Love Wins? Teaching Students How to Deal with Conflict?

If you are on twitter regularly and follow some of the well known theologians and church leaders, you would not have been able to escape the major trending topic from last weekend. For now, I don’t even want to mention names, only to say that a certain pastor, writer and speaker,  was the number trending topic in the U.S.A on Saturday evening.

Why all the talk and trending?

This pastor has a book coming out soon and has an accompanying video promo for the book. But, why all the fuss? Well, without reading the book, but watching the video promotion, some prominent church leaders and theologians were quick to attack the theology of this individual… Before we knew it, this guy was a top trending topic as many of us debated, commented, and attacked the theology of the video promo (and probably many of his past best sellers).

Now, let me be clear, I am not here to give an opinion (and I do have an opinion about the matter). However, I want to address the way church leaders went about voicing their disdain. I also want to tie this into our youth ministry world as I think it means everything to understand the ramifications for the future of our students and the church…

1) Is Twitter Really A Place for the Pillars of our Church to Criticize other Church Leaders? Whether we like it or not, this guy is a pastor of a prominent church and still represents the Bride of Christ. Is it right for us to air our “dirty laundry” in public like this? Could there have been a different way? Is it more about “being right” or is more important to protect the Bride of Christ?

2) Being Too Quick to Attack Only Devalues the Message. To be honest, a big part of me was thinking, “come on guys, you have not even read the book and you obviously have an agenda concerning this guy.” Instead of listening to the arguments, I was just ticked that judgments were being made without good explanation… The argument became devalued since their judgment seemed premature…

3) If we have a Problem with False Teaching, isn’t it better to Deal with the False Teaching rather than the Individual? If we genuinely have an issue with someone’s theology, isn’t better to address the error of teaching than attack the individual? Focusing too much on an individual can make a blurry argument. False teachers will come and go, but false teaching itself is our real problem.

4) If we have a Place of Leadership, we must Consider the Ramifications of our Comments. I am deeply concerned by the actions of some prominent figures in the church who I had respected for years. Their place of leadership in the church directs the thoughts and ideas of so many. Instead of following Matthew 18 when dealing with disagreement, their public comments created a frenzy of debates and attacks within the church… Not so good.

So, how does this all relate to Youth Ministry?

1) As Leaders, We Must Consider Our Speech And Actions In Every Domain. Our students are watching us and are following our lead. When they see and hear us gossiping and attacking others in the church, they will likely follow suit. Consider your church today; How many comments and attacks come from grown ups who once were in our youth ministries?

2) We Must Be Careful What We Post. Students, parents, leaders, and friends are watching our tweets and Facebook updates more than we know. Why? They look to us for leadership and direction and want to get the inside track on how to follow Jesus. Nearly every week a parent or student comments to me about something I posted. Therefore, we must consider the implications of every post and comment. If you are like me, I lost a lot of respect for certain church leaders last weekend and it’s vital that our followers do not lose respect for us. More importantly, it means everything that our comments do not take people away from our Savior.

3) As Leaders We Must Teach And Model Healthy Conflict and Disagreement.

Matthew 18 could not be clearer:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. Matthew 18: 15-16

In our churches and youth ministries we must teach and model healthy conflict. Not only should students see us following Matthew 18, but we should constantly remind them that this is the best option Jesus gives for dealing with disagreements in the church. Too often students learn from the church to gossip, get back, or hold on to hurt. It’s important that students in the teen years are challenged and encouraged to learn God’s way of dealing with conflict.

Finally, how are we doing in this area personally? How are we dealing with conflict in our churches? What areas can you and I work on this week? Let’s be real honest, it’s easy for me point to the twitter debate from the weekend, but it means everything that I examine my own actions above all. We might not post opinions and attack individuals publicly on twitter, but how often are we doing so in our churches?

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14 Responses to Love Wins? Teaching Students How to Deal with Conflict?

  1. Brit Windel February 27, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

    Excellent post my friend!!!

    I really agree with all your comments, especially #4. We don’t realize the power of our words and how quickly they can destroy others. I am intruged to read the book. There is a lot of stuff about ‘this person’ I’m not a huge fan of, but in that same breathe I really admire the person for their creative teaching, amazing story telling, and down right depth into the word and culture of the Bible. most folks, (especially those attacking) are mere ‘re-tellers’ of others. People need to define why someone his a ‘heretic’ and remember that no one has perfect theology.

    To your point about addressing folks. I couldn’t agree more. I will even say that it has turned into sin the railroading and gossip that has taken place over social media about this person. Where is the love and respect to challenge the person in private. I mean these two individuals are well enough known they could have a little coffee time, instead of being ‘fame grabbers’ and using twitter to spread hate…

    Again my friend, great reminder, call to repentance, and challenge! blessings!

  2. youthworktalk February 27, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

    Thanks Brit!

    It’s difficult to right this post since I am using social media to talk about others too. However, I hope people reading this will note that I have done my best to not mention any specific people who were tweeting their discontent last weekend.

    Again, it’s important that we turn the focus away from what others have tweeted and consider how we are doing personally…

  3. Dennis Beckner February 28, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    I’m with you. My heart sank as I saw all of this coming out. I guess it still remains true that the church shoots its own. Personally, I’m holding my tongue, and think others should, too, until I’ve personally read the book causing the uproar.

