You’re not getting along with a co-worker.
Or a family member.
Or a classmate at school.
Or a neighbor with a barking dog.
At first, you try to smile and be nice and find a pathway to commonality, but your efforts fail … and your problems with the co-worker … family member … classmate … or neighbor just get worse.
What do people do when they try to get along with someone but can’t pull it off?
Too often … they triangle another person into their dispute.
They take their anxiety and look for a third party … and then dump their issues onto that person … hoping the third party will resolve matters for them.
*A wife is not getting along with her husband, so she seeks out a third party … her mother, a friend, her pastor, a counselor … whom she hopes will solve the conflict for her.
*A mother is tearing her hair out over the behavior of her teenage daughter … so mom waits her until her husband comes home from work and then hands the problem over to him.
*An employee is going berserk trying to work with his immediate supervisor who is constantly bullying him … so he goes to human resources to learn about his options.
*A small faction in a church is upset with their pastor … so they telephone the district minister to complain about him.
It feels natural to “triangle” a party you’re not getting along with … if you’re three years old and your older brother Johnny is trying to glue your Luke Skywalker action figure to your best outfit. (“Mom! Help me! Johnny’s doing it again!”)
But as you mature, you’re supposed to be able to handle most conflicts with others yourself.
If you consult with someone on how to handle a conflict, that isn’t necessarily triangling … as long as you’re just seeking advice on how to handle a relational problem person.
But it is triangling when you want the other person to take the problem away from you and solve it.
In Luke 12:13, a man came up to Jesus and said, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
This man and his brother were not in agreement about their inheritance, so this man asked Jesus to solve the problem for him.
He didn’t ask Jesus for advice or for options … he asked Jesus to tell his brother to split the family money with him.
Jesus refused to take the bait, replying, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” While everyone knew that Jesus was a wise man, He did not have jurisdiction in the field of family finance, so he declined the man’s demand.
In other words, Jesus chose not to form a triangle against the second brother by siding with the first.
Churches are breeding grounds for triangles, and the person who gets “triangled” the most is the pastor.
A woman in the church is upset with her pastor for not asking her to be a deaconess. She doesn’t want to talk to her pastor directly, so she complains to her friends about him … adding a lot of colorful details about other times that he’s angered her.
There are two basic ways her friends can reply.
First, her friends can tell her, “We’ll pray for you, but we cannot do anything about your problem with the pastor. You need to set up an appointment and go talk to him yourself. We’re staying out of it.”
In other words, this woman’s friends refuse to solve the problem for her by forming a triangle against the pastor. They put the responsibility for reconciliation back onto her shoulders.
Second, her friends can tell her, “You know, we’re upset with the pastor, too. In fact, do you know what he said to me a few weeks ago?” And then everyone can pool their gripes against the pastor.
Suddenly, the gripe poolers have formed an alliance … with the pastor as their enemy.
This is how church division starts. People carry the offenses of others as if those offenses are their own.
It often starts with one person who is upset with the pastor about a personal offense who never tells the pastor how they feel. Then they attempt to gain allies so that others carry their offenses for them.
Today’s lesson on church conflict is simple: STAY OUT OF TRIANGLES!
If somebody tries to consult with you about a problem they’re having with someone at church, it’s okay to share advice with them but don’t even hint to solve the problem for them.
The monkey needs to stay on their back because it’s their problem.
Don’t say, “I’ll try talking to him for you.”
Don’t say, “I’ll go to the board and get their advice.”
Don’t say, “Tell me more!”
However you say it … whatever you say … communicate loud and clear:
“THIS IS YOUR PROBLEM, AND YOU WILL HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT … NOT ME.”
I’ll write more about triangles next time.