Getting Upstream of Conflict

by | Nov 16, 2014

drowning 2When people learn about RW360, they often ask, “What’s the difference between relational wisdom and peacemaking, and why, after devoting thirty years to biblical conflict resolution, have you shifted your focus to this new concept?”

One of the best ways to answer these questions is to tell a parable about drowning people …

There was small village located on a wide and dangerous river. One day a young man standing on the bank noticed someone floundering in the water. He jumped into the river and after much effort pulled the drowning man to safety.

The next day a woman saw another person struggling in the water, and she too risked her life to save him. When this cycle repeated itself several times in the following days, the elders realized they had a serious problem on their hands.

“Many people are in danger of drowning in our river,” they said. “Lives are at stake! We must do all we can to save these people.”

Working together, the villagers steadily improved their life-saving practices. They stationed canoes on the bank and assigned pairs of rescuers to work together in regular shifts. They lit bonfires on the shore at night, and eventually strung ropes across the river, which drowning people could grab as they floated by.

These techniques were not always successful, but through their diligence the villagers steadily improved their ability to save people who were struggling in the river.

One older woman watched these noble efforts with quiet reflection, and eventually asked a simple question.

“This is good work you are doing,” she said. “Many lives have been saved through your efforts and other villages are imitating your efforts.”

“But tell me,” she said, “would it not be wise to learn why so many people fall into the river and float by our village? Perhaps we could do something to keep them from getting into this trouble in the first place.”

Humbled by the wisdom in her question, the elders sent an expedition upstream that very day. A mile above their village they discovered an old bridge. A section of its termite-eaten planks had broken, leaving a large gap. Clearly, anyone who used that bridge risked falling into the river below.

Realizing this must be the primary reason people had been floating by their village, the expedition repaired the bridge with fresh ropes and new planks.

The number of people floating by the village dropped dramatically. Of course, there were still people who stumbled off the riverbank and found themselves floundering in the river. They were certainly thankful that the village still trained and posted rescue teams.

But by fixing the bridge, the elders greatly reduced the number of people who fell into the river in the first place … reducing the number who drowned before they got to the village, as well as the workload of the teams who still stood ready to help.

Having “stood beside the river” myself for many years, I thank God for Crossroads Resolution Group and other related organizations that are available to teach biblical peacemaking and help people who fall into conflict. These outstanding ministries meet a vital, ongoing need in the body of Christ.

I’m equally grateful that God has given Corlette and me the opportunity to complement their work by developing a new generation of resources and training to equip people with skills that will help them to build stronger relationships that actually prevent conflict–or to put it in terms of our parable–to safely bridge the conflicts of life without falling in.

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We’ve been especially pleased to see how naturally relational wisdom and biblical peacemaking can be integrated, just as swimming and life-saving go hand-in-hand. Seeing the complementary nature of these disciplines, a growing number of Christian conciliators are cross-training in relational wisdom so they can serve the church more effectively.

We look forward to drawing on the lessons we learn through this integration and to exploring more ways to weave these skills tightly together, so that more Christians become increasingly effective at both preventing and resolving conflict … and building relationships that reflect the love of Christ.

– Ken Sande

To learn more about the resources and training you can use in your church, ministry, or business to strengthen relational skills and reduce conflict, read about our online 101 Seminar, Advanced 201/202 Training, and the live teaching available through our Certified RW Instructors.

Reflection Questions

  • How does the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” apply to bankruptcy? Heart-attacks? Divorce? Conflict in general?
  • How does the gospel empower and guide both conflict prevention and conflict resolution? (see RW and the Gospel)
  • How can improved God-awareness, self-awareness, and other-awareness help to prevent conflict? To resolve conflict?
  • How can the ability to understand “idols of the heart” improve both relational and peacemaking abilities?
  • How can improved skills in biblical negotiation (the PAUSE Principle) help to prevent conflict? To resolve conflict?

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2014 Ken Sande

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