Paul’s Primer for Resolving Organizational Conflicts
NPC Men’s Weekly Study
Presented by Ted Sanborn in Darien and NYC - October 2010
All Scripture Quotations from NIV unless otherwise noted
In this section of the letter to the Galatians Paul tells his audience about an important meeting held with the leaders in Jerusalem. The purpose of this meeting was to address fundamental differences of opinion that affected the international organization of the early churches.
Our objective in this study is to understand the importance of this meeting and evaluate how Paul’s approach might apply to situations that we encounter in our daily lives. With this goal in mind, we will address the following topics
• Problem Statement – Define Paul's organizational problem
• Summit - Approach – Study how Paul prepared for the meeting
• Summit - Conflict – Look at how Paul dealt with conflict
• Working Agreement? – Discuss the outcome of the summit meeting
• Wrap-up – Wrap-up discussion with final thoughts
One way to define the problem is “a long standing difference of opinion on strategy and key messages of the organization.” Given the content of Paul’s letter to the Galatians up to this point would you consider this a reasonable statement? The context for this conflict is as follows:
• One part of the organization says salvation is achieved by faith plus outward appearance plus works
• By contrast, Paul, who had been called by God specifically for this job, says “Au Contraire mon frere,” faith alone is sufficient.”
• One branch of the church says you have to have eaten bread with the Lord to lead the people (Acts 1:18-22)
• Paul says God has called him directly and he spent three years with God in the desert (Galatians 1:17-18)
Paul’s first attempt to resolve the conflict was to meet with Peter, as recorded in Galatians chapter 1, verse 17. But apparently whatever they agreed did not hold up endure. The failure of this effort set up a sequence of events that has become a standard framework in story-telling: The first attempt of the hero to resolve a conflict never works, which begins a series of tests of his or her perseverance.
You can see this sequence in fairy tales, novels, and business cases. For example, I have used this pattern in business case studies to describe the story of a customer who tried one technology solution, but discovers it did not fully meet his needs so he seeks out a better one and eventually acquires the right technology solution. Now that we have a definition of the problem let’s speculate for a moment on what would happen if Paul did nothing to address it:
1. Divide and Conquer:If Paul did not address this problem then the church organization could have become a victim of the ancient strategy of “divide and conquer.” This was the strategy that the Romans had used to conquer the powerful nation of Macedonia in 178 BC. The Romans defeated the Macedonians after a three-year war, and then divided it into four regions which were kept separate in terms of commerce or any other interaction so that the Macedonians could not rise against them. The Allies in World War II used a similar approach with Germany, dividing it into four sectors – one of which became East Germany, a sector that was not reunited until 50 years later. The enemies of the church (particularly the chief enemy) would have liked to have done the same to this growing organization.
2. Termination: Paul could have been terminated and replaced with those sympathetic to the other camp. Acts 9:23-25 records Paul’s narrow getaway from capture and death by those who opposed him. He escaped from a building Mission Impossible style (via a lowered basket) so as not to be noticed. Given these clandestine efforts it was clear that danger was at hand as long as the problem was unsolved.
3. Faithless Heathens: We could have all remained heathens. If Paul’s mission failed there might not have been any successful evangelism into the far reaches of Europe, Asia and Africa and our ancestors would not have any faith to pass down to us.
Certainly God would have made sure that the church succeeded one way or another, but he had given Paul a mission and wanted to see him carry it out. What where Paul’s options if he decided to fulfill the mission given to him?
A. Ignore – He could have tried to ignore the conflict and hoped that it would go away (like a bad cold or a sore muscle)
B. Delegate – If he wanted to be pro-active, he could have chosen to send someone to Jerusalem to address the conflict. Barnabas would have been an excellent candidate. He was a Jew and could relate to the leaders there and seek to smooth over any problems
C. Antagonize – Another pro-active approach would be to antagonize the other side. Paul could have gathered up some big rocks and slingshots, David and Goliath style, and then knock some sense into those narrow-minded folks – it would not have been his first foray into stoning of Christians, but did have a serious downside, as violence would likely beget more violence
D. Reconcile – Another pro-active approach would be for Paul to directly seek a way to agree on common ground through some type of reconciliation process, but that would require a commitment of time and effort
Does this scenario seem all too familiar for you? Can you think about a similar situation that you have encountered in the past in your business or other type of organization? Maybe you are in the middle of some type of organizational conflict right now.
