Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. – Proverbs 14:4 ESV.
This made me laugh this morning. And then I felt peace.
Ministry is messy. And this is because relationships are messy. You have to deal with other people, and they have to deal with you. But the wisdom in Solomon’s humor is that you cannot reap the harvest unless you put up with the crap. So deal with it. You can have a clean manger, but you will not have any crops. The price of harvesting growth is that there is always a mess to clean up.
In Kingdom work, part of the mess is conflict. I think Solomon is saying that when you have workers you will have … crap. Deal with it and clean it up. When people are working together, conflict is inevitable. It cannot be avoided. How you handle it makes all the difference. Conflict can drive people apart or bring them closer together. It can destroy organizations or sure up their foundation. And it can ruin you or build you up. Our wise and benevolent God knows this and has left us good instruction on how to handle conflict. And we need to learn how to handle it because there is certain kind of work that will never be fruitful when it is only our hands involved. And God’s Kingdom grows through many hands and His divine empowering, and not through pride filled lone rangers.
Therefore, effective ministry requires us to know how to clean up conflict’s mess. The starting point for conflict resolution is humility (Phil 2:1-4). Prideful people are lonely and ineffective in ministry. They drive away the people they need one argument after another. So as you serve God, expect conflict and seek to resolve it by considering these three things.
First, consider your failings. Remember you are not always right, and the conflict you are currently in might be another example of it (Prov. 15:12). It is important to entertain the idea that you might be the problem. Sometimes, you are the source of conflict unintentionally. People may have misunderstood your actions or statements. But what is more likely is that you have flat out made a bad decision or said something you shouldn’t. And that is fine. Practice saying sorry and use the present conflict as an opportunity for personal growth. I have found that it is very rare that God will not teach me something personally in the midst of conflict.
Second, consider your tone. “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Prov. 15:1). Much conflict simply comes from harsh words or an angry tone. Even if something is true, you are not free to say it however you want. Your tone communicates respect. It shows that you value the person more than the current issue. In humility, respect other people by controlling how you talk. This is key for avoiding unnecessary conflict but also in resolving it. Extend the kind of mercy to others that you would have them give you.
Third, consider asking God for what you want. Chapter four in James’ epistle tells us that conflict comes from seeking things from people rather than asking God (Jas. 4:1-3). Whether it is respect, the front seat of the car, or the direction of a ministry, conflict comes because we are not getting something that we want. Now, it could be that you deserve what you want. You could be right for desiring what you desire. But the great truth here to remember is that you don’t have to fight others for what you desire. You can ask God. So submit all your desires and plans to Lord. And trust that he will fulfill them in due time and give you the wisdom to act rightly along the way.
So take heart today. Know that if you are experiencing conflict in your ministry it is a natural by-product of the work you are involved in. Handle it well. And allow God to use it to cultivate growth in you and your organization. Clean up the mess, but anticipate the joy of the harvest.
Michael C. Sherrard is a pastor, author of Relational Apologetics, and the Director of Ratio Christi College Prep. RCCP is an organization that seeks to equip the church for effective evangelism by teaching high school students apologetics, fundamental Christian doctrine, and biblical evangelism.