Dealing with Conflict as an Artist

3d-chess-board-wallpaperI’m in the middle of an argument with a friend of mine. It has to do with the role of the arts in evangelism, so it is a pretty impassioned disagreement. But I’m not experiencing any great anxiety or conflict over it. Because I know that he’s a very close friend—like a blood brother really—and our disagreement is ultimately not related to our relationship with one another.

If you’re an artist, you’ve undoubtedly experienced conflict with others. As we all know, Christian community isn’t all smiles and hugs. Christian community is hard and messy and filled with imperfect, baggage-laden people—just like you and me. I think this is why so many Christian artists cloister themselves from others—it’s sometimes easier to simply play alone. But that is not a part of the calling of the artist of faith. We are called to be in community with one another.

I’ve often blogged on the importance of grace-filled community for the artist of faith—in bands, dance troupes, artist collectives, worship teams, writer’s groups, theater companies, etc. It is in the context of community that artists can find encouragement, affirmation, constructive criticism, and unconditional acceptance. Every artist of faith needs other artists around us—to challenge us, to collaborate with, to learn from, and to encourage us toward Christlikeness.

If you’re in a community of artists of faith, that’s awesome. And if you’re not, I encourage you to find or create one. I’ve previously blogged a set of Rules of Engagement for Creative Arts Groups, and if you are in a group, I highly recommend discussing this with your peers.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Biblical community is not the absence of conflict or disagreement. It is knowing that such conflicts and disagreements can be resolved in a grace-filled, loving manner. And maturity in Christ includes learning how to resolve conflict in a God-honoring manner. We’re all human, and we will have times of disagreement and misunderstanding with others. And conflict can be an opportunity for growth and bonding, as long as we have the goal of being “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Phil 2:2).

When I encounter conflict within one of my arts teams, I always try to use Jesus’ procedure for resolving conflict as stated in Matthew 18:15-17.

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

This is non-negotiable for those on the my arts teams—we must be courageous in dealing with conflict and disagreement, in order that we minister with unity. Let me pull out a few principles from this passage:

• Don’t escalate the conflict beyond the people involved. Conflict usually begins between two people, and to the degree that you can keep it in that circle, do so. Often, a person will discuss their issues with a handful of other people before approaching the actual person involved. While it might be appropriate to get advice, needless discussion is akin to gossip.

• Don’t assume that the other guy is the one who “sins” (i.e., “wrongs” AMP, “trespass” KJV). Approach the other person humbly and honestly discuss if there is sin involved, and if so, where does it originate? Every human being has a great capacity for self-deception, and we should always have a humble awareness of this in ourselves. Authentic humility in ourselves is an invitation to others to also seek humility.

• The point is not to win an argument or seek vindication. The point is to seek truth and reconciliation. And this goes against our natural tendencies to want to be right. Don’t game play. Don’t keep score. Don’t seek to win.

• Separate the issue from the relationship when possible. In the conflict I mention at the beginning of this blog with my friend, it’s not an issue of sin but more an issue of philosophy. We can move into our disagreement, knowing that our relationship is built on unconditional love for one another, and that doesn’t change. And at the end of it all, we may agree to disagree, but the relationship is secure.

• When the issue is relationship-driven, be honest but not accusatory. Use language that explains your feelings, not issues blame. Seek to understand the other person’s position. Bathe your conversation with grace. Be biblical, but don’t use the Bible as a weapon against the other person.

• If you need to “take one or two others along,” make sure that the third party has the authority to be there. Authority in this case doesn’t necessarily mean positional authority (e.g., a pastor or elder). It can mean someone who has spiritual and relational credibility with both parties, as well as someone with the gifts of discernment and wisdom.

• Sometimes, things don’t get resolved and there is no happy ending. That’s a reality that comes with living in a world that is broken, or as C.S. Lewis refers to it, “bent.” You cannot be responsible for another person’s actions or feelings. But you can and should do everything in your power to make sure you have honored God.

• In every thing, make your primary motivation agape love.

God calls us to be a grace-filled community. We endeavor to be a community that shows love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control toward one another. The opposite of this, of course, would include having a critical spirit, sharing gossip, harboring bitterness, being impatient, being quick to anger, being self-serving. Ultimately, what we do and what we create comes from who we are. If our art is to be a reflection of our lives, then artists of faith must pay attention to who we are becoming.  And showing grace to one another should come as a result of someone who’s heart is continually growing in grace.

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2 thoughts on “Dealing with Conflict as an Artist

  1. I’ve long felt that unconditional love is the necessary basis for creativity. So many secular artists turn to drugs and alcohol because they have to overcome the fear of rejection that creativity brings. The Christian in lifelong relationships can try, fail, receive criticism, and continue to grow unabated. That’s been the case for me and the artists who have really blessed me as I grow. And a great wife! It has set me free to try anything new, and even to be caught out wrong and corrected, and still have joy.

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