Resolving Business Disputes in a Biblical Manner

Pursuing Reconciliation Over Retribution

We live in a fallen world where flesh and sin—and sometimes circumstances—inevitably produce offense and conflict. When we’ve been wronged, do we ask, “How can I represent the gospel in this conflict?” Paul and Silas were wrongfully thrown into prison, and they sang songs and praised God. Would you? Even when given the opportunity to escape through an open door, they chose to stay. Why? Their choice produced a powerful juncture for the jailer and his family to come to Christ (Acts 16:23-34).

Consider the external relationships your business creates: suppliers, distributors, regulatory agencies, or customers. These relationships inevitably produce disputes, warranty claims, litigation, contract breaches, vendor fulfillment issues, competitor conflict, employee tension, industry regulatory inspection issues, and complaints. How we navigate conflict presents a powerful platform for demonstrating the gospel.

The world’s default mechanism for resolution is all too often litigation. Alternative dispute-resolution processes, however, can repair and preserve valued business relationships, while magnifying Christ in the marketplace. The Bible guides our relation to one another during conflict—not so we can avoid lawsuits but so we can live out our faith. When we commit to resolving disputes in a biblical manner, company policy and protocol becomes an opportunity to disciple others and to demonstrate the gospel. 

When we seize such opportunities to use a biblical methodology in the marketplace, we invite others to experience freedom in Christ.

“And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
James 3:18

When someone wrongs us, we tend to react by fight or flight. In business, this would manifest as pursuing extreme legal action or avoiding confrontation and corrective action altogether. The costs of litigation add up in time, money, and emotional hardship. Litigation requires gathering information, meetings, communications, preparations, depositions, and trials, resulting in lost productivity and additional stress for the leaders and personnel involved—not to mention the cost of losing a valuable relationship when emotions escalate and perspectives diverge. According to a survey of major companies, litigation costs continue to rise and are consuming an increasing percentage of corporate revenue. On average, a liability lawsuit for small businesses costs $54K and $91K for a contract dispute. 

Litigation is often driven by a belief that people must right all wrongs against them, as evidenced by the volume of lawsuits clogging our court system. When issues arise, how do we exit the crazy cycle of this world? As Christians, we are called to resolve grievances differently (1 Cor. 6:1-11). Biblical conflict resolution, commonly known as biblical peacemaking or Christian conciliation, includes a lawsuit-preventive mechanism uniquely suited to the values of organizations led by followers of Jesus. 

One of the simplest mechanisms Christian business owners can use to avoid costly lawsuits is the inclusion of a conciliation clause in contracts. When presented as an alternative to arbitration or mandatory mediation, conciliation clauses expand opportunities to resolve conflicts in a biblical manner. Conciliation clauses are legally enforceable and can be worded so that any disputes related to the contract be resolved through biblically-based mediation or arbitration instead of through litigation. 

Sample Conciliation Language

“Any claim or dispute arising from or related to this agreement shall be settled by mediation and, if necessary, legally binding arbitration in accordance with the Rules of Procedure for Christian Conciliation of the Institute for Christian Conciliation.”

Path of a Peacemaker

Some hold others accountable through arrogance, pride, and manipulation. Others hinder accountability by being evasive, vague, and passive. Christian accountability, however, is not an oxymoron. So, how do we enter into these conversations to hold others accountable while still honoring them? In Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus instructs His followers in God-honoring conflict resolution that is direct, private, clear, and palatable. 

Forging the path as a peacemaker is not easy, but it is possible. After a significant breach of contract by a client, Bill Blezard, C12 Member and President/CEO of Packaging Technology Group, Inc., had the right to millions of dollars. Watch the video below to see how he chose to respond and the ensuing outcome.

The Micah Test

Because employees throughout an organization are often the ones to communicate with third parties, it is essential for Christian leaders to also equip their teams to respond and resolve conflicts in ways that represent the company’s core principles. Micah 6:8 offers a simple formula to deal with differences.

Justice + Mercy + Humility = Honoring Accountability 

  • Justice
    • What is right? 
    • What is right for the company?
    • What is right for the other party? (This is a long-term “right,” not short-term. What is right may even be a consequence.)
  • Mercy
    • What is within my authority to forgive?
    • How might I demonstrate the gospel to them?
  • Humility
    • What is a modest view of myself?
    • Have I gone through a similar situation in my life?
    • How was I treated?

Christians, forgiven and saved by God’s grace, are called to interact differently. Even if companies reject the biblical mediation language we propose, we can still have a conversation about what we believe and who we believe in. If we live out the gospel daily, including in our responses to others during conflict, the Holy Spirit can transform lives into the likeness of Jesus Christ. 

Analyze a conflict you were forced to resolve with legal counsel. What was the financial cost? How much time was invested? What was the emotional cost to your team? 

Considering your company’s relationships today, where is conflict most likely? What change can you implement to reduce the risk of conflict and testify to the hope of the gospel? What’s one easy step in cultivating a culture in which your employees approach potential conflicts with the mind of Christ?

Resolving conflict is already difficult, don’t do it alone. Surround yourself with trusted and reliable peers to walk you through a biblical peacemaking process.

September 16, 2020