If you have a situation in mind, think about how that problem emerged and who were (or are) the key players. Think about the options you considered and how you addressed it or how you would like to address it. Keep those thoughts in the back of your mind for the moment. Meanwhile, let’s look at the first few versus to see if we can determine which solution Paul chose.
SUMMIT MEETING - THE APPROACH
Paul gives a time reference and describes his approach in the first two verses:
"Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain (Galatians 2:1-2)."
Which path did Paul chose? He chose “D,” the path of reconciliation – an approach consistent with the teachings of Gospel. For example, in Matthew 18 Jesus explains a three-step path to reconcile individual differences:
Step 1 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over (Matthew 18:15).” Paul reports in the previous chapter, that he had done this with Peter, and had seemed to have won him over, but it did not last indefinitely
Step 2 “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:16).’ ” In this verse Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 19:15, demonstrating how he came to fulfill the law. Paul adheres to this instruction by bringing both Barnabas and Titus to the Summit Meeting.
The path of forgiveness and reconciliation has been key to many agreements resolving long-term conflicts in the international arena, such as the St Andrews Agreement signed between Ireland and England in October 2006, ending decades of violence. Another example is the Egypt and Israeli peace treaty signed between these ancient foes in 1979, a treaty that aggravated the other Arab nations, but is still honored 35 years hence. In both cases, the two sides had to put aside the desire for vengeance and forgive each other for generations of violence. I can imagine that this approach has also allowed resolution to some of the conflicts you have experienced in business and other places.
Here’s something to grapple with intellectually: Why did Paul choose a path of reconciliation for this conflict but adopted a tone of rebuke when addressing the waffling Galatians? Maybe he was a savvy political operative who knew what works with different groups, just like a coach knows how to motivate individual players. Or maybe he was heeding his own advice on submission to authorities as written in Romans 13: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God (Romans 13:1). Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you (Romans 13:3).”
Paul’s approach reasonable so far. Let’s pause for a moment to discern some of the executive takeaways that we can apply to our own lives:
Takeaway 1. Patience is a virtue
• Verse 1 begins “14 years later…” therefore Paul must have exercised significant patience by waiting over ten years after initial meeting with Peter to allow time for the relationship to work. He advocates patience as a fruit of the spirit, as described later in this letter (Galatians 5:22).
• For our own lives, we may want to consider whether there are situations in which we should allow events to play out, even if we think the group is headed in the wrong direction (as long as there is no critical danger). Have you ever heard the advice, “sometimes we have to give other people time to find out they are wrong?” Someone gave me this advice early in my career and I have found it to be applicable to many situations. Some people can’t be convinced on words alone but have to experience their own failure.
• The other consideration is that we have to trust in God’s timing to work it out – Paul may have wondered when God was going to step in and fix things, but he accepted that God’s plans are not the same as man’s plans.
Takeaway 2: Obey the Boss
• Paul noted in verse 2 that he “went in response to a revelation.” One translation presents this statement as “I went there because God revealed to me that I should go (New Testament in Today’s English).”
• If the Boss tells you to solve a problem, you might want to take a hands-on approach and not delegate. This assertion is applicable in our organizational lives and our spiritual lives.
Takeaway 3: Bring witnesses
• As noted earlier, this tactic was recommended by Jesus in Matthew 18. Paul brought a diverse team comprising a Jew (Barnabas) and a Gentile (Titus). This duo helped him testify, represented the diverse world that the church can serve, and served as witnesses to the discussion.
• For us, we will be wise to carefully select key members of our team or entourage or family to important meetings for the same reasons. God sent us helpers so that we don’t have to do everything alone.
Takeaway 4: Discretion is the greater part of valor
• In verse 2, Paul also says he met privately with the leaders, which is consistent with Jesus three-step formula in Matthew 18.
• The same rule should work well in our life. What works better when we want to resolve a difference of opinion with our superiors, clients, peers, friends, or family? A public lambasting or a private civil discourse (maybe over a meal)?
• What would happen if Paul was not discrete? The plan may have backfired and his “running” may have been in vain.
