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William D. Bontrager, J.D.

1710 C.R. 121, Hesperus, CO. 81326




Because we, as Christians, are "earthen vessels" -- II Cor. 4:7 -- whom Jesus Christ would use for ministry, He places people in our path whom He would have us minister to. Often times, these people are in obvious conflict -- legal, relational, or a combination of the two. Yet, we do not minister to them. (1) Why don't we; and (2) How can we? I pray that what follows will help you be willing to assist people in conflict, and increase your effectiveness in ministry to them.

I also write this in recognition of my friend, Larry Higgins, who first spoke some of these words about the road to Jericho.

One reason we do not help is that we fear and are intimidated by conflict and believe all conflict is bad. Conflict is neither good nor bad, merely inevitable. How we deal with conflict can have a good or bad impact on us and others.

These conflicts may be: (1) personal in nature -- marital or family, as examples; (2) business -- employer vs employee or bad products as examples; (3) social -- the neighbors dog using your yard; (4) within the church -- Acts. 15; (5) with self -- fear, anxiety, negative self-image; (6) with God -- sin; or (7) any combination of these.

We can have conflict over: (a) the facts -- you did, I didn't; (b) the methods -- you should, I shouldn't; and (c) the goals -- peace vs victory. We can have conflict over how we deal with conflict -- winning is everything versus don't rock the boat versus fleeing versus negotiation and compromise versus confronting in love in hopes of growth in relationship.

As Christians, we are to bring all of life under the Lordship of Christ. That includes conflict. If He is Lord at all, He must be Lord of all, including conflicts. If we deal with conflicts according to His Word, then He will be glorified, we will be at greater peace, the Body of Christ will be more in unity, and those who are watching us will see a positive witness for Christ. If we deal with conflicts according to the world's way, the opposite takes place.

A second reason we do not help others is we know of our own sinfulness -- we know the things we do that we do not want to do and the things we don't do that we ought to do (Rom. 7:15,19). Thus we feel ourselves unworthy to face others in conflict and point out to them the root causes of their conflicts.

A third reason is that we, in the United States, have mentally defaulted the matter of conflict resolution to the professionals -- lawyers and the legal system; professional counselors; and pastors.

A fourth reason is that we have been taught rugged individualism with a stiff upper lip, living alone on the frontier as a way-of-life attitude. I regret to tell you that most of the rugged individuals of the frontier got scalped. The ones that survived built community forts through community effort where the community could protect itself in times of attack.

A fifth reason is that we fear failure, and the rejection which often comes with failure. Yet, it is not our function to actually "make" peace. Peace, in the setting we are talking about, is an inner transformation of attitude. Only God can do that. But the Greek word for "make" can also be translated as "do", "act", "present", "offer", and "bear" -- and those are things which we can do to and for one another. Thus, our success or failure can only be measured by our faithfulness to God's requests upon our life at the moment -- the outcome of our acts of faith are not the measure! [See Peacemaking -- A Misnomer]

As for rejection, we, as Christians, are already accepted by the God of the universe, Who has raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6) and prepared work for us to do (Eph. 4:10). We need never again appropriate the fears of the world -- such as rejection or failure!

A sixth reason that we do not help others is that we are ignorant of what the Bible has to say about how we are to deal with conflict. God's way is not by war, including the warfare of the courtroom -- I Cor. 6:1-8 -- which can mean defeat (vs 7); where we can grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30-31); where we can wrong and cheat others (vs. 8); where we can bite and devour and be consumed (Gal. 5:15); or where we can end up imprisoned (Matt. 5:25-26). [See May We Sue? Shall We Sue? Whom May We Sue?]

God's way is by confrontation (Matt. 5:23-24; Matt. 18:15) in love as sinners and sheep who went astray and for whom Christ left heaven and came searching (Matt. 5:22; Matt. 18:12-14; Matt. 18:21-35) seeking reconciliation and restoration rather than victory and using the church to help as needed (Matt. 18:16-17; I Cor. 6:1,5) [See The Path To Reconciliation and those writings referred to therein.

God's way uses the Body of Christ, each member of which He has placed where He wants them (I Cor. 12:18) because He has gifted them for ministry (Rom. 12:6-8; I Cor. 12:4-11; Eph. 4:11) to build one another up into unity (Eph. 4:12-13) so our unity will tell the world that Christ is the way to salvation (Jn. 17:19-21).

