We’ve all heard about churches that seem to split over small disagreements. The colour of the new carpet. The music they sing. The choice of leaders, and their style of leadership. The consequences can be devastating. Distressing mature believers, disillusioning new believers, causing havoc in the lives of families, and affecting our witness to the world.
But what can we do to heal the rift?
One of the most helpful things I have found in having difficult conversations is the PAUSE principle. You can find it under point 6. of our peacemaking principles. It’s a plan of peacemaking that is easily remembered by the word PAUSE:
P: Pray and Prepare. So often when we look at conflict, we think of ourselves and our needs. Or we think of other people and their faults. But if we are followers of Jesus, the foundational principle to resolving conflicts well is to Glorify God.
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” – 1 Cor 10:31
By praying, we remind ourselves of the presence and priority of God in peacemaking. We can’t do it without his help as he is the great Peacemaker. We also need to prepare for the conversation by thinking about what we will say, what they might say, and how we might respond. In all this we are aiming to be humble, repentant, forgiving and gracious in the way we speak.
A: Affirm relationships. Most of the time in long conflicts, we become so caught up in the issue that we forget the prime importance of relationships. We make our agenda more important than the people we love. So the first step in the actual conversation we have with the other person is to affirm the relationship we have with them. In preparing to have the conversation, try and think of things that you have appreciated about them in the past, the values or characteristics that you respect about them and why your relationship is important to you.
U: Understand interests. Sometimes in disagreements, we get stuck on arguing at the level of positions, the outcome that we want. I want the blue carpet. You want the red carpet. And we don’t often listen well (or at all) to the other person. The more we push for our position, the more entrenched the opposition gets.
If we want to resolve conflicts well, understanding interests is pivotal. Interests are the values, desires, concerns and fears that underlie our positions. If we take the time and effort to look at the interests of both our position and those of the other person, we might see that we’re not just disagreeing over petty things. We might realise that other people aren’t just being stubborn and recognise that everyone’s position is actually driven by underlying interests.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility value others above yourselves not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others. Phil. 2:3-4
You may find that behind the disagreement about music is really a concern that the older members feel overlooked and undervalued. Or the younger people feel that they can’t invite their friends to church or praise God because the music is not familiar and therefore not meaningful for them. When we take the time and effort to listen and discern the interests motivating outcomes, it can lead to a greater understanding and open up opportunities to love and serve each other.
The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out. Proverbs 20:5
When we are able to identify our interests, we can then evaluate our own hearts before the Lord. We can confess and repent to God of any selfish interests, fears, insecurities and sinful attitudes driving our position (often which we may not have even been fully aware of) and bathe in his forgiveness and love.
S: Search for creative solutions. If we have managed to do the first three steps in the PAUSE principle, we will be in a better place to work collaboratively with the other person to come to a reasonable and just solution. Both of us can talk openly and brainstorm with each other about all the possible solutions that might resolve our problem. (At this stage of the process, do not judge how good the solutions are or might ultimately be. We’re just being as creative as possible.) This step encourages both parties to see the conflict as a joint problem and to resolve it together and amicably, as opposed to seeing the issue as something between us.
E: Evaluate options. The last step in this process of negotiation is to mutually discern which option (or combination of options) serve as many interests of both parties as possible. By taking the time and effort to go through the PAUSE principle, you give yourself and the other person the best opportunity to be as objective and reasonable as possible when evaluating potential options.
Although the PAUSE principle is a helpful strategy to deal with many conflicts, it is not a silver bullet to solving all problems. The PAUSE principle provides a way to deal with material or substantive issues and is not an appropriate framework to use if the fundamental issue of the conflict is a sinful attitude or sinful actions which are damaging relationships (e.g. embezzlement or gossip). You cannot negotiate, brainstorm and evaluate options when the issue is sin!
The PAUSE principle gives us a framework to respond to material or substantive issues. The way we deal with sin is through confession, repentance and forgiveness. The Bible says that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are loved and forgiven by a faithful and just God.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
If we choose to be peacemakers, even ugly arguments and rifts can lead us to become more like Christ, love and serve others better and glorify God!’
Article by Clive Buultjens – Clive is married to Sarah and has 3 young children. He is also the assistant minister at Merrylands Anglican church and former Office Manager at PeaceWise.