It sounds like Paul is on the right path, so what do you think was the outcome of his trip up to Jerusalem? Let’s read the next set of verses:
SUMMIT MEETING - CONFLICT RESOLUTION
"Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you (Galatians 2:3-5)."
Oh, the brood of vipers! Has this ever happened to you? You go to a meeting in good faith, and while your guard is down, the other participants isolate you from members of your team and attempt to stab your or them in the back (or disfigure them in the front in this case).
It happened to Paul at the Summit.
It happened to Caesar when Cassius and Brutus called him to the Senate under false pretenses, where, in the Shakespeare version he was assassinated by Cassius and Brutus, evoking the now famous phase, “et tu Brute (Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1),” for he was surprised that his loyal friend, whom he had recently called "an honorable man," was among the traitors.
It happens to people every day – unfortunately it’s in our nature. And maybe, sometimes, we are the vipers. Maybe we got sucked into the brood because of our naivety or because we were confused. Maybe we even lead them at one point. In either case, we can be forgiven, if we confess.
Imagine the scene in Jerusalem that day. Perhaps some of the meeting participants took Titus aside whispering, “Hey, we’d like to cut you a deal…you want to see Paul succeed right? Be like us. Just walk this way…” We don’t know if this attempted encroachment happened behind Paul’s back or in front of him, but it sounds like Titus held his own and resisted. Do you think Paul would have been tempted to give in if he was present? How many times have you been in a situation where it appears that you can “win” what you want if you sacrifice one of your principles?
We don’t need to Google for long to find stories of other people who have crossed some type of line. There is an ample supply of these types of stories on the front pages and websites of the national media. For instance, on October 13th, 2010 the New York Times reported that Steven Rattner, formerly from Obama’s administration, accepted a temporary ban on from securities industry because he alleged bribed a political advisor to secure investment business from a state pension fund. If these accusations are true, then Rattner crossed this line of ethics and law in order to grow his investment business .
What’s your view of baseball players on steroids? Is this an acceptable line to cross in order to help a team win or pump up personal statistics? Public opinion seems to be running against this action, consequently, once a player crosses the line it’s hard to erase it from people’s memories. Reflect for a moment on the confession of Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte from Dec 2007:
"I felt an obligation to get back to my team as soon as possible. For this reason, and only this reason, for two days I tried human growth hormone …If I have let down people that care about me, I am sorry, but I hope that you will listen to me carefully and understand that two days of perhaps bad judgment should not ruin a lifetime of hard work and dedication. I have tried to do things the right way my entire life, and, again, ask that you put those two days in the proper context ( ESPN article on Petitte confession)."
Petitte has confessed and, as a fan of his team and the game of baseball, I forgive him. In fact, he is a good role model for how to correct ourselves when we have crossed the line: Admit your mistake, take responsibility, and seek to move on. However, he would have been better off not crossing that line at all.
On the other hand, there are many examples of people and organizations that resisted crossing the line. Two local banks in Connecticut are ones that come to my mind: Peoples Bank and Webster Bank both stuck to their principles during the carefree “no doc” days of mortgages and thereby minimized their exposure to the credit crisis of 2008-09.
Paul was steadfast in the same way. He was wiser than the vipers and knew that submission to authorities does not mean you have to sacrifice your principles - otherwise the game is over. He also knew from Jesus to be “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16).” You might ask then why he allowed Timothy to be circumcised, as described in a similar situation in Acts. We will have to cover that some other time, but his decision probably stemmed in part from the knowledge that Timothy was half-Jewish and Paul used his intellect to determine that this was a case where it made sense to acquiesce.
Two executive takeaways for these verses are offered below:
Takeaway 5: Don’t stoop to conquer – In other words don’t give in on your principles just to get a victory. This advice was given to me by a good friend when I started my own consulting business.
Takeaway 6: Find workable compromises – Instead of giving in every time someone asks for a concession look for compromises that serve all parties – we will see that Paul does this at a later point
What was the consequence of Paul’s refusal to give in? Did that bring the meeting to a screeching halt or did they carry on? Let’s continue with the following set of verses.
The remaining set of verses described the agreement that was reached between the parties:
"As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do (Galatians 2:6-10)."
Does this sound like Paul achieved his goals? Yeah – Go Paul!