Finally God's way, for the parties who are in conflict and the people attempting to assist them, is a way of laying down rights, position, property, and even life itself (Phil. 2:3-8) and bearing the burdens of one another (Gal. 6:1-2) including the burdens of those who offend us (Rom. 5:6-8; Gen. 3:21).

I am now going to assume that you have been convicted that we are to help others who are in conflict; that you know it may prove to be risky, frustrating, costly and painful if you try; and that you know you are not competent to try but that Christ within you, to the extent you allow Him to guide and control your words and actions, makes you competent. I am also going to assume that you are, all be it with fear and trembling, willing.

That brings us to the second question: How do we help others in conflict?

First, you must inject yourself into their life and join them on their walk down the dusty road of confusion until you have gained a level of relationship that will allow them to share of their pain (Lk. 24:13-16). "Patient presence" is needed. Maybe it means a lot of time sitting and drinking coffee, or working in a garden with them, or fishing with them, or whatever.

A man, having fallen back into drinking, sought divorce from his wife, "so she could find happiness". He had played on the church softball team. A man on the team, also with a past problem with alcohol, called on the husband night after night to get him back to the softball diamond. Each night, as the husband refused to come out of the house, the "peacemaker", instead of going to play, sat in the street in front of the house, in prayer and meditation. After two weeks, the husband came out, played softball, and a life was rebuilt.

Second, simple, prompting questions will get them talking (Luke 24:17-19). Don't be a prosecutor or torturer. Don't press, for if you will just allow them a chance, they will pour out their story (Luke 24:19-24). Once they get started, don't interrupt. While they are talking, be an active listener in a state of constant prayer for wisdom in expectation it will be granted. Several things are involved in this. Stay open, for your knowledge and understanding will evolve as more information is received. Understand you will be gathering, analyzing, and interpreting as you go along, not sequentially but in an ebb and flow style. Remember you are not a judge of the heart of anyone, present or absent. However, you are not to be a neutral, unattached, impartial observer; you are a representative of Christ. Affirm right actions and right attitudes but refrain, at first, from pointing out improper actions and motives (as opposed to teaching right actions and motives) -- that will come later, after they have gotten their story out and you sense a sufficient relationship has been established to allow you to begin ministry. Finally, instead of listening to the facts of the conflict for the sake of the facts, listen to the facts to discern: (1) their attitudes; (2) who their counselors or advisors are (others whom they are speaking to about this conflict); (3) who the other party to the conflict respects and may be willing to listen to; (4) and where the person you are talking with has or has not violated the Lord's processes of Matt. 5:23-26 and Matt. 18:12-35.

What is "discernment"? To me it is taking everything I hear and see and run it through my knowledge and understanding of God, of the Bible, of the Model Jesus Christ, of life, and of my own experiences and feelings. While I am doing this, I am also waiting for the sound of fingernails on the blackboard -- the things which are discordant; out of place with truth. When I hear them, I know what I have heard is an item God wants confronted and dealt with.

Finally, you want to listen for: who are the parties to the conflict; what are the complaints; what are the causes; what is the evidence; what are the issues; what is the law; what do they think are the methods of resolution; and what is the process or procedure to be used. For each of those items there is a legal and a Spiritual dimension to be considered and addressed. Addressing only the legal will leave the Spiritual causing continued bondage; addressing the Spiritual only will not "do" justice.

So, they tell their story, and you have established a sufficient relationship to minister. How do you minister? You minister Jesus Christ, from the Scriptures, as The One to Meet their every need, adding your personal experiences which have given you greater understanding of Christ and the Bible -- Lk. 24:26-27.

You use your life because you have become a shepherd leading them to truth, understanding, and affirmative action. You are not a shepherd who drives the sheep before you, using the Bible as a club, and making a lot of noise (I Cor. 13:1). You walk ahead because you have been there before and know the way.

You use Scripture because it is intended to be used and is profitable -- II Tim. 3:16-17. In this respect, it is very interesting to note that the witnesses, in Matt. 18:16, are not, in the Greek, to "confirm the facts of the case" but are rather to "confirm the rhema" (living and active Word of God) that each party needs to hear for their life at the moment. Your words of truth, sown in peace (Jas. 3:18) like the sower of seeds (Matt. 13:3-8), may, under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, then bring the person to peace.

You explain the need to bring the conflict under the lordship of Christ. You point out the biblical process of dealing with conflict. You confront slander and gossip, improper judgments or motives, wrong attitudes and actions. You express hope, encourage and exhort. You assign homework, expand resources, bring in others as needed to help. By sharing your own life (failures and defeats as well as victories) you invite them to risk love, confession, and forgiveness. You become an incarnation of God's acceptance of wrongdoers while addressing boldly the wrongs done. You model compassion, understanding, selflessness, availability, and vulnerability.

