Multiple issues challenge churches, marriage, and interpersonal relationships that experience conflict. Two are nearly always a part of unresolved conflict. Both involve the tongue. Everyone recognizes the first—gossip. For example, in a suicide, a woman wrote, “They said . . .” and never completed her statement before she took her life. The gossip was so horrendous that she could not bear to repeat it in the suicide note. The damage done caused her to take her own life.
However, in many cases a second poison is just as deadly—silence. I would like to invite churches and believers to Break the Sound Barrier in order to break the stranglehold of conflict that, like a python, squeezes the very life out of churches, marriages, and friendships. As we learn to break the sound barrier we will experience new freedom and joy. This enables us to experience in greater measure the abundant life that the Lord intended!
The photograph was taken by the U.S. Navy. It is the picture of a plane breaking the sound barrier. Notice the plane seems to be breaking through a fog. This phenomenon occurs when a plane breaks the sound barrier. I would like to challenge you and your church to break the sound barrier in conflict communication. When believers open up and speak the truth in love they, too, will move through the fog of restrained silence into freedom!
Communication in church life is just as vital as communication in a marriage. Church vitality and health are closely tied to good communication. I have often found that one of the main problems in conflicted churches is the problem of silence. What do I mean by this statement? Simply stated, believers who should speak out in a conflicted situation often hold their tongues. In so doing, they add to the damage inflicted on a church body and set themselves and the church up for a time of serious conflict. They allow bullies and troublemakers to roam freely in the church body. The resulting chaos is devastating!
Here is a statement from one member of a conflicted church that speaks volumes about silence! “I’m so thankful for Fresh Start (part of Fresh Start’s ministry is intervention in conflicted churches). Everyone in the church knew we had problems, but nobody talked about them! Once we voted to do Fresh Start it was like the dam burst. Now we are able to openly talk about those things that have been suffocating us for the past twenty years!” (emphasis added). In this case an invitation to the Fresh Start team ignited the conversations. What will it take to ignite constructive conversation and conflict resolution in your church or your interpersonal relationships?
Why is it that we fail to communicate, especially amid conflict? We could describe some conflicted churches as an Alaskan river in January . . . frozen at the mouth. What are the primary causes of spiritual lockjaw? I believe two major contributors are passive and evasive responses to conflict. These conflict response styles are often as destructive as gossip! As we survey conflicted churches we consistently find about 90% of people that attend our churches are passive or evasive when it comes to handling conflict! These sinful response styles prevent people from proactively dealing with conflict issues they face.
The Problem of Passivity
Passive people are simply afraid to deal with real issues. Conflict causes them great pain and great anxiety. Rather than face the reality of what they perceive to be greater pain in facing conflict they justify their actions by using skewed “logic.” They will say to themselves, “I will just let this issue pass. After all, we’re supposed to love one another. So, I’ll just let this infraction pass and love my brother or sister the way Jesus asked me to love him or her.” Passive people often become the punching bags for church bullies. In reality, they are not acting in love at all. Rather they act out of self-preservation.
The Problem of Evasiveness
Evasive individuals will see trouble coming and do everything in their power to avoid it. I have used this defense mechanism myself. For example, when I was serving in my first church I always tried to avoid one individual on Sunday mornings. Why? Because this man could deflate my spiritual balloon faster than anyone I have ever met. And I was not the only one who avoided him! I did not avoid him the rest of the week, but I did my best to not see him before our church service because I knew he could destroy my frame of mind. Ultimately, I went to his home to deal with this issue as it impacted the entire church! This issue persisted for years but, no one dealt with it. When I met with him, I presented him with three options: Go to another church where he could be “happy,” change his attitude, or continue to be miserable and hake everyone else miserable. Unfortunately, he chose the third option! Today, I would handle the problem differently. I would only give him he first two options; change or leave. I would do so for the sake of the Gospel!
Another inappropriate response of avoidance is to “write off” those who cause distress. People will simply avoid any contact with the offending party by giving them the “cold shoulder” treatment. This is hardly the life Christ envisioned for His bride!
