David McCullough’s masterful biography John Adams gives us a raw look into the relationships between the founding fathers of America.[i]  John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were united in their fight to establish the new nation and were the most responsible for crafting the Declaration of Independence together.  However, the two intellectual giants soon became bitter rivals as two political parties fought for the direction of the new government.  Adams defeated Jefferson by a mere three electoral votes to become the second U.S. president.  In 1800 Jefferson returned the favor and defeated Adams to become the third U.S. president.  On the day of Jefferson’s inauguration, Adams found a good excuse not to attend the celebration and fled the new Capitol City in his carriage.


The tension lasted well into the two founding father’s retirements and greatly troubled their mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush.  He urged these two aging political giants to put the past behind them and begin corresponding again.  He once shared with Adams a dream he had in which he found a future history book of the United States.  In this book he read how the country was strengthened because these two men had reunited after Adams began corresponding again Jefferson in 1809.


Adams laughed off the dream and the icy silence continued between Jefferson’s estate of Monticello and Adams’ Stoneyfield.  But Rush kept at his peacemaking mission.  In Christmas of 1812 Rush carried personal warm wishes from Jefferson  to Adams and wrote, “And now, my dear friend, permit me again to suggest to you to receive the olive branch offered to you by the hand of a man who still loves you.”[ii]


On New Year’s Day, 1813, as if to almost fulfill the prophetic dream, Adams wrote a cordial note to Jefferson wishing him well and offering a book.  “A letter from you calls us recollections very dear to my mind,” Jefferson replied.  “It carried me back to the times when, beset with difficulties and dangers, we were fellow laborers in the same cause, struggling for what is most valuable to man, his right of self-government.”[iii]  The ice thawed and two men’s final days were filled with warm friendship and frequent correspondence.  They both died on the same day, on the Fourth of July, 1825, within a few hours of each other.


Is that a spectacular ending or what?  I will say though that happy endings after bitter disputes don’t come easy.  If you are struggling in head-to-head combat with someone else, you may need to pull in your own Dr. Benjamin Rush into the battle zone.  Or maybe you could become one yourself for two estranged friends, relatives or co-workers.  The Son of God gave a pretty high compliment for such as these: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”[iv]


In this series of “Authentic Community” blog posts we’ve been looking at how our communities can become more vibrant and more life-giving when members are willing to vulnerably share themselves and to engage in healthy conflict with each other.  The best environment for healthy conflict is in private, “just between the two of you,” as Jesus said. “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”[v]  Heaven applauds.


Sometimes though it doesn’t work that way and then we proceed to level two: “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along…”[vi]  We usually talk to all sorts of third parties before we sort it out with the second party because it’s easier to gossip about the issue and we feel vindicated afterwards.  But the Biblical wisdom is to go to step two before step three.


I was once called in to be an arbitrator between two very godly ladies who came into great odds with each other.  It reminded me of the verse from Philippians, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.  Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel…”[vii]


I tried my best to be a loyal yokefellow and met with both of them along with their husbands.  The offense between them had eroded their friendship so deeply that they could not be in the same room together without spewing each other with hurt and accusation.  After just a few minutes of talking it through and a touch from the Holy Spirit, they were forgiving, crying, hugging and affirming their love for each other.   They just needed a safe environment to work it out and a third party can help lay out the ground rules for that to happen.


The Holy Spirit was all over that because God is all into this.  The theme of unity flows through Jesus’ last prayer in Gethsemane before he surrendered to the cross.  He prayed for his future followers, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”[viii]  I believe God is intent on answering His own prayer, that we conflict-prone and easily fractioned people would be brought to “complete unity.”[ix]


The Real Thing

Are you desperate for real community?  You’re so tired of shallow chit-chat and you want something real.  Or maybe your heart has been bruised by conflict and you have retreated to shallow waters.


You’ve been playing it safe.  No wonder you’re so bored.


Open up.  Share your true heart with a group of comrades.  Bring yourself to the light and experience an intimacy of friendship that you’ve never dreamed of.  “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…”[x] The Greek work for fellowship is koinōnia and it’s good stuff.


Bring it up.  That little issue has been needling you, that has been causing you distress over the how and what was said, that is isolating you from that once close friendship…time for a difficult and private conversation.  The intimacy of true koinōnia awaits you on the other side of that foreboding wall of conflict.


Help them out.  Do you have two friends or relatives hunkered down on opposite sides of a demilitarized zone?  Offer yourself as a peacemaking envoy.  Don’t take sides but be for both of them.  Create the space for koinōnia to be restored.  You’ll feel the affirmation of Jesus and the appreciation of heaven.



[i] David McCullough, John Adams, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2001

[ii] ibid

[iii] ibid

[iv] Matthew 5:9

[v] Matthew 18:15

[vi] Matthew 18:16

[vii] Philippians 4:2-3

[viii] John 12:21

[ix] John 17:23

[x] I John 1:7


In my last few blog posts we’ve been looking at how vibrant community comes when members are willing to risk vulnerability and engage in healthy conflict.   Last week we looked at conflict’s out-of-bounds areas, and now we’ll focus on the rules of the playing field.


When to have conflict?

The short answer is when you just can’t let an offense slide.  My rule of thumb is simply you need to bring the issue up if it is affecting your relationship with that person.  Give grace when you can, but truth when you must.  Are you avoiding that person, tiptoeing around them at work, not making eye contact at team meetings?  Then it’s not passing the “grin and bear it” test.  You’ve got to deal with it.  Of course there are two sides of an offense, the offender and the offended party.  Who takes the first step? 


