Conflict is something that happens in ministry, but it is not something most leaders feel comfortable talking about, let alone dealing with. Let’s face it. If you have been in church leadership for any length of time, then it is likely you have dealt with your share of conflict. Maybe someone misjudged you, betrayed you, talked about you behind your back, or maybe you just didn’t see eye-to-eye with another church member or leader. Whatever the case, conflict happens! So we need to learn how to handle it.
One of the most despondent stories in the Bible is found in Acts 15:36-41 when Paul and Barnabas had such a sharp contention that they decided it was best to part ways. The Bible really doesn’t give too much detail about what happened, but I can only imagine the hurt it caused the first-century church. I mean Paul and Barnabas were bros, they were like Batman and Robin, they were the power team of the first-century church and they were forerunners in the mission field. They were both great men of God who loved the Lord Jesus and were filled with His Spirit, but because they could not agree they split up. What makes this account even gloomier is, as far as the biblical record indicates, these two remarkable men never saw one another again. However, God continued to use both men of God to do incredible deeds for the sake of the gospel.
I believe there is a reason this story is in the Bible. It shows us that conflict can cause such strong emotions; it can attack even the greatest people of God. If we do not intentionally guard our hearts we can find ourselves on the outs with people we also once called brother or sister.
So today I want to give you three tips to help you deal with conflict and love people even when it is time for them to go.
- Agree to disagree.
In matters of opinion, sometimes it is best to agree to disagree. The disagreement that Paul and Barnabas had was over taking Mark on a second missionary trip with them even though he abandoned them on their first trip. Paul was a pretty disciplined man and seemed to not put up with nonsense whereas Barnabas was an encourager. Barnabas was also related to Mark and therefore may have had more grace for him because he was family. The Bible doesn’t place any blame in this conflict; it just states their disagreement was so strong they parted ways.
You can have a conflict with a person and even part ways, but that does not mean you have to be offended or bitter towards them. The Bible never indicates that Paul and Barnabas became ministry partners again. However, Paul does mention Barnabas being worthy of monetary support in ministry (1Cor. 9:6). This shows that Paul didn’t lose all respect for Barnabas even though they didn’t always see things the same way. In this way, Paul demonstrated his maturity because he was still able to honor someone he severely disagreed with. Disagreement does not have to lead to disrespect. When you know it is time to go in a different direction from people you once partnered with, remember to focus on what you respect about them. This will help you keep a humble heart before God and before man.
- Pray for them.
I know saying pray for them can sound trite, but the fact of the matter is prayer works. The Bible doesn’t record Paul and Barnabas praying for each other, but I have to believe that these giants in the Faith prayed for one another. Jesus teaches us to even pray for our enemies. How much more should we pray for our for ministry companions that we no longer are in partnership with? Often we say, “I am praying for you”, but we don’t actually pray for them. We may pray about them. I have often prayed for people I am in conflict with in a way that is more like complaining about them to God. Sometimes I even asked God to “get them” for me (don’t judge ). On the other hand, when I surrender my thoughts and emotions to God and truly bless them, God lifts any offense I may have had. If you are offended with someone today, take some time and really pray for them. It is impossible to stay angry at someone you are truly praying for.
- Continue to focus on the calling!
The good news is both Paul and Barnabas continued to follow Christ and fulfill their callings. They did not allow the argument to keep them from further ministry. Actually, some may say they essentially were able to do more for God because they went in different directions. Sometimes God calls ministry associates to dissolve their partnership to further the work of the gospel in different areas. This can be a hard thing to endure after years of friendship and partnership together. But when you focus on your calling instead of the parting, you will continue to do countless things for God. Also, God can restore relationship if we stay committed following God and completing our assignment. As a matter of fact, eventually, Paul works again with Mark and even calls Mark useful in 2 Tim. 4:11. So if a conflict has caused separation in your life, take courage. God can still restore and His will always prevails. Stay faithful to the cause of Christ!
In conclusion, we need to realize conflict happens. But conflict doesn’t have to define us, our ministry or our future. We need to guard our hearts, be mature in our disagreements, pray for those who offend us and always stay focused on our God-given assignment.