Jesus’ 6-Step Strategy for Resolving Conflict

Jesus’ 6-Step Strategy for Resolving Conflict

Conflict is unavoidable in relationships. Conflict isn’t necessarily sinful or destructive, but it can be depending on how we handle it. Jesus outlines a clear, specific and workable process in Matthew 18. And we simply can’t improve on what Jesus says. I’ve summarized, into a 6-step process, the essence of what I believe Matthew 18 teaches us.

We simply can’t improve on what Jesus says.

Before I suggest these steps, here’s the passage of Scripture.

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have 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 refuses to listen to them, 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. “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:15-19)

  1. Determine if you really need to approach the person about the issue.
  • In verse 15 Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you.” In other words, we should simply drop some issues. If we can pray through them and commit to not using them against the other person, drop it.
  • But if you can’t, what might warrant taking the next step?
    • Go if the issue is seriously dishonoring Christ.
    • Go if the issue is damaging your relationship with the other person.
    • Go if the issue is hurting others.
  1. If you do, go with the right heart and attitude.
  • In verse 15 the Scripture says, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” The win here is that the relationship stays intact, not necessarily that you reach a resolution, even though you hope you do find one. Ultimately the goal is not to win an argument or point out the error of the other person’s ways, but to reconcile. It takes a right heart to help make this happen.
  1. Prepare for your meeting with the person before you go. Do your homework.
  • Assuming that you’ve arranged a meeting with the person, don’t go in blind. Give some thought to what you want to say. Proverbs 14.8 tells us that, ‘The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways.’
  • I’ve found that the acronym, DESC, provides easily recallable mental hooks to guide such a conversation.
    • Describe the behavior that caused the conflict.
    • Explain the emotions you feel/felt when it happens.
    • State the desired changed behavior (the solution).
    • state the positive Consequences the new behavior will bring.
  1. Go in private and in person.
  • We often miss this step, yet Jesus is very clear on this when he states, “just between the two of you.” By going to the other person first it avoids prematurely pulling somebody else into the issue and stops potential gossip. Plus, a face-to-face meeting allows us to observe body language which experts say accounts for much more of a message than words alone.
  • However, sometimes it may be wise to seek counsel from an objective party so he or she can give us objective advice.
  1. When you meet, use grace-filled words.
  • If in our conversation with this person we put them on the defensive, the meeting’s over. Grace-filled conversation, however, can create safety and openness to resolving the issue. A great verse that speaks to this is Ephesians 4.29.
    • ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Grace-filled conversation can create safety and openness to resolving the issue.

  1. If you reach a dead-end and feel the issue warrants it, enlist others to help.
  • Sometimes the issue is so serious that even after repeated 1-1 attempts to reconcile we must take the next step. In verse 16 Jesus says if we reach a stalemate, we must include others in the process. Often the leadership in the church should be included at this point. And then if the other party simply refuses to budge, the church must take more severe action (v. 17). Seldom do issues warrant such a drastic step. Yet, God sanctions such action for the sake of the unity in the church (vss. 18-19).

What steps would you add to this list that have helped you resolve conflict?

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Charles Stone

Both my wife Sherryl and I have a heart for pastors and pastors’ wives. We’ve taught hundreds of pastors and their wives in the United States, Canada, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Mexico.

I earned an engineering degree from Georgia Tech, a Masters of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate of Ministry from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I’m completing another masters degree in neuroleadership. I’m also an avid Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket fan.

I’ve been professionally trained in these areas by these organizations:

Life Coaching through the Professional Christian Coaching Institute
Strategic Planning through Ministry Advantage (certified)
Vision Clarity through the Church Unique Process (certified)
Conflict Management through Peacemakers
I’m the author of 4 books – Daughters Gone Wild – Dads Gone Crazy (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them (Bethany House Publishers, 2010), People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership (Inter-Varsity Press, January 2014), and my brand new book, Brain-Savvy Leadership: the Science of Significant Ministry (Abingdon, 2015).