Conflict is inevitable. What we do with it can have far-reaching consequences. The attitude we take into a conflict (planned or otherwise) greatly effects the outcome.

It is amazing what we do not realize about the way we think – our mindset, paradigms, attitudes. I had no conscious thought of my approach to conflicts until God hit me with the contrast. Two meetings, both occurring within a week of each other, forever adjusted my conflict attitude. Here’s my story:

In the first meeting – a Bible study of Romans – we had arrived at Paul’s exhortation on baptism (chapter six). As the teacher introduced the topic, you could literally feel and see the tension rise in the room. At least half the participants moved to the edge of their chairs waiting, it seemed, to hear the teacher say something with which they did not agree. Looking back, I am convinced that many ears were closed to hearing, and the Holy Spirit was grieved.

The second meeting was a blessed contrast. As with the first, there were people from various church fellowships and denominations. The passage being discussed was Jesus’ instruction regarding the consumption of His flesh and blood. Someone in the group asked, “What did Jesus mean when He said, ‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you (John 6:53).'”

After some time of quiet contemplation, one brother said he wasn’t sure, but thought it meant “so and so”. A second brother added, “And it means ‘such and such’ to me.” Several others offered their opinions.

To be honest, I can’t remember what any of them said about the meaning. All I heard in my spirit was the “and” of their responses – the “and” attitude of their hearts. At no time during the conversation was “no” or “or” used. No one corrected or disagreed with the others. It was truly amazing; so amazing that I almost missed the most amazing thing.

Somewhere deep in my heart this passage – which had long been a mystery to me – was given meaning. I couldn’t explain what I understood (that came later), but I knew something that I had not known before. The truth of that passage became alive and powerful for me through the attitude of “and” that permeated the room.

I suppose the lesson here is obvious. There are at least two attitudes we can take into a conflict. The first is the attitude of division. I call it the “or” attitude. We seldom say it out loud, but our minds are thinking, “It’s either your way or my way.” Or worse, “It’s my way or the highway.” The “or” attitude is prideful, arrogant, and many times founded in fear.

The alternative “and” attitude seeks to learn the truth, not defend our version of it. Such an attitude is humble, empathetic, curious, and fearless. Paul spoke of such a heart attitude later in Romans:

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
Romans 12:3, 10, 16-18

The “and” attitude is God’s way in a conflict. Such an attitude has great potential to create synergy as it seeks to appropriate a higher truth. This is true for every relationship, even those involving the exercise of authority (e.g., father/son, owner/employee). Without a doubt, I would have been a much more successful manager during my corporate career if someone had taught me this principle.

Let me close with an interesting third outcome of conflict – that of “neither… nor”.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. Galatians 5:6

For Christian leaders, being right is not the ultimate objective. We are called to live by a faith that works itself out through love. This is the light that glorifies our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Let us be disciplined and diligent to share that light with those in our spheres of influence and responsibility.

God bless you with humility, wisdom, and courage for conflicts that truly advance the kingdom of God.

Humbly yours and forever His,

Rob