  4. Dennis Beckner February 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    PS: As a youth worker, I love that you’re using this as a teachable moment.
    – It allows us to show our students we don’t always get it right
    – Here’s how to make it right when we don’t
    – In the Internet age, our words are permanent
    – It’s important to be critical thinkers and consider all of the facts

  5. Mark Freier February 28, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    @Phil Thanks for the post and your willingness to direct the attention to what I believe is the real heart of the matter – the way we live in community. I am struck by the clear directive in Ephesians to “speak the truth in love.” It may be easy, given our personality or theological make-up to err on one side or the other that spectrum: ruthless truth-speakers or permissive lovers. Neither end of the continuum is healthy. I’m learning to live out the Ephesians directive: when I speak the truth in love, then the people I’m in community will grow up (become mature) and reflect that Christ is the Head and we become a healthy body. Any other way is a prescription to remain or become unhealthy. Thanks for calling out the truth…in love!

  6. Phil Bell February 28, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    @Dennis – You are spot on! Our words are permanent and can’t be taken back. One blogger I read at the weekend did try to back track on some statements, but the frenzy had already take place. I am sure it was a painful lesson to learn.
    P.S – Thanks for the message outline, I am going to use it sometime soon 🙂

    @Mark – I appreciate your encouragement and wisdom. I think your comments about being in “community” with people allows us to speak truth in love. I always tell my volunteers to focus on knowing a student before they begin to challenge them. I think this principle should be applied to the twitter situation…

  7. Benjer McVeigh March 1, 2011 at 7:52 am #

    You make a lot of good points, especially regarding whether we ought to wait for the actual book to reserve judgment. A couple of thoughts:

    It sounds like in #2, you’re painting all tweets and blog posts with the same brush. Yes, some people have a personal agenda. Others, however, were careful to note that this was only what is in the video, and that they will only comment on that content at present and withhold further comment until the book comes out. Rob Bell made some statements in a video. There’s nothing wrong with others reacting to those statements in a biblical way; not everyone flew off the handle.

    I’d like to take issue with #4, because 1) we don’t know for sure that Bell has not been confronted in private. I would be surprised if some gentle soul that has Bell’s ear has not said, “Hey, this stuff is not biblical.” But it’s all speculation. If others have any insight, I’d love to hear it. Here’s the bottom line: there’s nothing wrong with a Christian leader lovingly and publicly telling those who trust him or her, “Watch out, the content here is not biblical and is spiritually dangerous.” Again, some flew off the handle, some engaged in personal attacks against Bell, and that is wrong. But when a Christian leader teaches heterodox beliefs (as Bell has done for quite some time), a pastor or other leader of influence has a responsibility to say, “this stuff isn’t right.” Paul did the same when using very strong words against false teachers and false apostles. For a Christian pastor or leader to say, “watch out for this content, it goes against the Bible” is not in itself wrong, when done in the correct way.

  8. Phil Bell March 1, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    @Benjer, thanks for your comments! It’s really helpful to look at all the angles on this one 🙂

    I was referring to “some prominent” leaders who had been premature in their comments. I was not looking to paint everyone with the same brush. Sorry if it came across that way.

    I do disagree with the WAY in which certain prominent figures sent out a quick tweet to make a statement about their disdain for the video / book. Yes, Paul the apostle would have challenged false teaching, but, would he have tackled it with greater evidence to speak to? Would he have thrown out a quick one line sentence and left? I am not so sure… Would he have waited for a better opportunity? Would he have modeled a better way / mode to communicate his disdain?

    Instead SOME of our great leaders and theologians created a debate from one sentence on twitter, instead building a case for their statements. What occurred as a result was a frenzy of many unfounded statements from anyone who cared to throw their opinion in. One VERY prominent figure provided a link to a blogger who actually back tracked their statements the following day… Does this strike us as well founded and thought through?

    I think it is important to realize that when we hold a position of authority, we should watch our statements closely. In this instance, many followed what I consider a poor example of calling out false teaching.

    Let me know your thoughts? I would love to talk more 🙂

  9. Benjer McVeigh March 2, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

    Thanks for the clarification, Phil. I think one liners on Twitter is a terrible way to respond. If we’re going to discuss it, we need to take the time to develop our thoughts. I think Justin Taylor is a good example of a loving, well-thought response, especially in light of how Taylor has responded to criticism against him and revised his words a bit:

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  10. Benjer McVeigh March 2, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    Update: I apologize about totally messing up the html in my comment. Here’s the link: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2011/02/26/rob-bell-universalist

  11. DDow October 2, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    Another good question: Would our response change if the person makes the statement privately or publicly?
    In most translations Matt 18:15 seems to imply a private/personal wrong, and we see Jesus publicly rebuking some people and privately rebuking others.

    • youthworktalk October 2, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

      Great question! As I have studied this passage, it’s been important to consider the context of Jesus talking to His disciples about this matter. They had previously been bickering about who was the greatest among them. As church leaders Jesus addresses the disciples to deal with conflict in a private manner first. As a church, I believe we are challenged to address conflict in a similar manner.

  12. Nathan J. Anderson (@NathanAndersonJ) October 5, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    Good points. Glad to see how you have approached this.

    • youthworktalk October 5, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

      Thanks Nathan! It’s a challenging one to balance on. But, I think it’s crucial that we model to students how to engage others when we don’t agree with them or have struggles with them. Often kids just see a bunch of adults fighting with each other. It’s more important in my opinion to model healthy conflict that to be “right”.

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