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Fear of Conflict. Wayward Son. Ungodly Influence.

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by Rod Wilson

One of the members of our church leadership team just quit his volunteer role because he does not feel comfortable with the pastor. How do I help him see that he is just avoiding conflict?

Quitting in order to avoid conflict is alive and well in church life and it is not easy to resolve. This situation may require you to buy your friend a lunch and chat about a few issues around conflict. The research on conflict typically describes five styles for resolving it— competing, collaborating, compromising, accommodating and avoiding. All of us have a style and it usually develops as a result of some of combination of our family of origin, significant experiences, personal preferences or firm conviction. It is difficult to talk someone out of his conflict resolution style because it is deeply embedded.

Those who quit something to avoid conflict are usually telling us, implicitly, that conflict is threatening, frightening and challenging. They are pursuing a safe and easy position because entering into the conflict will be overwhelming. As we watch this happen it is important to not just criticize them for avoiding conflict but also to understand that they are reaching for safety because they are afraid, even if they have trouble admitting it.

Often individuals who leave church roles because of conflict have lost sight of the common good. Instead of asking, “what is best for the church?” they are more occupied with their own fears. Sometimes we need to encourage people to not just go on autopilot, pursuing the conflict resolution style that comes most naturally, but to step out and go against their typical style and do what is best for all. Not only do churches need this in their volunteer leaders but the paid staff need that kind of integrity as well. Too many people are letting their pastor know they are uncomfortable by leaving a position or, worse yet, by leaving the church.

My 15-year-old son told me he has been sexually intimate with his girlfriend. How can I make him understand how wrong this is and the danger he is in?

It brings me great comfort to know that God the Father goes through this problem on a daily basis. How can you make your children do what is right and why do they mess up so regularly?

What makes this situation wrong for you? That question might make you feel frustrated because you are more interested in asking him questions than asking any of yourself, but this is an important issue. Is he embarrassing you by what he is doing? Are you seeing this behaviour as a reflection of bad parenting and thus you are holding yourself somehow responsible? Are you worried his girlfriend will get pregnant or contract a sexually transmitted disease? Or do you believe he is violating God’s desire?

While we do not get excited when our children tell us these kinds of things, horizontal confession is not only a good start toward right living, it is also an indication that the relationship between the parent and the teen allows for this kind of transparency. Having an open relationship does not always guarantee peace and tranquility, but it is a lot better than deceit.

If your son’s attitude is contrite and repentant, for you to grant forgiveness and grace puts you in step with God the Father. While He knows we sin and fall short on a regular basis, He consistently displays a character of mercy. Parents who soak themselves in God’s grace and mercy for their own lives are able to be the conduit for these qualities in the lives of their children, constantly trusting that there will be a long term impact.

But what do I, as a parent, do when the behaviour persists and nothing I say brings any change? Those of us who have lived that experience have a short answer: Cry for mercy.

I am in my second marriage and share custody of my children with their non-Christian mom. How do I help my kids grow to follow Jesus when they are surrounded with the opposite message while with their mom?

All of us, whether parenting alone, with a spouse who is present or with a spouse who is absent, need to remember that children are a gift from God and not a personal possession. While this does not reduce our conscientiousness and care for our children, it helps us realize that our children are in His hands and He loves them and cares for them. Ultimately, any human care is of much less significance than the care that God provides.

Our biggest influence on others is usually found in our lifestyle, not our words. The Bible describes it beautifully when it says those who live their lives with integrity “make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive” (Titus 2:10). Christian parents who live with integrity will have an impact in the lives of children, sometimes immediately but often in the future.

If you believe that truth ultimately will win over evil, and if you believe that a Christian environment has the capacity to move people toward a right and righteous life, then there is no need to be insecure about the presence of a non-Christian environment. When you send your children to school, allow them to play with friends and send them to their mom’s house, you do it with the conviction that it is not inevitable that error will negate what is right.

Often in these situations it is good to pray not just for the protection of the children from their non-Christian mom, but for the influence of the children in a setting that is spiritually challenging.

Rod Wilson is president of Regent College in Vancouver, where he also serves as professor of Counselling and Psychology. He is the author of How Do I Help a Hurting Friend: Practical Help for Leaders and Laypeople (BakerBooks, 2006).

The article above was featured in the September 2008 issue of SEVEN magazine.