Certainly being a follower of Jesus brings many great blessings, among them a potentially wonderful set of relationships with other believers that the Bible calls fellowship. However, even people in fellowship occasionally offend one another or sin against one another. This article seeks to address a subset of these situations, those where one in authority has offended or sinned against someone. It discusses the special dynamics involved in these relationships with a view towards helping bring about the righteous and God- glorifying resolution of these matters.
At the outset, it is a good to remember that while a leader is in a position of authority it doesn't mean he is infallible. Just because he has great impact in the lives of those to whom he ministers, possibly even in your life, doesn't mean he will never "blow it" in his dealings with people. In fact, the more involved the leader is the more likely it is that something will happen that will cause offense to someone. But this is where things can get complicated.
It can be difficult for a Christian to reconcile a leader's humanity and role of leadership. When offended or sinned against by a leader, it is instinctive to think, "This person is a leader. If I feel wrong about something, it must be my fault." But the reality is that leaders can and do sin against people all the time. They are human, and humans sin. Hopefully a leader doesn't want to sin, and doesn't want to have a negative impact in anyone's life. But chances are that if you feel in your conscience that something has offended you, you need to pursue it.
Biblically, the approach towards handling conflicts is clear:
And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. (Matthew 18:15)
You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:17-18).
No doubt, there are various other responses to offending actions of those in authority:
Below we will examine some practical ways to put this into action dealing with those in leadership or authority. I've certainly had to confront those in authority from time to time (and been confronted by those I have led, as well!), and it is my hope that the items offered here will contribute to resolving conflicts with leaders and those in authority even as they have helped me over the years.
You absolutely need to be in prayer for wisdom and righteousness as you address these issues. You need God to give you wisdom and insight (James 1:5). You need him for support and strength (Philippians 4:13), and for keeping you at peace as you work through these things (Philippians 4:7). And you need him to work in the situation to bring about resolution (2 Thessalonians 3:16). Let the Rock be your Rock as you work through all of this. Don't let a problem with a human disrupt your relationship with God.
Take some time to evaluate the what's and why's. Often we get hurt or angry about something that someone else does, but it is crucial to find out exactly why. This will no doubt take some time-- time to cool off, time to collect your thoughts, time to reflect and pray, time to study some things in the Scriptures.. Make a list of what is making you angry and come back to it later. Keep at this until you have a good handle on the exact issue or issues bothering you. These are what you need to address.
When determining the issues you need to bring up, it is imperative to make it personal. There are several practical benefits to this. Number one, it helps you focus. Stay with what happened and how it affected you. That is the whole basis for talking with the person who offended you. If you bring up other people or situations, it diffuses the focus from the real problem-- the thing that offended you. It could put you in a position of having to prove something that may not be relevant to the matter at hand. If the situation affects you, the it is important to make it clear how it affects you. .
Number two, making it personal helps the person you are talking to see the whole "case history" before his eyes. I honestly believe this is exactly why God commanded and recommended a private confrontation, person to person (Matthew 18:15). Nothing brings the pain of one's sin or failing "home" and motivate change like seeing the hurt caused in a person's life. Rather than discussing concepts or theories or ideas, talking about a real person and a real situation brings the issues into closer focus.
Getting advice is almost always a good thing, and doing so in situations where you are upset is all the more beneficial. Is it any wonder the Proverbs often put advice in the context of situations of conflict?
Where there is no guidance, the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory (Proverbs 11:14).
Without consultation, plans are frustrated, But with many counselors they succeed (Proverbs 15:22).
Prepare plans by consultation, And make war by wise guidance (Proverbs 20:18).
A wise man is strong, And a man of knowledge increases power. For by wise guidance you will wage war, And in abundance of counselors there is victory (Proverbs 24:5-6).
There are several benefits to seeking advice in situations where confronting authorities figures is in view. Advice allows you to tap into the wisdom and perspective of others. A good friend can see the broader picture as well as the specific situation in question. Because he knows you, he can help you understand the situation and how to best approach the conflict at hand.
Is getting advice about personal conflicts gossip? Good question! If your intent is to understand and resolve the situation, and an honest discussion of the issues doesn't adversely effect the advisor, the answer is no. If your intent in communicating about these things is simply to blow off steam without following through and resolving the issue, then you could be guilty of gossip by discussing the situation with someone else.
Another good tip for getting advice is finding someone who knows you and the other person very well. Such a person will have a lot of insight into all of the various dynamics that are at work in the conflict at hand. Such a perspective can help enormously.
Some people might feel that being humble and giving the benefit of the doubt is more like groveling or acting like a victim. But it isn't. Humility is always a right approach to anything, how much more so when confronting anyone, leader or not.
If you are humble and righteous in your approach, it will put the other person at ease. It will allow the focus to be on the issue, and make the person more like to be humble and open with you (after all, he's only human too). Humility breeds humility.
Give the person who has offended you the benefit of the doubt, even if you may think or feel like what he or she did was absolutely on purpose and with malice. The fact is you don't really know what he or she was thinking or intending. I've seen enough conflicts where my initial presumption was way off base. The counsel of the Lord certainly applies here:
Through presumption comes nothing but strife, But with those who receive counsel is wisdom (Proverbs 13:10).
Not only is giving someone the benefit of the doubt the wise thing to do, it is certainly what we would want others to do in dealing with us (Matthew 7:12).
OK, you've gotten a handle on the issue, taken the opportunity to get some advice, and really sorted through the issues to find the ones that effect you personally and directly. You've cooled-off and gotten humble, and have resolved to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. And you've done your best to stay close to God throughout all of this. Now you are ready to talk with that person who has offended you.
Sitting down face-to-face is best, over the phone or via email (or snail-mail) isn't nearly as effective, but sometimes these might be the only avenue for communications. As a personal confrontation helps the offending person to see the impact of his offense, so also it helps you to remember that the object of your frustration and anger is a real-live human being with great attributes and foibles alike. Though you may have taken copious notes preparing for this talk, don't use them when actually meeting-- by this time you should have a clear understanding of the issue(s) to address. Just speak the truth from your heart. Be straight, tell the truth-- don't fall into the opposite extremes of minimizing or exaggerating. Tell it as it is, honestly and genuinely.
If the person you are talking to is persuaded, you have won your brother over. Be gracious and forgive as needed. Allow the talk to build a new sense of understanding, unity and closeness. Share the victory with those you sought advice from; make sure they know things have been worked out. And allow the experience to be an example for future problems that may occur, either in your life or in the life of others.
Over the years, I have had to confront leaders in authority over me on several occasions. Following this approach, I have usually had positive results. Frequently, I was very upset and honestly thought that the person would not receive what I had to say with humility. I imagined him defending himself and making me the problem. I think it is important to realize that Satan has a vested interest in allowing things that could be worked out to escalate and not be resolved instead. Satan has schemes that work around the idea of preventing forgiveness of each other (2 Corinthians 2:11).
Yet there are times when you cannot reach a satisfactory resolution of the matter. In these cases, one must consider whether it is something that can be overlooked, if others should be brought in (Matthew 18:15-17), or if it constitutes a "sharp dispute" (Acts 15:36) that may require a change. For more on this, check the article When Confronting Doesn't Bring About Change.