The leaders recognized that his gospel was the same as theirs and agreed to let him manage the Gentile region of the church international. What do you think Paul said that helped them reach that conclusion? We don’t know for sure, but if we open up the other letters from Paul we might get a hint by reading some of his sermons and declarations. For example, we get a sense of his views when he talks about Grace in Romans 10:9-13, or when he gives a firsthand account of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians, chapter 11.
Wait a minute! Paul was not there, was he? He was still on the other team at that point – a student in the law, but not a believer in Christ. In fact, he was on the career path to become a persecutor of Christians. Note that Paul says he did not learn anything from the other leaders, so how could he give such an account? Paul reports that Jesus revealed this to him directly, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread... (1 Corinthians 11:23).” Paul gives the complete account of this First Supper.
We also read about the one concession that Paul agreed to - care for the poor because they were in the midst of a famine. This was a request that was easy for Paul to agree to as it was already in his heart. What can we learn from this last part of the story?
Takeaway 7: Meet the key people
• Paul makes several mentions about leaders, but then explicitly notes that he met with Peter, James, and John. These three were members of the original discipleship team and were in Jesus inner circle. On a number of occasions these three were called by Jesus to witness with him and the others were left behind. Paul made sure that they were in accord with his activities.
• The lesson for us is to be sure to get in front of the real decision-makers and influencers (this was also a piece of advice from my friend upon the launch of my business)
Takeway 8: Tell the truth
• If we follow our path of principles the audience will see the truth in us
• Paul told the leaders in Jerusalem the same Gospel that he told during his ministry and they understood that he had the same message
Takeaway 9: Plant seeds of trust and reap the reward
• Verse nine reports that the leaders agreed with Paul by handshake - when we follow the principles modeled by Paul we build trust with our counterparts and can make agreements without getting bogged down in legalities
• Additionally, when two parties build trust they can ask each other to do favors and have confidence that the other party will oblige
What were the secrets of Paul’s success?
1. He followed God’s command by going to Jerusalem and meeting with the leaders
2. He showed respect for others by coming to them and presenting his story honestly
3. Held firm to principles, knowing that submitting to authorities does not mean giving up all principles
What was God’s role in the outcome? Did he soften the hearts of the leaders so they would accept Paul? Maybe – and he could have done this without any human intervention and certainly was going to make sure the church survived.
God always wins in the end, as we see in the Exodus, the Exile, the return from Exile, and the Resurrection, but I believe he wanted to see Paul and others do the leg work. God gives us commands and grants us free will to choose to follow them or not so that we can be witnesses to others.
Did this handshake last? When we read ahead we find that it did not. If we turn to Acts 15, we can read about a follow-up meeting in which Paul exercises the third step from Jesus’ advice Matthew 18: Take the issue to the whole church. What is our final takeaway?
Takeway 10: Do our best - when we get an assignment, we ought to put our best skills to work and trust God to fill in gaps
Let’s review all the takeaways:
1. Patience is a virtue
2. Do what the Boss tells you
3. Bring witnesses
4. Discretion is greater part of valor
5. Don’t stoop to conquer
6. Find compromises everyone can live with
7. Meet all key people
8. Tell the Truth
9. Build trust
10. Put best skills to work – leave rest to God
Father in heaven, we are in awe regarding the way you interceded in the life of Paul and in our own lives. We confess that at times we may have tried to thwart your plans or ignore your commands but give thanks for the forgiveness that you offer freely – without the requirement of outward appearances or any actions. Please help us to further reflect on Paul’s letter and determine how to apply to our lives. Amen
Questions for Reflection
1. Think about or share the details of a conflict or significant difference of opinions within your business or volunteer organization
2. What is your next step (or what steps did you take) and how could you (did you) achieve your goal in a way that is consistent with Paul’s approach?
3. In what way would you like to pray for those who may have opposed you?
Resources and references
For an interesting article that defines positive organizational conflicts, I recommend Getting Tensions Right by Ken Favaro and Saj-nicole Joni. For additional analysis on Paul's letter to the Galatians, I recommend Barclay, William, Letters to Galatians and Ephesians
Resources used for this study included • NIV Study Bible • The Message • NIV in Spanish • New Testament in Today’s English (Blue Denim Bible) • King James Version • Barclay, William, Letters to Galatians and Ephesians • Wikipedia • The New York Times