A Trinitarian Approach to Conflict
Over the past two years, I have been looking at many different books on pastoral care written through the ages. One characteristic I have noticed in many of the writers is the emphasis they give on how varied the body of Christ is yet how united it should be under his headship. A pastor must recognize this quality about the flock of God. If he does not, he will be severely handicapped in ministering to them.
Seeing the church in this manner flowed out of these ministers' emphasis on the Trinity. They recognized that the God who is both three and one has created his church to be many and one. They paid close attention to passages such as this one found in I Corinthians 12:4-6, where Paul speaks of the Father, Son, and Spirit in the context of describing the church as a body with many differing members:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
Gregory of Nazianzus, a fourth century church father, was especially insightful in viewing the church in this manner and applying it to ministering to people. Because people have such different experiences, temperaments, customs, and gifts, he saw the need for pastors to care wisely for people who can vary so greatly. In so doing, he influenced later ministers in their view of the pastorate, from his contemporary John Chrysostom to the Reformation pastor Martin Bucer who came a millennium later. Indeed, Bucer started his classic work _Concerning the True Care of Souls _describing the body of Christ in this way.
Because folks in the church can be so varied, Gregory emphasized how skillful pastors need to be in caring for the differing souls the Lord brings to them. Just as a doctor has to become skillful in treating patients individually, so one of Gregory's favorite analogies is that of the pastor as a physician. As he states in Oration 2:
For the guiding of man, the most variable and manifold of creatures, seems to me in very deed to be the art of arts and science of sciences. Any one may recognize this, by comparing the work of the physician of souls with the treatment of the body; and noticing that, laborious as the latter is, ours is more laborious, and of more consequence, from the nature of its subject matter, the power of its science, and the object of its exercise.
Perhaps seeing the work of the ministry in this light gives a clearer starting place when seeking to help believers who are struggling with one another. Raising some questions like the following to people in conflict can at the very least help them to gain a better perspective on the situation. And, if bathed in prayer, it might even help bring resolution.
1) Do you think your life and prayers exhibit a willingness to love and even embrace the beautiful diversity in Christ's body that, when working together properly by the oil of His Spirit, produces a unity that glorifies your heavenly Father?
2) Could it be that differences in your and the other person's temperaments, opinions, or giftedness are at the heart of this conflict? Could this be causing you to view wrongly the intentions of others who do not share your same views or perspectives?
3) Have you received a wound to your soul that makes you so sensitive that you carry the pain from this over into other relationships and situations? Have you considered that the other person may not be aware of your experience and is not relating to you on the basis of it?
4) Where attempts to bring resolution with another fall short, are you willing for other trusted believers, who may have the gifts and insights needed to help, to be brought in?
5) Have you considered through this situation that your own sanctification - the work of the Spirit to make you more like Christ - is the intended desire of your Father in this experience? In other words, he wants to change you more than you want to change the other person.
6) You will be spending eternity with the Father who now loves you as a child despite your sin, the Son who loved you by dying for your sin, and the Spirit who now loves you by dwelling in you though you still sin. The same is true of your brother. In what ways is this situation calling you to a greater love for your brother now?