You help them get under, and stay under authority. Find out who they are talking to and see as important in their life. Then get all these counselors together to meet one another, share with one another what they have discerned about their common "client", and come into unity through the Holy Spirit for future actions and counsel. Ask the party to commit to seek counsel only in face-to-face sessions when at least two of the group are jointly present lest the party begin to play the counselors off against one another (Pro. 11:14; Jas. 5:14-15).

You seek to lead them to a willingness to confess their own faults to the other party, regardless of the risk, and to forgive and convey that forgiveness to the other party (Jas. 5:16). Confession of sins is a statement: "I sinned against you in the following way (listed specifically). I need to ask your forgiveness." Confession never has a "but" in it. Confession is necessary to bring inner cleansing, and is necessary so that God will be with us and that we will be able to stand before our adversaries (Jos. 7:12-13).

And we are to forgive lest we be handed over to the torturers (Matt. 18:34-35) and so that God's forgiveness of us may be received and experienced (Matt. 6:14-15) by us. Conveying forgiveness means just what it implies -- looking the other in the face and saying: "These are the things which I hold against you. I forgive you. I will never bring the matter up to you again. I will not speak to others of this except in your presence. I will not dwell on this if it comes to my mind in the future. I will not allow this to be a stumbling block to having relationship with you." In all of this, you are helping prepare this person to meet the other party in the conflict and speak quietly one to another, that Christ might impress each with what He desires that they do to mutually right the wrongs done.

While you are working with party "A" and seeing fruit spring forth, you also need to reach out towards the other party to the conflict to start them thinking about, and moving towards, reconciliation and resolution of the conflict. Call upon the other party, at their home and in person so that you carry Christ into the meeting (calling at a place of business can cause them concern). Tell them who you are -- including the fact that you are a Christian -- and why you are involved in this matter -- including giving the Scriptures which call for us to resolve our conflicts outside the law. Explain to them that you are not a judge and have not taken sides in this matter. Explain to them any positive changes which you see taking place in Party A. Encourage the other party to not run further away from the conflict, to place legal processes on hold, and to consider coming to a meeting to talk about the matter. Say you are wiling to meet them again, and talk further about this matter, with their attorney present or any other person whom they respect.

Maybe all of this does not work. If "A" is ready to make some confession, or issue some forgiveness, help him write a letter doing that. Follow up with "B" after a few days to see if "B" is more willing to consider meeting. If this still does not work, seek to discover where, if at all, "B" goes to church. When you discover the church, make an appointment to meet the pastor. At that meeting, tell him who you are, why you seek him out, and ask him if he would be willing to speak to his member about meeting your friend, with others from the churches to be present. Explain how you have been ministering to your friend, and suggest that maybe his member needs to be ministered to before the parties actually meet so he is prepared to speak in love. Do not disclose details of the conflict, for that would be gossip and tale-bearing.

Let's assume that this approach works, and the parties are now meeting for the first time with you and some others present. Open the meeting with prayer, with commitment to Christ, with communion or sharing of testimonies. Set a tone that recognizes that there is another table waiting for us to sit at in Heaven, and that God would not have us get to that table still glaring at one another. Then let each party state their complaints against the other, during which they should also confess their own faults and extend forgiveness. If, as they end their presentation, you are aware that they have left some elements out, help them get those elements spoken.

If things start to get out of hand, call time-out. Take the parties apart to minister to them as need be. Do not rebuke one party in front of the other, for that will cause the rebuked party to get defensive, and the other to get prideful.

Then summarize what has been said. If there are several issues, agree upon which will be discussed and which will be tabled until later. Affirm confessions made or forgiveness granted. Celebrate each victory which takes place as it takes place. Then have the parties share what they think could be done to resolve the dispute. Let them share, rather than you suggesting options.

Finally, celebrate openly the reconciliation and restoration of the parties. Maybe they give a joint testimony at each church. Maybe they go fishing together.

This celebration is the key to revival in the lives of the parties, the peacemakers, and everyone who hears of the work which the Lord has done. It is why He has asked us to help one another when we are in conflict. It available for each positive change in the life of any person touched by this process, even if there is no reconciliation or resolution of the conflict.

Will you seek to help another in need? God helped you in your need.