In his insighhtful book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team [i], Patrick Lencioniso outlines what causes teams to breakdown and finally either implode or explode.  The first time I read this book I was in a team leader role and was discouraged to discover that we had all five dysfunctions down pretty well! Lencioniso’s thesis is the foundation for dysfunctional teams is a lack of trust which leads to a fear of conflict.  If you are tiptoeing around someone on your team, holding your breath every time that sensitive issue comes up, then congratulations, you got yourself a dysfunctional team.

As believers, we are especially dysfunctional at this because we are taught to be nice little girls and boys.  We are good at avoiding tough conversations under the guise of “giving grace.”  After all, aren’t we exhorted to “live in harmony with one another?” [ii]

Gary Smalley writes about what happens between the shallow levels of communication (clichés and facts) and the three deeper levels (opinions, feelings, needs).  It’s a barrier he calls the “wall of conflict.”  It’s scary to go through that wall because there is the possibility of rejection and a potential loss of relationship if we don’t make I through.

But if you do make it to the other side, if you can find the doorknob through the scary wall of conflict, there is intimacy on the other side.  I think about the closest friends I have in my life and at some point we made it to the other side of that wall.

What needs to change is our view of conflict, and the Bible gives us some extremely helpful guidelines. First let’s look at when not to have conflict, and then next week we’ll dive in to how to do it in a healthy way.

When not to have conflict?

•When it involves “disputable” matters
Paul advised the Roman believers, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” [iii]

It’s probably been a long time since you argued with someone on whether or not you should buy that discount ground beef that was sacrificed to a Roman idol.  But modern day disputable matters can pit Christian versus Christian on a variety of strongly held beliefs.

I know a missions agency whose teams were being torn apart because team members would get into debates on their personal held convictions over issues that really shouldn’t have affected their working relationships.

This small agency finally came up with a policy that teams could no longer debate, discuss in a team meeting or make a team policy on the three issues that were causing great strain in team life.  The issues were:  birth control, how to educate your children (homeschooling versus public or private school) and how to discipline your children (spanking versus other forms).

Imagine that!  These are some tough folks, people who moved their families to some difficult spots of the world, mastered complex languages, prayed their hearts out, learned how to engage people of different faiths, overcame culture shock and endured third world hassles.  They could put up with a lot basically. Yet these debatable issues on how to have and raise children were causing them to want to go back home.

You may feel like you have got God’s opinion on the matter, but keep it to yourself.

• When it involves a third person
Jesus gave it plain and straight, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” [iv]

It’s very easy to take up an offense for someone else, because usually we have more grace to swallow an offense ourselves than to see someone else we love offended.  I can be okay when I feel slightly slighted, but after I share it with a friend and they get a rise out of it, I become outraged!

The definition of gossip, according to John Dawson, is talking about a negative issue in another person when you are not part of the problem or solution.  Many of Solomon’s proverbs warn us about the “choice morsels” of gossip that are so delicious to take in but end up ruining relationships. [v]

            Without wood a fire goes out;
            Without gossip a quarrel dies down. [vi]

•When you just can let it slide
You don’t need to deal with every little offense.  Sometimes you can keep in mind context (they’re sleep-deprived, they just got a speeding ticket, their kids are running around screaming) and cut them some slack. Our communities would be miserable places to be if we constantly pointed out every small infraction.  Paul exhorts us to “bear with each other” [vii] and Peter lifts us to the highest value: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” [viii]  This is great advice from two men of strong personalities who had some theologically important conflict with each other but I’m sure put up with a lot of little things along the way.  Cut ’em some slack jack.  There is a higher value of love.  But not too much slack, timid bunnies!  You who give too much grace need to be truth-tellers too.
– Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate

This is part three of a five part series on how healthy conflict leads to authentic community.  More in this series:

Part One: The world is starving for authentic community: Running in Church

Part Two: Going Deeper, Risking Conflict: From Chit Chat to Transparency
Part Four: Rules of the game for healthy conflict: How To Have Conflict
Part Five: Serving as an arbitrator: Peacemaking

[i] Patrick Lencioni (2002), The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Jossey-Bass
[ii] I Peter 3:8
[iii] Romans 14:1-4
[iv] Matthew 18:15
[v] Proverbs 18:8; 26:2
[vi] Proverbs 26:20
[vii] Colossians 3:13
[viii] I Peter 4:8