If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceable with all people. (Romans 12:18)
One of the most stark (and possibly damaging) differences I see between Millennials and other generations is in the area of Conflict Resolution. The art of conflict resolution is one that we normally pick up on during our childhood and hone as we mature. For most of us, this skill is learned in the home watching our parents fight it out.
I’ve noticed that the older generations tend to have a more secretive approach to conflict resolution both in the home and at church. From what I can tell, (and this is solely by me asking my wizened siblings in Christ) they value dealing with issues privately so as not to “air dirty laundry.” They often follow this up with a statement about kid these days that put way too much on social media.
This philosophy of self-repression has worked its way into the church culture and has even been super-charged with a call from many pastors to “be a servant and suffer quietly.” I remember being told that I would be a successful servant of Christ when others began treating me poorly as they would an actual servant. I will save my obvious theological issues about that statement for another post. But For many churches, this has become the normal philosophy in conflict resolution.
One of the dangerous byproducts of this philosophy is that people begin to equate Spiritual maturity with “no conflicts” and then we strive for a conflict free environment. When conflicts do happen, the common knee jerk reaction is to get rid of whoever/whatever is causing the conflict and then speak of it no more. We fail to teach that spiritual maturity is not being conflict free but dealing correctly with conflicts when they happen. Many a family has been ousted by or left a church body because other members were not willing or didn’t know how to engage in healthy conflict resolution.
While older generations value quiet, calm, peaceful congregations, we Millennials value a more transparent environment. What the older generation sees as decency (keeping your issues quiet and inside the family) looks a lot like burying your heads in the sand or simply selfish pride to us Millennials.
When I say Millennials value transparency, what I mean is: Millennials really, REALLY VALUE transparency. We want it in finances, leadership, and relationships. When it comes to settling a dispute, openness is a must with us – conversation and dialogue, in person, HAS to happen. We are one of the most forgiving, non-judgmental generations and by extension, are very willing to offer grace and go on with life. For goodness’ sake, we’re hounded by our culture to believe that humans can self-identify as whatever gender they please and we have to treat those people with the same respect that we show to other mentally stable people. I think we can handle a little tiff in the church family about whether or not the choir should wear robes.
Remember, we learn conflict resolution, largely, by watching others engage in it. Church conflicts are seldom dealt with in any sort of public way and so we never learn what resolution between spiritual siblings looks like. Worse yet, we see church splits and get the impression that Spiritual family doesn’t mean enough to put in the effort. Or, even worse worse yet, we see someone do something really bad and the church covers it up and pretends nothing happened and the church becomes part of society’s problems as a whole.
If you find yourself in an intergenerational, church struggle, here are some pointers for healthy conflict resolution that apply to all ages and will help the body of Christ live peaceably with each other.
- Meet in person with several impartial people to mediate.
- Discuss what the conflict is. Be very open about it.
- Figure out what makes both sides happy or at least what they would be willing to live with. You must agree on this before going on.
- Try to figure out how to accomplish this goal and what might be a difficulty getting there. Surprise difficulties have a way of derailing conflict resolution.
- Once you’ve established how to get resolution, both parties should verbally agree on the terms and tell each other what their part in the plan is.