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3 Kinds of Conflict

3 Kinds of Conflict

 This side of heaven, there will always be conflict. The true dilemma is how to respond. Conflict is complex. It comes in all shapes and sizes. Discerning what kind of conflict you are facing will go a long way to addressing it in a faithful, redemptive fashion. 


Peace is not the absence of conflict

but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict,

alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence

Dorothy Thompson


A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace

James 3:18


In his book E3: Effective, Empowering, Elders(1), Dr. Rick Thompson describes three different kinds of conflict and the types of people who create it. Like most typologies, it is rare for a situation to fit a single description perfectly. Even so, recognizing the differences provides important insight in responding as a peacemaker.


Catfish             After discovering the interesting relationship between codfish and catfish, Chuck Swindoll(2) coined the phrase “God Appointed Catfish” to describe one type of conflict encountered amongst God’s people. Codfish are highly desirable, but they are difficult to get to market. Freezing codfish causes them to lose flavor. Shipping them live in large saltwater tanks like lobsters doesn’t work either. They lose flavor and take on a mushy texture. The best way to get codfish to market is to ship them in a saltwater tank along with their natural enemy- catfish. The catfish chase the codfish during the trip. Upon arrival, the codfish are fresh, alert, firm, and tasty.


God Appointed Catfish create conflict much like Elijah, John the Baptist, and other biblical prophets. They may seem like an enemy, but their real role is to deepen and develop God’s people in faith and action. Catfish chase us with the truth in order for us to stay fresh, alert, firm, and tasty to a spiritually hungry world. If you find yourself with a Catfish, listen to what he/she has to say and test its validity against God’s Word. (1 John 4:1)


Dragons           Marshall Shelly describes another type of conflict creator as “Well Intentioned Dragons.”(3) At their core, Dragons have sincere, even noble intentions. They are often eager to volunteer, to supply analysis or ideas, and even lead. Even though their suggestion or action may be the right move, it creates conflict not because of what it is, but because of the way it is expressed. Dragons live up to their name. They shred and strain relationships. They blast their views, scorching those around them, leaving a heap of smoldering carcasses in their wake. (James 3:5-10)


Dragons need someone who cares about them enough to speak the truth in love to them, someone who can see past the scales, smoke and flame to the potential within. In the company of Dragons, it is wise to apply Matthew 18, encouraging the death of their relational sins and the birth of wise, effective communication.


Wolves            While Catfish and Dragons are problematic, their primary motivation is building community and building God’s Kingdom. Wolves are very different. Wolves are loners with their own agenda. Wolves twist the truth to divide the flock. (John 10:12) Wolves work behind the scenes, person to person, encouraging people to take a side. Wolves have no trouble “dressing in sheep’s clothing,” making their false teaching extremely dangerous and difficult to identify. (Matthew 7:15)  


So how do you respond to a Wolf? Thompson suggests following Titus 3:10, “After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions.” Take great care in identifying someone as a Wolf. As with Catfish and Dragons, redemption is always offered first. But if you have a Wolf and redemption is refused, it is time for separation. The safety of the flock takes precedent.


Like the growing of a crop, peacemaking takes time, courage, wisdom, faithfulness, integrity, intentionality and patience. There are times we must have difficult, even heartbreaking discussions. We must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Matthew 5:44) In the end, we turn to our Healing Gardner, Creator of Love, Life and Community, trusting the harvest of righteousness with come.  

  1. E3:Effective, Empowering Elders by Dr. Rick Thompson (© 2006, Churchsmart Resources)
  2. Chuck Swindoll is a pastor, author, teacher and founder of the radio ministry Insight for Living. (
  3. Well-Intentioned Dragons: Ministering to Problem People in the Church by Marshall Shelley (© 1994, Bethany House)