best interest of our relationships and the best interests of one another. If disagreement exists and everyone is seeking after the common good, let’s learn together how to bring that disagreement into positive conflict in order to reconcile and resolve the disagreement. As always, the Bible has the answers.
Until next week,
Meet me at the intersection!
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