Did you know it is not a sin to disagree with others? The sins often happen with how we behave when we disagree and what we do after the disagreement. One of the most famous disagreements in the Bible is between two missionaries, Paul and Barnabas. The topic seemed critically important to both men. It appears they may have never totally resolved the disagreement. Yet, they were somehow able to continue to put God’s Kingdom ahead of their disagreement and it appears were even supportive of one another after the rift.
Your kids probably already disagree with someone about something. They may even be questioning some of your ideas about a topic or two. We live in a world that is allowing relationships to be destroyed forever because people disagree on an issue. What can you teach your kids about Barnabas and Paul’s disagreement that will help them navigate their own disagreements in godly ways? We don’t have a lot of information in the Bible, but we can probably come to some fairly accurate conclusions.
- Get the facts straight…preferably from the actual person. Too often disagreements begin based on gossip or assuming we know what the other person meant or what their intentions were. Often our initial assumptions are wrong, but we have created unnecessary conflict because of them. Teach your kids to go to the source and gather all of the facts before assuming there is a disagreement.
- Speak directly to the person with whom you disagree first. Teach your kids to refrain from adding to any possible conflict by gossiping or using messengers. Train them to have a conversation with the actual person with whom they believe the disagreement exists.
- Listen before you speak. The Bible isn’t clear about the actual conversation between Barnabas and Paul. In general though, it’s best to listen carefully and ask lots of clarifying questions before you present your side. Doing so makes the other person less defensive and can make your argument unnecessary or stronger because you have all of the necessary information about the person’s view on the topic. Teach your kids how to be good listeners and to ask great clarifying questions before sharing their thoughts on a topic.
- Be humble. Once again, we aren’t sure how Barnabas or Paul reacted initially, but it helps any disagreement to enter it humbly. Chances are great each person in the disagreement may be right about some things and wrong about others. When we enter a disagreement assuming we are totally correct and the other person is totally wrong, we will fail to find any common ground or correct any mistakes we may be making. Teach your kids to remember they may have as much to learn on any given topic as they have to teach.
- Know when to agree to disagree. Yes, your kids may be passionate about the “proper” color for bedroom walls. If their friends want to paint their rooms a different color, then teach your kids to let it go. Teach them they can be friends with people who disagree with them on a variety of topics. Paul and Barnabas agreed to go on separate missionary journeys, taking different helpers. In reality, that probably allowed them to cover more territory, while training younger men to eventually take their place, than working together had. You may think the one exception would appear to be arguments about scriptural matters. It’s important to note though that although Jesus was passionate about teaching the truth, he never bullied anyone into accepting it. Your kids need to be willing and able to argue passionately about scriptural truths, while avoiding bullying those who disagree with those truths.
- Practice repentance and forgiveness. Often things are said and done during disagreements that are unfortunate or even sinful. Your kids need to be quick to apologize when they have erred and quick to forgive those who have made poor choices when disagreeing with them.
- Time outs are better than permanent rifts. Sometimes after a particularly heated disagreement, it feels very uncomfortable to be around one another. Or agreeing to disagree, like Paul and Barnabas, means your choices take you in literally different directions. People need time to calm down and let things go. Time and distance can help. The trick is to use the time and distance to actually work on getting to a place of reconciliation. Too many times the time and space is used to allow grudges to grow and resentment to form, creating a permanent rift. There is nothing godly about bitterness and hatred.
- Find ways to reconcile. Often working together to serve someone else helps reminds people of a common, larger purpose for their lives. At other times, doing something together that both enjoy can remind people of why they were close before the disagreement. Teach your kids to find ways to restore relationships that have been damaged by disagreements and to be the initiator of reconciliation.
Teaching your kids to disagree well can help them more accurately reflect God’s love to others. It can also help them avoid destroying important relationships when inevitable disagreements occur. It’s worth taking the time and effort to teach them how to do it well.