How Does Your Church Manage Conflict?

Rare is the church that has no conflict at all.  The question is not whether your church has conflict, but how the leaders in your congregation deal with it. 

Sometimes church leaders have a strong urge to stifle conflict.  This is a response driven by fear.   The problem is that ignoring the conflict doesn’t make it go away.  To the contrary, pretending that nothing is wrong can make matters worse.  Stifling the expression without addressing the cause leaves the splinter to fester deep within the wound, causing further irritation and even infection.  Some refer to this as faking peace. 

The problem is that a faked peace is not an authentic peace.   Two things can happen.  If the cause of the conflict remains unchecked, the issue will escalate and lead to worse division.   Sooner or later, the facade of a faked peace will come falling down.  Denial of a problem merely delays (and even worsens) the inevitable day of reckoning.   Or, something equally worse happens.  People leave the church.  One survey has shown that of every ten people who are “unchurched,” five of them claim to be Christians.  Of those five  ”unchurched people” who claim to be Christian, two of those five have left the church because of some painful event.   In other words, looking at the numbers, we can extrapolate that 20% of the unchurched people in the USA have left the church because of some unresolved conflict.   As this illustrates, “faking peace” has a very serious cost. 

On the other hand, there’s the other extreme, of a congregation that squares off against one another, forming factions that fight, lobby for position, and wage personal attacks against one another.  Rather than faking the peace, call this breaking the peace. 

Peace “breakers” deal with conflict in negative and destructive ways that are all too familiar:  by engaging in name calling and trash talk, through polarization and staking out extreme positions, by failing to take responsibility, by blaming others, by failing to listen or communicate, by failing to consider reasonable proposals, by escalating conflict through adoption of extreme “winner take all” positions that leave no room for compromise.  The peace breakers marginalize others, let anger (including self-righteous indignation) govern their actions, take “I win, you lose” positions, and are callous to the effects of using verbal barbs which leave their opponents wounded on the battlefield of conflict. 

The peace breakers are the worst nightmare of the peace fakers.  The peace breakers take over churches like a motorcycle gang, revving their engines and wearing leather jackets that say “My way or the high way,” and causing the less adversarial members of the congregation to run for shelter in churches elsewhere that seem more welcoming. 

So, how to deal with this?  Develop conflict competence! 

Does your church’s staff and leadership development program include training in conflict resolution skills?  Is your congregation equipped to address conflict in ways that uplift one another, that affirm the love that God has for each of God’s children, at the same time you work through conflict?  Is the gospel of peace and reconciliation not just part of  your weekly message, but is it part of your witness in how you live your congregational life?  If the answer is yes, great.  On the other hand, If this is not something your congregation or church leadership has given close attention to, consider seeking some training for your congregation in healthy leadership and conflict resolution skills.  

The potential for conflict exists in every congregation.  Conflict can be handled in positive or in negative ways.   Help your congregation develop skills in making peace. 

If you would like to consult privately about your church’s needs and what resources may be available, call 803-414-0185 or send email to PeaceWrkr@gmail.com .

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