And the Lord’s Servant Must Not Be Quarrelsome

By Dr. John Potter

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone,
able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with
gentleness. —2 Timothy 2:24–25

We know conflict is inevitable in ministry. However, we “must not be quarrelsome.” I don’t know about you, but I wish Paul would have given us a bit more information after this command as to just how we should “not be quarrelsome.” There are a number of ways we can engage in conflict better. Let’s examine one way to go about “correcting his opponents with gentleness.” It is called “Feel, Felt, Find.” I hope you will find this easy to remember, simple to use, as well as time-efficient and effective.


Here is a situation I hope strikes a chord with you: Within five minutes of the completion of worship, an older person comes to you and says, “I think our music is becoming too contemporary, if you know what I mean. I like the real church music better.”

First, you acknowledge that it is acceptable for this person to feel the way he does (the “feel” step). You might say something such as “I want to be sure I understand how you feel. You are saying that some of our music is ‘too contemporary,’ and you don’t think we should use it. Is that right?” This is called mirroring, and it is very effective for two reasons. One, the person who made the statement gets to hear what he said twice. Once when he says it, and once when you do.

Often, the person will reply with something such as “Well, that isn’t exactly what I meant. What I meant was I just don’t understand the new stuff we are listening to during worship.” And two, you have given the person an opportunity to modify what he said. As a result, you are actually getting to what he really wants to say.

Repeat the process, and check in with him by saying something such as “Did I get that right?” You are not agreeing or disagreeing, but just acknowledging how this person feels without judging or shaming. Let’s assume he says you’ve heard it correctly.


Second, move to the “felt” step. Often we don’t realize how uncomfortable some people are when they step up to express a concern or complaint. They don’t want to be seen as if they are the only ones complaining, even if they are. Here is a telltale sign: when the person says, “And, you know, others think this way, too.” See it? This may or may not be true, but do you see the need for affirmation? And, at this point in time, you don’t know what is true or not. So, after you understand the concern, you might say, “Well, I can see how others may have felt the way you do, too. As you know, the music in worship has been a source of great proclamation, as well as frequent concern.”

If the person brings up a new issue, leave the first one behind and address the new one. It may well be that as he was thinking about your more welcoming response, he has discovered on his own that what he’s really concerned about is something else entirely. I will only go through this cycle a couple of times, because it often becomes fruitless to continue.

So, you can say with some confidence, “You know, I am having some difficulty following what you want to tell me, and I have some others to talk with before I preach again. So, why don’t we think about this for a few days, and when you are ready, make an appointment to visit with me.” The idea here is that because you have engaged with this person constructively, you are more confident about when to change course. Also, do you see the value of taking responsibility for understanding upon yourself? You have more control over yourself, so use it. Finally, consider 2 Timothy 2:23: “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.”


Third is the “find” step. You might say something like, “Our leadership, with input from many others, has decided that we want to continue to grow. You know music is not only worship, but it also prepares us to read the Scriptures, and we want to make the Gospel as open and welcoming as we are able. So, I think you will find that as time goes along, we will have new people attending worship with us. In fact, now that we are talking about music, there is some great theology in the new music, just as there is in the older music. I have been listening to a Jeremy Camp song, ‘Same Power.’ It is based on Romans 8:11. The song goes a bit like this, ‘The same power that rose Jesus from the grave lives in us.’ I really like that it points me back to the Scriptures in a fresh way.”

Now, you can’t always do realignment, but sometimes you can say, “I was just thinking about what you have said. Would you be willing to help me? Give us some time to see how we progress with what we are trying to do, and in a few months, let me know how we are doing. Would you do that for me?”

Everything you have said here is either future focused or personalized. “This is where we are going and why,” and “I really like this particular song.” Then—and here is the sweet part—if it is possible, give this person something to do. In particular, if you can turn what you are talking about from a conversation about the other person’s point of view to a concern you both share, you have done something Paul is leading up to by the end of 2 Timothy 2:25–26. If you are quarrelsome, it is much harder to get to the end of the chapter.


So, let’s get to the end of the chapter. Permit me to begin by making an observation about conflict. Conflict can either be constructive or destructive. We are commanded not to be quarrelsome to prevent us from being tempted to be destructive. In other words, being able to engage in conflict constructively is an opportunity. “And for what?” you should ask. Consider how the chapter ends.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to
everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his
opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance
leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their
senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured
by him to do his will. —2 Timothy 2:24–26



Dr. John Potter is a Clinical Assistant Professor in Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management at Southern Methodist University. Dr. Potter also serves as a volunteer leader at Guest Central at Prestonwood Baptist Church.