The Consequences of Passivity and Evasiveness
THE TIME BOMB
What are some of the consequence of passive and evasive behavior? Two immediately come to mind. First, there is the time bomb. Individuals allow issues to remain unresolved. Resentment builds and eventually there is an explosion. Angry words, even fisticuffs, can destroy the serenity of a church fellowship. Churches are devastated when people exhibit this behavior..
Unfortunately, frustrations from this passive behavior are acted out frequently in the public square. Names like Columbine and Sandy Hook put on display the fruit of hidden frustration that eventually boils over into murderous actions. Why? Because people do not know how to deal with conflict issues proactively. Resentments simmer until they finally explode into unthinkable deeds!
THE SILENT RETREAT
Second, the results will be like the results found in churches where people never speak out and share their thoughts and emotions. They bury their feelings for years. Everyone perceives them to be wonderful, loving, supporting members of the fellowship. Suddenly, they disappear never to darken the doors again. They finally reach their capacity to endure pain and show their true feelings by making the silent retreat.
This is equally true in marriage where one of the marriage partners is the focus of abuse or perceived abuse and never speaks out. For years they calmly bury their feelings and frustrations. Then, without warning or discussion, the abused partner walks away never to return! The Silent Retreat. No amount of wooing or apology seems to move them to return.
I see this consequence acted out repeatedly in marriage and in the church! Individuals just disappear never to return to your church. Marriages end in silent frustration on the part of both individuals. Failure to break the sound barrier produces damaged and broken relationships that may never be repaired.
Reconciliation is possible, but certainly difficult. Unfortunately, many of these relationships never experience reconciliation.
God’s Solution for Passivity and Evasiveness
Interestingly, the solution to the problem lies within reach each of us. God holds each of us accountable to maintain good relationships in the body. His desire is that each of us “. . . speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph 4:15-16, NIV). In other words, we must speak truth in love in order that we may grow up in Christ! We do not avoid the uncomfortable. At the same time we demonstrate a contagious love for those around us.
I’m reminded of the story of a very contentious lady who moved into the neighborhood. She spoke with a thick accent and was rude and abrasive with everyone she met. Her next-door neighbor was so intimidated by this brash woman that she no longer worked in her yard. She became so anxious about this cantankerous woman that she would peek out the window before getting into her car. If the coast was clear, she would sprint to her car with heart pounding and palms sweating, fumble to put the key in the ignition, fire up the engine, and then roar out of the driveway. She was petrified, and avoiding. Finally, she prayed and said, “Lord, this is ridiculous. I’m a self-made prisoner in my own house. Please give me the courage to face my fears and to face my neighbor.” At that point, she decided to bake a pie and take it over to this lady. She baked and prayed. Before the pie and her resolve had completely cooled, she strode out the front door, down the sidewalk and knocked on the door. She secretly hoped no one would answer. To her dismay, the door opened and she sputtered out the words, “Hi! I’ve baked this pie especially for you.” She was shocked when the woman invited her into her home. As they visited and ate pie together, this abrasive woman poured out her heart. It turned out that she was lonely, felt totally like an outsider, and had not one friend (no surprise here!). That day a special friendship was born because a believer finally decided to Break the Sound Barrier!
What will you need to do to break the sound barrier in your own life, in your church or in your marriage? You are probably one of the 90% of those who are passive or evasive. Perhaps you need to
- Recognize your false “love”
- Pray and ask God for courage to face a bully or an uncomfortable situation.
- If someone has sinned against you, follow the admonitions of Matthew 18:15-18. If you feel that you have sinned against another and your action has brought a strain into your relationship, then follow the directive of Matthew 5:23-24 and go and privately confess your transgression.
- Take the first step of faith towards resolving a lingering problem between you and another (often I have found that others are oblivious to what is obvious to you)!
Break the Sound Barrier! Remember, reconciliation always begins with YOU!
© 2018, Gordon E. Penfold, Fresh Start Ministries
 Breaking the Sound Barrier , www.kettering.edu/~drussell/Demos/doppler/mach1.html. Accessed March 11, 2008
 https://pixabay.com/en/cherry-pie-fresh-baked-fruit-1241372/ , accessed May 24, 2018.