When relationships break down and conflict erupts, how do we get ourselves out of it? How can we find peace where there is no peace? In Matthew 5:9, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” but how do we become a peacemaker? James 3:18 promises that “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace,” but how do we make peace? We’ve all seen people we respected and admired for being able to bring peace where there was conflict. At our last association meeting, I had an opportunity to learn from one. Let me share what I learned.
After 24 years of pastoral ministry, Lance Johnson became Regional Director for FEB Central and served in that role for 15 years. The title came with the unenviable role of regularly being called in to church crises and conflicts all across Ontario. He covered many aspects of the process of unravelling conflict. I came away with a better sense of how the right kind of communication can either fuel conflict or diffuse it.
Paul encouraged the church in Ephesus to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and it was said of Jesus that He came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The reality is, however, that people tend to lean on one of these two extremes. Pursuing the balance that God calls us to is an essential part of being a peacemaker. Lance talked about four communication styles that people typically assume in conflict:
1. Passive Response: The passive responder adopts a poker face when confronted with negative words or actions. They suck it up and silently endure, while inwardly settling for or resenting the words or actions of others. They are more interested in avoiding the pain of conflict than in doing the hard work of reconciling themselves or others to God’s truth. This may seem like a loving response but it often comprises truth and allows the damage to continue and bitterness to simmer.
2. Evasive Response: The evasive responder is eager to avoid responsibility. They escape, divert, or avoid the responsibility for wrongs or pain resulting from an argument, accusation or question. They retreat from the discomfort of dealing with conflict and as a result fail to pursue the truth that might lead to a peaceful and lasting resolution.
3. Defensive Response: The defensive responder engages in the conflict more than the passive or evasive responders. But their engagement has a goal of guarding against real or perceived threats of criticism, wrongdoing, failure or exposure of sin. While seemingly active in conflict resolution, their efforts aren’t aimed at resolution but rather self-preservation. This response falls short in both love and truth.
4. Aggressive Response: The aggressive responder is interested in ‘winning’ and they are willing to bring their full arsenal of emotional, spiritual or intellectual resources to attack their opponent and defeat the opposition. Because the aim is ultimately to gain power and force their version of truth, relationships suffer and peace is sacrificed.
Which type are you? Everyone will have a tendency toward one of the response types. Being willing to face where you’re at and admit where your default tendencies fall short of the Bible’s call to speak the truth in love, is the foundation for healthier relationships and ultimately a healthier church. It’s also at the heart of what the Bible calls repentance. And it’s when we stop repenting and get hardened in patterns of sin that conflict snowballs.
Let’s all do some peacemaker homework and ask God for help in growing in grace, truth and love.
In awe of Him,