The health of a church follows the health of its leaders. 

I have heard this spoken from many wise voices. To be clear, it is the power of God alone that transforms lives. Yet, God works through and in partnership with his people. Therefore, it makes complete sense and is biblically sound to say that,

When we pursue our own health and growth, we are also pursuing the growth and health of those we lead.

Obviously, there must be balance. We can’t get stuck naval gazing and saying, “I’m healthy, others will be fine!” We also must not ignore our own health and race towards the cliffs of burnout and despair. There is a difference between self-centeredness and self-awareness.

It is a common goal for many churches to seek to intentionally invite and connect new people to the church community.

To be a community that is a beacon of hope to others, like a bonfire naturally drawing people to its warmth, there are many aspects of our individual and communal health we must consider. I would like to focus on one of particular importance.

Conflict resolution. 

The old hymn goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” One way we love one another is by resolving conflict in healthy and God honoring ways. So, you could say,

“They will know we are Christians by our conflict resolution.” 

Sadly, too many churches have modeled a less than appealing approach to conflict. Old and unhelpful habits like ignoring conflict until it “goes away,” powering up to throw aside anyone who disagrees with you, or simply breaking fellowship whenever difficulty occurs, these are all toxic, too familiar, and harmful to our wittness.

With that in mind, I want to share something I have been learning that has radically altered and matured my understanding of conflict resolution. It is called the Conflict Transformation Pyramid. In my experience, when conflict arises, one thing dominates our attention. We focus on the issue causing conflict. The issue is often formulated as a question with different answers. Which is the superior soda, Coke or Pepsi? What is the best football team, the Broncos or the Vikings? The temptation is to think that answering the question will resolve the conflict. However, the question is only one side of the pyramid. Answering the question will never resolve, and certainly will never transform, conflict.

Here are the three sides of this pyramid: 

The Problem to Solve. 

The People Involved. 

The Process Followed. 

First, let’s consider the problem to solve. Every conflict has a problem at the center of it. This problem generates the question we just mentioned. While it is wrong to say that solving the problem will resolve the conflict, it would be just as foolish to ignore the problem and pretend differences of opinion aren’t there. That said, one critical task is to make sure you have clarified these two things.

Defining the problem. Make sure you have defined it clearly so that everyone agrees with the definition and you can make sure you are all talking about the same thing. There’s nothing worse that talking straight past one another. When the problem isn’t defined it’s like you’re speaking different languages.

Define the different opinions. Make sure you rightly understand what various people think. Just because you agree on the problem doesn’t mean you’ve understood one another’s perspectives. There is no need to let misunderstandings and assumptions make a minor problem bigger than it is.

Second, let’s consider the people involved. As important as it is to make sure you rightly understand what perspectives different people have, it is equally as important to consider the way you relationally engage with those people. The people themselves are as important as the views they hold (probably even more important). Again, two questions to consider.

Have I honored others in my words and conduct? Conflict only escalates when we let basic relational skills like active listening and fair behavior devolve into attacks on personality or intentional twisting of the words of others. Being mean spirited will make it irrelevant whether you are “right” or “wrong.”

Am I attending to the emotional and relational implications of this disagreement? To pretend like we can just talk about differences without considering the real feelings and complex relational commitments we all carry would be foolish. It is just as important to consider how your words might make others feel as it is to consider the clarity with which you present your point of view. Many people treat emotions like they are of less value than reasons. This is not a biblically valid understanding of humans. We are created as emotional, physical, intellectual, relational, spiritual beings; integration is the goal. Emotions are one of the many ways we engage in rational, faithful living.

Third, let’s consider the process followed. This, to me, is the secret sauce of the Conflict Transformation Pyramid. It is kind of like the glue that holds the people and the problem together. If we want to take seriously the way we listen and understand as well as the people involved, then we will create a robust process for resolving conflict. To form a healthy process, you might ask yourself,

Have I considered all the relevant voices? 

Have I ensured I understand the best form of each side of this argument? 

Have I given equal time and attention to each party involved? 

Creating a thorough process is the way we ensure clarity is achieved and relationships are honored.  Without a process, we guarantee that any resolution reached will be flimsy at best. Without a process, we embrace the shallow façade of resolution and never see the beauty of truly overcoming differences.

There is so much more that could be said about each of these three aspects of conflict transformation, but I will wrap this all up with one summary thought.

Next time you encounter conflict – whether big or small, involving one or many people – don’t let yourself focus entirely on the problem at hand. Rather, remember to consider  

The Problem 

The People, and 

The Process 

Only when we give appropriate attention to all three will we find we can resolve conflict. And, if done well, we can transform conflict into an opportunity for everyone involved to grow.