By Betsy Oda, Opinion Editor

Bible verses are too often taken entirely out of their intended context. One such example is Matthew 18:19-20, which says, “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Rather than saying that God will give you whatever you desire simply because it was prayed for by a group of people, this passage deals with how the church ought to handle conflict and discipline. All too often, we prefer to hide tension and avoid difficult conversations. However, it is vitally important that Christians learn how to handle these tricky situations. It all comes down to how we communicate.

In the leadership seminar held on Feb. 2 at Asbury University, called Cultivating Crucial Conversations, pastor and author J.R. Briggs stressed the importance of creating safety for all parties when conflict arises. According to Briggs, the four keys to creating safety are to find mutual purpose, develop mutual respect, apologize if necessary and eliminate misunderstanding.

“I’ve never met a great leader who was mediocre in the area of communication,” said Briggs. “Leaders must work hard at communication, even when it’s uncomfortable.” If the church wants to produce leaders who accurately represent Christ, we need to start teaching the proper way to handle communication and controversy.

When it comes to eliminating misunderstanding, it is critical that we attempt to see things from each other’s perspectives. Unfortunately, a common dilemma arises when we suffer from limited understanding and proceed to make assumptions about the feelings of others around us. There is no way for us to fully understand what any other person is going through; we can truly know only our own thoughts.

In his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen R. Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” If we truly want to reflect the character of Christ, we need to be willing to actually listen to each other and put ourselves in the position of those with whom we may not agree. When we immediately assume a defensive stance in a dispute, we shut down the opportunity for constructive conversation.

The Bible is clear on how Christians are to confront and handle tough situations. If leaders in the church want to solve conflict in a Christ-like manner, they should refer to the guidelines in Matthew 18 in relation to its biblical principles. This passage is often used in an incorrect context; as a result, crucial conversations are handled improperly and ineffectively. Matthew tells us that we should first individually approach the person we need to call out. If that conversation is not productive, we gather a small group of believers to serve as witnesses and help the conflict reach a conclusion; lastly, one should resort to bringing up the situation with the church. When this process is followed without slander or disparaging speech, we set an example of “speaking the truth in love” that Ephesians 4 commands for us in order to become a more mature body of Christ.