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Soul Care: Recalculating: Handling Conflict in Ministry

By David Olshine | Director of Youth Ministry, Family and Culture at Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina. David is the author of 19 books including Studies on the G Proverbs; and Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians. | November 5 2011

My first experience with a GPS was in Spain. Our church's youth pastor, Trevor, and I went to visit some missionaries in training; and of course we got lost a number of times. Driving through the beautiful mountains in a rental car, a British-sounding voice would announce: "Recalculate."

The Bible also challenges us to recalculate from time to time. The Book of Acts openly describes the conflicts between Paul, Silas, Barnabas and John Mark, revealing that Christians in ministry occasionally will clash and bicker.

Conflict between Christian leaders is inevitable and painful. Often, conflict is not due to biblical and theological differences, but results from the simple fact that people conflict.

We are wired for relationships. The problem is, we are drawn to some people but repelled by others, often including those Gordon McDonald calls VDP's (very draining people) and VCP's (very critical people).

Acts 15:36-41 records how Barnabas, the man who befriended the former murderer and Pharisee Saul (who became Paul), wanted to take his cousin, John Mark, on a ministry trip. Paul would have none of it because John Mark had deserted the mission in Pamphylia. The Bible says they had a sharp disagreement and parted ways. How we handle personal conflicts matters. Let me suggest five principles from Paul's letters.

1. Be like Barnabas: Take the high road of encouragement. Barnabas' name means "son of encouragement." Have you ever said, "I have been encouraged too much today. I cannot take any more. I need some criticism"? Chances are slim. Ephesians 4:29 challenges us to build up one another. The word encourage means "to put courage into someone." Take the high road of affirmation. If there was no Barnabas, what would Paul have become?

2. Be Like Jesus: Forgiveness is not optional. Ephesians 4:32 tells us to forgive as Jesus has forgiven us. Resentment is like being in prison, and we won't get out until we pay the last cent: forgiveness. Resentment never helps us, and it doesn't hurt the other person. It just makes us miserable. Pray and forgive the person.

3. Impulse control: You don't have to say everything you think. Romans 12:17-18 teaches not to pay evil for evil. Live in peace as much as possible. You don't always have to be right, do you? Do you have to say everything you feel and think?

4. God's view: He allows conflict sometimes for greater good. Acts 15:40-41 explains that after Paul and Barnabas conflicted, they departed. Paul went to Cilicia and Syria, and Barnabas with John Mark travelled to the island of Cyprus; and the gospel expanded and went global. I think it is safe to say God has allowed conflicts to happen between people to start new works, missions, ministries and church plants. Sometimes separation is the best idea for God's purposes to be outsourced.

5. Agree to disagree: Forward movement is the goal. Romans 12:16 says to live in harmony. Sounds like a contradiction from Paul, does it not? How could he say all these great principles and get a little testy with Barnabas and John Mark?

Whatever happened to Paul and John Mark's relationship? In 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul penned these words: "Only Luke is with me. Get Mark (John Mark) and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry." Paul matured and grew up emotionally and relationally while waiting his imminent death in prison. He altered course. He recalculated.

What relationships are in need of restoration? Is there someone you need to forgive? Do you need to get on your face and recalculate before God? Has someone become an irritation to you that your joy is gone? Perhaps the GPS (God's Prophetic Spirit) is saying loudly: Recalculate.

Dr. David Olshine is the Director of Youth Ministry, Family and Culture at Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina. David is the author of 19 books, including Studies on the Go: Proverbs; and Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians. He can be reached at DOlshine@ciu.edu.

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