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How to Handle Conflict Within Your Group

onflict is always awkward. Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a conflict between two other people? These situations are always awkward, especially when everyone is friends, and deep relationships are at stake. Most small group leaders will face this dilemma at some point in their ministry. What will you do?

2 Samuel tells an interesting story from the life of David that provides us with three great principles to remember when you find yourself trying to help resolve conflict.

David and his followers are on the run from Jerusalem. His son, Absalom, has led a rebellion and seized control of the capitol city. As they leave, they are approached by a man named Ziba who brings them many gifts of food, drinks, and animals. David knew that Ziba was the servant of Mephibosheth (a crippled descendant of Saul to whom David had shown great kindness). David asked Ziba where Mephibosheth was, and Ziba answered that his master had stayed in Jerusalem to welcome Absalom.

After the rebellion was squelched, David returned to Jerusalem and began to deal with all those who had been loyal to Absalom. Mephibosheth came to greet him, claiming that he had wanted to go with David, but Ziba had not assisted him (he couldn’t leave on his own because he was lame). Mephibosheth claimed that Ziba had seized the opportunity to ovethrow his master and ingratiate himself with David.

Faced with two completely opposite stories, David makes a wise decision (the outcome of which ultimately demonstrates Mephibosheth’s loyalty).

Read the whole story in 2 Samuel 16 and 2 Samuel 19.

Out of this story come THREE IMPORTANT PRINCIPLES to remember when you find yourself trying to negotiate conflict:

1. The first story you hear is almost never completely right.

I find this to be true so often. Someone will come to me with a story about another person, and when I talk to the other person, I hear a completely different tale. Usually, you need to talk to both parties several times, and ultimately bring them both together in order to get close to the truth. (I’m not saying the truth always lies in the middle, but it is often somewhere in-between)

The one who states his case first seems right,
until the other comes and examines him.

2. Don’t be beholden to the one who comes “bearing gifts.”

Often those who NEED to convince you they are right will “sweeten the deal” by bearing gifts. These gifts may not be tangible, but may come in the form of flattery. Not too long ago, I was in a meeting with a person who has typically not been my biggest fan. However, in this context he realized that he could benefit from my support; and surprisingly, he began to extol my many virtues in ways I’ve never heard before. While it feels good to receive gifts (and we need to avoid being overly cynical), we should also be careful of having our judgment swayed because of gifts we’ve been given. Proverbs says:

A man who flatters his neighbor
spreads a net for his feet.

3. Beware of the one who quickly slanders others.

Ziba sought to gain David’s favor by tearing down Mephibosheth. In any conflict, it is very easy to be distracted by “ad hominem” attacks rather than dealing with the actual issues. It is easier to simply say bad things about another person and call their character into question, rather than try to determine the truth behind specific events that have happened.

A few years ago a group of people in our church became very irate with some of my co-workers. I spent hundreds of hours sitting down with many of them to try to resolve the conflict. In the end, though, it was fruitless because we could never consistently identify exactly what was causing the problem. Sadly, all I ever heard was attacks against the character of other people.

Someone who tries to win an argument by slandering, likely doesn’t truly have a case to make. Proverbs says:

He who conceals hatred has lying lips,
And he who spreads slander is a fool.

Hopefully, you’ll not often be in a situation like this. Hopefully, you’ll spend much of your life in the midst of healthy relationships and people who love one another. However, if you do find yourself caught between two friends…

Remember David, Ziba, and Mephibosheth.

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