How can you heal broken fellowship? What is the biblical model for reconciliation in the church?
As you’re probably well aware, Christian fellowship is not exempt from conflict, hurt feelings, and broken relationships. Fortunately, the Bible provides direction for reconciliation in the church, calling on you to be a peacemaker. This doesn’t mean sweeping problems under the rug. True peacemaking faces conflict head-on.
Read more to learn biblical methods for reconciliation in the church.
The 5 Steps to Reconciliation in the Church
Occasionally, you may find yourself at odds with someone in your group, or with a serious rift in your relationship. Instead of making the easy and selfish choice to walk away from an imperfect relationship, God wants you to do the hard work of repairing your relationships with unselfish love.
In any fractured relationship, strive to be a peacemaker. Peacemaking is an essential skill to loving unselfishly—in focusing on finding paths toward peace, you naturally start to better understand others and discover different ways to love them. Some people think that peacemaking means avoiding conflict or people-pleasing, but it’s actually the opposite. As a peacemaker, your duty is to face conflict with the goal of resolving it and to do what’s right instead of what’s popular. The Bible outlines five steps to guide you through the work of reconciliation in the church.
Step 1: Ask God for Advice
Reconciliation in the church begins with God. It’s tempting to gossip about relationship issues with friends, but your best bet is to talk to God about it first—either he’ll intervene to change the other person’s view of the issue, or he will give you a necessary change of heart.
- It’s important to be honest with God during these talks, so he understands exactly how you’re feeling and how you view the issue. Don’t hold back—nothing you can say to God, no matter how angry or mean, can surprise him.
This conversation can also help you understand the core of the issue. Often, relationships are damaged when you’re expecting someone to give you something only God can give you, such as happiness, fulfillment, or perfect understanding. By looking for these things in the wrong places, you only set yourself up to be disappointed by the other person, through no fault of their own. When talking to God, discuss your expectations of the other person and honestly assess whether you’re asking too much of them.
- For example, “I thought Kate would understand my child’s issues because of her family’s experience, but she seemed to think it’s all my fault. It was unfair to expect her to understand every nuance of the issue, which only God can do.”
Step 2: Take Initiative
Don’t wait for the other person to approach you. God expects you to make the first move in working through and resolving a conflict, as soon as you can.
- This is so important that Jesus said that conflict resolution should take priority over group worship if need be. If you need to skip church one Sunday to make amends with a friend, don’t hesitate.
Confronting the issue as soon as possible is essential to reconciliation in the church, because any time spent delaying is time for hurt and anger to stew and worsen. However, be careful not to push a confrontation if it’s not the right time. If either of you is feeling rushed, tired, or extra stressed, a conflict resolution won’t go smoothly. Hold off your confrontation until the first available moment when both of you are feeling physically and emotionally capable.
Step 3: Listen to Their Feelings
Reconciliation in the church requires listening. You can’t resolve a problem until you understand how the other person feels about it. Before launching into ideas for resolution, begin by letting the other person talk about their feelings—don’t interject with ideas or defenses. Just listen.
This is crucial—hearing and understanding their perspective gives you a more complete view of the issue, extends your patience, and guides you toward the resolution that will work for everyone. This step may require you to listen without judgment while someone criticizes you or expresses anger toward you—this becomes especially difficult when you believe that their criticism and anger are unfounded.
- Find strength in these moments by reflecting on how much of your unfounded criticism and anger God has listened to. Focus on how much patience and unselfish love he shows you despite that, and commit to acting the same way.
Step 4: Focus on Your Mistakes, Not Blame
As a human, you’re not perfect. It’s likely that even if you think you’re not at fault, you made a mistake in some way. If you’re having trouble seeing your faults, you should ask a neutral third party for their input—they’ll have a clearer view of the situation than you will.
- For example, if a group member feels upset about a correction you made during Bible study, you may think, “My correction was right. She’s overreacting because she’s jealous.” However, upon deeper reflection, you find that the way you corrected her came across as overly harsh, and it embarrassed her in front of the group.
Believing that you’re fault-free can’t lead to resolution because the way you discuss the issue will pin blame on the other person, naturally making them feel defensive. There are two ways you can avoid the trap of blame:
1) Make sure you’re discussing the problem, not the person. Before you speak, make sure what you’re about to say isn’t “weaponized” with accusations, criticism, belittling, and so on.
- For example, in saying, “I’m upset because you went and blabbed to everyone at choir practice about a marriage issue I told our fellowship group in confidence,” you accuse and pin blame on them.
- On the other hand, in saying, “I’m upset because something I spoke about in confidence was shared with many people with whom I did not want to share that information,” you avoid blame and stay focused on the issue.
2) Be the first to admit your own mistakes. Demonstrating humility in this way naturally de-escalates the issue, as many people come into confrontations expecting to defend themselves. Instead, your humility makes the other person feel secure in admitting their own faults in the conflict.
These two steps fast-track reconciliation in the church—and conflict resolution in general. Instead of arguing about who did what, you move right into discussing how to repair what’s been done and how to prevent it moving forward.
Step 5: Look for Resolutions or Reconciliations
Conflict resolution doesn’t mean that one person “wins” and one person “loses.” It means that both parties come to a compromise together. When searching for a resolution, demonstrate your willingness to adjust your position in a way that meets their needs instead of your own.
Ideally, they’ll reciprocate the courtesy, resulting in a fairly equal resolution of the issue. However, sometimes they won’t budge on their position—God created every member of his family to be different, so it’s natural that you won’t be able to align on some points. In these situations, it’s necessary to look for reconciliation rather than resolution.
- In resolution, you come to an agreement about your differences or problems. In reconciliation, you put them aside for the sake of your relationship.
Both resolution and reconciliation are good outcomes of conflict, as they both achieve your ultimate goal—maintaining unity with your spiritual family.
Turn to the Bible for Conflict Resolution
If you’re unsure of the best method for confronting someone, turn to the advice Jesus gives in the Bible.
1. Try a private conversation, where you both speak about your feelings.
2. If they refuse to listen to you or resolve the problem, involve one or two people who witnessed the point of conflict. They can give you a neutral confirmation of what the issue is and help you think of ways to reconcile.
3. If they still refuse to listen or reconcile, go to see your pastor together and ask him to mediate the discussion and reconciliation.
If you’ve taken the issue all the way to your pastor and the other person still won’t work with you to repair your relationship, Jesus says you may think of them as an unbeliever. You’re still expected to love them, but you aren’t obligated to show them the mutuality, service, or trust you’d show the members of your spiritual family.
Reconciliation in the church is hard work, but restored relationships are worth the effort. The good news is that the Bible provides a clear path to restoration.