Stewarding Conflict

By Dr. Scott Rodin    

Three Ways Stewards Respond to Confrontation

These days it’s difficult, if not impossible, to say anything about what we believe without ending up in the occasional confrontation. From the family dinner table to the casual business conversation, from Bible studies to online chats, conflict and confrontation rise up all around us. Sometimes they surprise us, other times we brace ourselves for them. Either way I believe it’s critical for us as faithful stewards to step back and think about how we respond when we find ourselves in these difficult interactions. Consider these questions. 

  • Do we view episodes of conflict as owners of the truth or stewards of relationships? 
  • Do we view difficult conversations as opportunities to set people straight and prove our superior understanding or are they gifts God gives us to bless and encourage others by the way we respond? 
  • Do we seek to control conflict for our own victories, or do we steward them for a greater kingdom purpose? 
  • And when they are over, who gets the glory?

Let’s dissect what happens when we encounter confrontation and hostility and look at the difference between an owner response and a steward response. I know that when I give in to an ownership attitude, I will respond to times of conflict and confrontation through a process I will label as the three D’s.

The first D is for Defensive. There is an immediate emotional response to confrontation. For the owner, that response triggers all of our defense mechanisms. As owners of truth, we must defend it vehemently, which puts us in opposition to the one who is confronting us. That triggers deep emotions within us. These emotions take many forms such as offense, anger, indignation and the like. 

Building on my defensiveness, I move to the second D which is Disdain. Because I am right, I begin to judge the other person or people based on the superior attitude I have toward my own viewpoint. I am put off that anyone could possibly think their way. Because I am certain I’m right and they’re wrong the attitude at this second level of an owner is one of arrogance, self-righteousness, and judgmentalism. As much as I love the Academy, I get so discouraged when I witness this in the form of academic elitism where people believe that because of their academic preparation and in-depth study of an issue, their viewpoint is the only possible correct one. When we believe we have a deeper understanding or have discovered some obscure or secret knowledge, we flaunt that toward others and hold them in contempt in the process. 

At this point owners of the truth can either respond through heightened confrontation or, more often, choose this third step which is to Disengage. Believing we are in the right, we can cut off dialogue by self-justifying such attitudes as, “I’m not going to even give you the satisfaction of discussing this.” We opt for protectionism, close doors and build our own echo chambers, all strategies of the owner who chooses to retreat into their own self-affirmed righteousness. 

This is a good moment to pause and consider how you responded to the last confrontational discussion in which you found yourself. Did your emotions take over and you became defensive? Did you begin to look down on the person confronting you due to your own certainty of your version of the truth? Did you disengage, unwilling to take the conversation further through an act of self-protection? If so, this is a good moment to check your spirit, because these are attitudes of the owner and not the faithful steward.

So how should we respond? For that I will move from the three D’s to the alternative of the three E’s of the response of the faithful steward. 

In each confrontational situation stewards step back and allow the Holy Spirit to remind them that all of our relations need to be handled from an Eternal perspective. By an eternal perspective, I mean having the self-understanding to realize that the outcome of this confrontation is not about me. It means asking the question, “why might God have put me in this moment?” And following it with the prayer, “How do I steward this moment for a kingdom outcome?” By keeping an eternal perspective and seeking a kingdom outcome, we avoid the emotional response that can so easily overwhelm us in these confrontational moments. 

From here we are able to avoid the temptation to jump to a judgment of the one confronting us and instead regard their position with Empathy. Being empathetic allows us to move from the need to prove ourselves right to asking what God might be wanting to teach us in this moment. That is no small movement! Stewards operate from a base of humility that has them always seeking to grow closer to Christ and viewing every interaction as an opportunity to do so. Even in the midst of the fiercest confrontation, when we are able to ask what God might be wanting to teach us and keep an empathetic spirit toward the one who is confronting us, we change the equation dramatically. 

Finally, this can only lead us to the decision to stay Engaged. Engagement means we understand that God has us in this situation for a reason and it keeps our spirit open to seeking how he might want to use us. It might be speaking a word of truth to someone who needs to hear it. It might be acknowledging the pain they feel that has led them to be so confrontive on a particular issue. It may be an opportunity to pray for them and with them. The point is by staying engaged in a process that starts from an eternal perspective and includes a spirit of empathy, we can now be used by God in a way that might help the other person on their journey to greater truth, freedom and joy. 

Imagine if every confrontational situation ended in a way that allowed you to see God’s hand at work in you and through you, both calling you more closely to him and using you to help the other person draw more closely to Christ?  Stewards face confrontation with the prayer, “Lord, you’ve placed me in this situation for a reason, how might you want to use me in this moment? How might I speak truth with grace? How might my response be used by you to help the other person on their journey?”

As stewards we must believe that God can use every tense and confrontational encounter as an opportunity for redemption, reconciliation and healing. Put another way, we were not put on this earth to show people that we are right, that we have better understanding than they do, are more educated than they are, smarter and more learned than they are. We were put here to point people to Jesus. To be salt and light in a dark world. To bear his image that all might come to him. How we respond the next time we’re in a moment of conflict will bear witness to our commitment to be just such faithful stewards, and true followers of the one who came full of grace and truth.

Dr. Scott Rodin    

Dr. Rodin is the Founder and Content Expert of the Center for Steward Leader Studies. He also serves as President of Kingdom Life Publishing and Rodin Consulting Inc.

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