1) If you are the offender, the responsibility is on you.

Jesus gave us this admonition: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”[i] 


Several times I’ve had a nagging feeling that something I said may have offended a friend.  When I bring it to them they are usually so glad I came forward to apologize because it was really was bothering them and they are quick to offer forgiveness.  I’m coming to trust that “nagging feeling” as the Holy Spirit and I know I make a bee line from the altar to my offended friend.


2) If you are the offendee, the responsibility is on you.

“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.”[ii]  There it is.  Jesus said it.  Go and show him his fault.  Easier said than done, I know.


I remember avoiding a key person on my team over the icy way he was treating me.  Once in a meeting he corrected me in a curt way, which embarrassed me in front of the other staff members.  It wasn’t what he said, but how he said it.


At first I blew it off, but then later that night I had two dreams about the offense.  Okay, I thought, I have got to bring this up.  It wasn’t passing the “grin and bear it test” and I knew this issue was affecting a working relationship and friendship with a key leader on my team. 


He was eating biscuits and gravy when I came into the office the next morning.  As I saw him the frustration rose up in of how harshly he had talked to me at our staff meeting, plus his curt text message the night before.  I felt like pouring the gravy on top of his head.


After some initial chit-chat, I invited up him into my office.  “There’s something we need to talk about.”


I didn’t want him to feel like he was going to the principal’s office, so I immediately offered what I’ve heard called “the grace sandwich.”  It’s one slice of affirmation, followed by the meat of the correction, and lastly another slice of affirmation.


“Chad, I really appreciate you and how you are running our office.  You are doing a great job.  But because I value our relationship, and not just your function here, I need to talk about how you talked to me yesterday…”


We got to the heart of it, a silly little issue of misunderstanding, and I took the vulnerable step of sharing how I felt about it, not just how he was wrong.


“It makes me feel like you don’t really respect me, and that is a big deal for me.  When you scold me in our meeting, or send me a rebuke through text message, it makes me feel like a reprimanded little school boy.”


From his tense body language I felt like the risk of this conversation wasn’t going to pay off.  I was getting the message loud and clear that he thought I was being too sensitive.


“So you’re saying I have to sugarcoat everything?” he countered.


“Huh?  You are missing the nuance here.  Is there some filter in our communication?  Are you frustrated at me for something else? It really feels like that way to me.”


Actually there were a few things and he shared them all.  Guilty as charged on each point.  He had the right to be frustrated for me breaking some agreements we had made as a team and going off and doing my own thing without conferring with them first. I apologized.


As the chip dropped off his shoulder, everything in his body language relaxed.  Now we could really talk.


I agreed to try to repent from the attitude of “the rules don’t apply to me,” and he agreed to try to talk to me with more respect when was frustrated.  We also added an addendum of no more text messages or emails or Facebook posts when there is an issue, but to try instead for a face-to-face meeting.


“Chad, there are probably going to be a lot more issues,” I promised.  “I am going to break our agreement, even though I don’t mean to, and you are going to have to come to me in person.”


Knowing me, he laughed.  And knowing him, and what a big deal consistency means to him—for my words and my actions to match— I told him I would truly try to work on this issue in my life.


I gave him one final affirmation, about me appreciating all that he brings to our team, and we high-fived each other. 


We tackled the day’s challenges together and they felt a lot less challenging.


I so appreciate when people come on their own and say, “Hey, sorry for what I said yesterday.  I didn’t really mean it.”  But my experience has been that seldom happens.  A lot of times people don’t realize how they have offended us.  The onus is on us to go to them.  Which means…drum roll please…there is no room for “victims” in the Body of Christ.  This is too important to God.  Whether you are playing offense or defense, you have to “keep short accounts” with your brothers and sisters. 


Finally, here are some practical suggestions the right way to bring up a wrong suffered.


In love.  When you approach someone with a sensitive issue, they are immediately going to feel the fear of rejection.  I’ve found a good way to put that fear to flight is something I’ve already mentioned, the “grace sandwich.”  It sounds something like, “I appreciate you and value our friendship so much that I wanted to bring this up…”  After you talk about the meat of the issue, you offer another warm slice of affirmation.    


With humility. Then you bring it up, adding a dose of humility.  “I could be wrong here…”  Use the word “I” a lot.  “I have been feeling lately…. (as opposed to “You are being a jerk).”  You want to show that you have a limited scope on the issue—you’re not omnipotent God bringing judgment on them.  From your perspective you honestly could have perceived it wrongly.  Jesus said to go to your brother when they sin “against you,” not just when they generally sin.  Tell them how what they did or said came “against you” personally.


In private.  As Jesus said, it’s first “just between the two of you.”[iii]  The Indonesians call it a “four eyes” conversation.  Just two sets of eyes, working out something difficult and complex.


Right time and space.  Find a non-distracted, private spot for your chat.  I once brought up an issue with a teammate while we were standing in line at a buffet in a very crowded meeting.  She felt ambushed, started crying and quickly shut down.  I had to later apologize for my poor timing.  I wanted to get the issue off my chest so much I wasn’t considering her feelings at all.


But be careful you timid bunnies, there will never be a perfect time.  In fact the longer you wait the harder it is deal with the something.  There is a balance here.


For my last blog post on this issue,  sometime next week, we’ll look at when to bring in a third party when two people can’t work it out on your own.  Stay tuned….



[i] Matthew 5:23-24


[ii] Matthew 18:15


[iii] Matthew 18:15