“Can you believe what Cody said about Jenny!? According to Cody, the two of them haven’t been getting along very well and have started talking to other people about their personal annoyances with each other.”
15 “If your brother or sister[a] sins,[b] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[c] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
Minnesota and Pennsylvania have very different communication styles. In PA people are a little more brash (at least on the eastern side of the state) and speak their mind more easily. The level of sarcasm is higher and there can be a “get out of my way” type of attitude (again, these things are based on my experiences and 24 years of living on the eastern side of the state and do not represent ALL Pennsylvanians). Since moving to MN I have noticed the following things about Midwestern style communication. We have this thing called “Minnesota Nice” which typically means people who live in MN act kindly and cordially with those around them even if they don’t like them. The pace of life is a little slower so the “get out of my way” attitude isn’t as prevalent.
While neither communication is horrible and neither is perfect I do have somethings to point out about each. PA communication requires you to be tough and ready to defend yourself. MN communication requires you to be tactful and careful about what you say. The ability to tactfully challenge someone in in while making it clear and obvious where you stand on an issue is something most Christians struggle with. Typically we spread our gossip around with other people and never actually approach the person we have a conflict with.
According to the book of Matthew Christians are called to confront and challenge our fellow brothers and sisters when they are in sin. If I were from PA that may look very different from how I’d approach it if I lived in MN. Unfortunately it shouldn’t be this way. As Believers we are called to love each other and help spur one another on in Christian love so we can live lives that reflect the glory of Christ. But, how can we do that if we can not accurately and effectively confront conflicts among the members of the Body or even members of our own family.
I know the following steps may sound very simple but I think it is very important to have a game plan for how you will handle conflicts and sin issues as they arise. If you do not have a plan then you will fail every time. You will also need to set up how you intend to implement your plan. If used incorrectly your plan can easily become a hindrance to the healing and forgiving process. Finally, knowing when to personally forgive and move on without needing to confront someone will be key to your relational health and to the health of the Body. Not every situation requires a 1:1 meeting or a group confrontation.
According to our Matthew 18 passage your first step in creating a conflict resolution plan is to meet with the believer you have a problem with 1:1. Before this meeting every occurs you need to completely bath all your thoughts and feelings in prayer. Typically the best time to meet with someone is not right after the incident occurs, but rather, wait a day or two so your emotions and feelings can settle down. During the waiting period pray about your role in the problem, humbly seek God’s Word for wisdom and guidance as you prepare for your 1:1 meeting. REMEMBER this is not a time for you to go spout your problem to friends and family. If you have a mentor or accountability partner you can talk with them about it but I would recommend it is only done with an attitude of humility. Your goal is not to bring the other person down but to honestly evaluate your part in the problem and how you personally can seek forgiveness for your role.
Approach the person you need to meet with and tell them you would like to sit down 1:1 and discuss what ever the sin issue is between the two of you. If they refuse to meet with you and turn away from you than you need to decide what to do next. Option #1: Leave them along and work on your end of the forgiveness process without them. This option is not sound Biblically because there is a second step given in Matthew 18. Option #2: Pray for them and begin to document and prepare a small group of people to meet with the person. Remember, don’t hold it against them, don’t bring it up all the time, rather, demonstrate God’s love to them by befriending them and illustrating Christian love. Again, don’t go around spreading the “news” with other people. This is still between God, you, and the other person as you start gathering people together as group to approach them.
Lets assume your 1:1 meeting went well and you were able to restore your relationship with the other person. That is great because you have been able to accurately and effectively handle a conflict with another believer in a manner that brings honor and glory to God because it was done in a Biblical fashion. At this point you should not bring the issue up again or harbor any grudges against them because you have both asked for and received forgiveness for your part in the sinful conflict.
But, since we live in a real world with real people who can act and remain stubborn in their sin, lets talk about the next step in the process if things don’t go well.
If your first 1:1 meeting has not resulted in any measurable changes from the other believer then you need to plan out how you are going to re-approach the sin issue with a few other solid believers who have witnessed or are aware of what is going on. This is NOT an interrogation team! Rather, this is a group of concerned believers who are willing to lovingly approach someone else about a sin issue that is effecting others in the body (it could also be effecting them personally). Your group needs to cover everything in prayer because this is a lot harder to accomplish than a 1:1 meeting. Typically we get very defensive and harsh when backed into a corner, especially if we are confronted by a group of people.
Certain parameters need to be set in place before the meeting occurs. #1 This meeting is going to be conducted according to the Biblical principals set forth in Matt. 18 and Col. 3 as well as other passages where believers are instructed on how to act toward each other. The meeting should start and end with prayer. #2 What is said in the meeting should stay in the meeting if forgiveness and restoration occur. There is no reason to “share” what was said or done in the meeting with others because typically the rational for “sharing” with others is more selfish or based on gossip than on lifting up the name of Christ. #3 The purpose of the meeting is to lovingly address an issue that several people believe is negatively effecting the body of believers. It is not about pinning someone against the wall and everyone taking their best shot at them until the “sinner” finally confesses and repents. If any of these parameters are not met your group meeting can quickly fall apart and cause damage to your relationships and stunt the healing process.
The sin issue needs to be called what it is, not given a dainty, cute, or socially acceptable name. Committing adultery is not “messing around”, a pornography addiction isn’t just “a struggle with your TV or computer”, and controlling your speech is not “the way I’ve always been”. They are all sins and need to be addressed as such. Each one can be a struggle but to address them as struggles and never name them for what they are is like putting a BandAid on a bullet hole. Call it for what it is and go from there. (That is the PA side of me coming out!)
Avoid the “Minnesota Nice” method by sugar coating the problem when you are addressing the topic. Also, refrain from pretending you are a lawyer from eastern PA and jumping all over the person. Colossians 3:1-17 and 4:6 give us very specific sins to avoid and ways to conduct ourselves. In chapter 4:6 we are to “season our speech with salt” so as you sit down as a group make sure your speech is Biblically sound, full of truth, and “seasoned with salt.”
Each side should have a chance to speak what they feel is the truth while the other side respectfully sits and listens. After each side as taken their turn everyone should turn to the Scriptures that point out the sin you are dealing with. If you are able to come to a joint conclusion and resolution on what needs to be done moving forward with the sin issue then you have “won them over” (vs. 15) and you should each pursue forgiveness from each other. We are commanded to forgive each other just as Christ as forgiven us (Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6). This is a command, not a suggestion. We are to forgive the same way God has forgiven us.