5 ways to navigate church conflict. Choose your button.
Like my MacBook Air, two buttons control the memory storage functions of my brain. One button will "save" all of the data I've recently input. This will store the information somewhere in my memory banks, to be retrieved on my command. The other significant button is the "delete" button. It will erase the data from my system without storing it. The information leaves tracks and is never really "deleted". It's just not stored away and visible all the time.
In many instances the first human impulse is to hit the "save" button when we've been wronged or offended or hurt. The mind professionals tell us that bad stuff is automatically etched deeper and finer into our storage systems, causing us to remember bad things more quickly than good ones. So, the "save" button is the usual default setting for the human species. We like to store away all the slights and meanness thrown at us in life, and haul them out when they can help us. They are especially useful in producing some of the deadly viruses that can crash our entire system---grudges, spite, envy, jealousy, anger, rottenness, and more.
Then, there's the "delete" button. This is the device that can remove the offensive stuff from vision. Certain Washington insiders are learning the truth about the "delete" button on their office computers and e-mail systems. When the "delete" key is activated, the stuff is removed from our saved data. But, it never actually goes away until some specialist can erase it for good, expunge it from the hard drive. And, the "delete" button in my brain can set stuff aside and remove it from my life screen or the list of things I'm saving for posterity. But, like the "delete" button, you can't remove bad memories all that easily. In fact, there are times when most of us wished our brains were magnetic strips that we could clear by the mere swipe of of a powerful magnet. Sometimes I wish my memory was one of the little flash drive devices that I could unplug, smash with a hammer, and toss in the garbage can.
Sometimes the best and most effective system for dealing with conflict is to simply overlook the offense, in a sense, hit the "delete" button. We already know Christ gives us peace (John 14:27), and desires that we be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Paul advised, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (Romans 12:18). At the same time we also know that humans collide at times, that differences of opinion, or many other petty issues, bring us to moments of conflict. Then, our challenge is to deal with the conflict in a Christ-like, biblical manner. And Solomon wrote, "Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense" (Proverbs 19:11). Earlier he had underscored this same thought when he wrote, "The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out" (Proverbs 17:14). Evidently there's a biblical case for hitting the "delete" button.
Hit the flip side and don't be naive, there are also times when we must confront, discipline, and deal with individuals who habitually injure others, who cause a younger Christian to stumble, who bring dishonor upon God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who create division and dissension within the body, or who hinder the witness of another believer. There's ample Scriptural guidance for confronting others with error, for restoring fallen believers, for self-examination before any approach is made, and for discipline within the body of Christ.
But, when the offense is minor in nature, not central to articles of faith, and more between you and the other party, the best way to deal with it is to depress the "delete" button. As one person said, "Let them know, or let it go!" Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. It's hard, a measured, intentional step of a growing disciple of Jesus. Sometimes we gloss things over with cultural salves that are just not biblical. Like. "forgive and forget". This is just childish. You see, us humans cannot forget. In the first place, we're not machines. Secondly, we're not supposed to forget the lessons of life, even the hard ones. Go there and soon we'll be the living definition of insanity. Look it up. Forgiving is the real deal in every clash of humans. Forgetting is the la-la land thing again.
Hitting the "delete" button is much like what the Apostle Paul was writing about to the Philippians. He wrote, "But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14). Settle in on the word "forgetting" for a moment. It's a long word (epilanthanomai) and you can look it up. It pictures an intentional act of removing something from your path. It is to neglect something, to give it no attention. We can't forget. In fact, we have scars that remind us of the injury or invasion of our mind or body so we will not forget. What we do is to actually remove it from the path in front of us, to take it out of sight, to give it no play. We set it aside and move on. You know, like the "delete" button.
A litigious world craves the little distinctives that we claim as our own. Most people wear their feelings on their shoulders all the time, waiting for someone to offend them or pull their chain or step on their toes or invade their turf. The mean streets just seem to be getting meaner. But, that's the world that needs some mature people who have the strength of character to hit the "delete" button and just overlook the small stuff that irritate and aggravate but really don't injure.
The other day I was laughing my way through dozens of pictures of Pinterest fails. Don't laugh, you can learn some cool stuff on your wifes favorites pages. Anyway, these are funny outcomes of those home projects that look so easy but usually come out so bad. They're all emblazoned with the words "NAILED IT". Good grief. To know how hard some mom tried to make little sheep cakes and ended up with unrecognizable globs of sugar and flour. But, I digress. Something on an accompanying page caught my eye. It may be more Hallmark sentiment but it struck a chord with me about dealing with conflict. The calligraphy said, "If you're writing the story of your life, don't let someone else hold the pen".
Knock me down. Lord, when I'm offended, help me learn to hit the "delete" button.