As a leader you will at some point encounter a situation in which you have to say the hard word. That’s part of the task of leadership and an inevitable reality in group life. Building on the principle of balancing truth and grace laid out in Pt. 1 of Saying the Hard Word let’s take a look at the biblical guidelines for handling confrontation in the group.
Don’t be short-sighted so as to think your goal is merely to resolve the conflict, but rather see such situations as a prime discipling opportunity! You can’t ignore it, but neither should we charge into a potentially volatile situation unprepared. We could fill several books covering specific situations and circumstances; however, if you understand the Bible’s guiding principles for handling confrontation in relationships, you will have a solid foundation for addressing a myriad of situations. These are just a few of the passages we could examine, so I encourage you to spend some time doing some additional research in the Word, on your own. These passages should guide as you lead through conflict, but also be a basis for teaching those involved how to use God’s Word as the guide in all situations. Let’s set the “matrix” for confrontation in the group…
This is an often referenced, step-by-step framework for confronting someone. It’s important to note first, who this instruction is direct to. “If your brother sins against you, go…” Jesus begins with a very clear parameter for who this applies to. Was the offense against you, or did you witness an offense against someone else? Secondly, you don’t confront in a group or with witnesses, until a one-on-one conversation has taken place first. As a group leader how many times has someone come to you with an offense of something they’ve seen and think that you should do something about it. Take the opportunity to walk them through Matthew 18 and make it a teachable moment.
Whereas Matt. 18 addresses a one-on-one offense and therefore a like response, this passage seems to have a wider application to anyone “caught” in a sin. Note that the ultimate goal is restoration, and that restoration comes through a “spirit of gentleness.” The reality is that we are often too quick to bring down condemnation in a judgmental spirit. We need to keep in mind that we are just as susceptible to sin (maybe even in the way we respond!), so we must be cautious how we treat others when they sin. Paul goes on to make the connection between the individual sin and the corporate body, when he instructs us “to carry each other’s burdens.” We often think of this verse in relation to enduring earthly trials or hardship, but in context there is a direct correlation between confronting sin and restoring the sinner as a corporate responsibility which we all share!
This passage has more to say about the one doing the confronting, rather than the one being confronted. It strikes as the very heart with which we go about speaking to our fellow brother or sister. The very tone with which Paul gives this instruction makes it clear that speaking truth to others isn’t optional. Yet, communicating truth to others is predicated on our own “truthfulness” in our life. When we do speak, our speech must build up and not tear down another person, so they might receive grace. Paul knows the human condition, and therefore directly says, bitterness, wrath, anger, and clamoring must be replaced by kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness. How often have you responded to a situation or incident, and done so rightfully and in truth, yet without the right attitude? Paul says for unity sake and in order not to allow the devil a foothold, we needs to ensure that we examine our own lives, hearts, and motives.
Similar to the theme of the Ephesians 4 passage, James goes below the surface to address the underlying source of conflict: our fleshly passions or covetousness are the source of quarrels and fights within the spiritual family. So when you encounter conflict in your group, you should point this out to those involved, right? Perhaps not that directly! However, the problem you see is often not the ultimate problem—it’s merely a symptom of it. What’s the underlying source of the conflict? What’s going on in the spirit of the individuals involved? As a leader help them discover the issue beneath the crisis. How well are they trusting God right in that moment? Trusting in God’s sufficiency will go a long way in preventing fights and quarrels.
There are many other passages we could look to in guiding us through saying the hard word to a group member, but these give us a great foundation. What other passages have been helpful to you in knowing how and when to have that hard conversation? Leave a Reply
For additional help…
Read Bill Donahue’s article, A Time to Fight: Advice on Handling Conflict in Your Group
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