Church Congregations in Conflict

Managing Conflict Your Church

Andover Boys Crew Team courtesy photographer Rouge, Wikimedia Commons

Imagine an organization as being like a rowing team.  If the members are functioning well as a team, the crew will be rowing in unison, pulling for a common goal, each cognizant of what the others are doing and supporting one another.  If the team is not functioning well, it might be like each person putting the oar in the water at his or her own pace, at different times, and even in different directions, perhaps even seeking to row the boat toward different goals and working against one another to pull the boat in competing directions.  Both boats have people.  In both boats, the people are working hard.  In both boats, the people have good intentions.  But only one boat will be rowed effectively and meet the determined target.  By helping your organization become unified and function well as a team, we aim to help the boat of your organization look more like the Olympic class team and less like a boat needing rescue.

Although conflict in organizations can be complex due to the many different competing interests and agendas, general principles of conflict still apply.   Increases in conflict occur in identifiable stages.  Remedies and approaches vary according to stage.

  • At its lowest and healthy level, conflict is experienced as an enriching and lively interaction among friendly folk that helps them all see and more clearly focus on common, agreed goals.  When an organization is at this level, our trainers are happy to lead classes, such as half day or weekend officer training events, designed to help the organization be more aware of and competent in key strategies for dealing with conflict.  We also teach in techniques for leading meetings which help ensure that meetings are productive and all voices are heard, reducing the frustrations in an organization which can lead to unresolved conflict.
  • At higher slightly higher levels of conflict, there may be more anxiety and some outside assistance might be needed.  In cases involving moderate conflict, we are available as meeting facilitators to ensure that all views are heard in a neutral, safe environment.  We design decision processes with mechanisms to ensure that key needs and interests of all parties are heard and considered.
  • At higher levels of conflict, we may recommend full scale, organizational mediation.   Mediation is the appropriate remedy when an organization is so divided that it is facing a split of membership, or if ouster of key leaders is imminent.

Because no organization is exactly alike, our specific proposal on how to approach a conflict-prone situation in an organization will depend heavily on the specific assessment of needs in your particular case.  Whether it is coaching, training, meeting facilitation, or mediation, we have many tools in the tool chest.  Each of the mediators of Just Mediation, LLD, are committed and mature Christians who are also trained conflict professionals, equipped to analyse and respond sensitively, confidentially, and responsibly in ways that will help your church or organization stay or return to a healthy way of relating as individuals and as a team.  (For our credentials, click HERE.)

To arrange for a personal consultation in your situation, call  803-414-0185, or fill out the contact form below.

Mediation of Church and Organizational Conflict

The mediators of Just Mediation are all skilled and experienced mediators who, in addition to community and family mediation training, have also trained at the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center  in mediation of church conflict.  All of us view our work as furtherance of our vocational calling as peacemakers.   Our passion is to strengthen your church or business organization, by helping you work as a better team, so that you will be more effective in your mission.

While one goal of mediation is to help restore agreement within a congregation, we also seek to transform the narrative experience of conflict and to achieve a healthier and happier outcome than can be achieved either by ignoring the conflict or by letting it escalate.  We seek to help parties to reach genuine agreement, heal relationships, and learn to build healthier systems for personal and organizational relationships.   We are also able to offer leadership training, facilitation of meetings, and coaching in management of conflict, so that disagreements or conflict can be handled in ways that are tough on issues yet easy on relationships.

To discuss more, please call 803-414-0185 or fill out the contact form here.  If you are interested in learning more about spiritual principles of conflict and reconciliation, there is significantly more published on this web site, which can be accessed by way of pull down menus or clicking on tags.

What Is A Mediator?

The purpose of this post is to answer the question, “What is a mediator?”  A mediator is a trusted, neutral person who facilitates a process designed to empower parties to recognize find their own, satisfactory solutions to intractable conflict. Each word in the sentence above has important meaning.

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Intervention in Church Conflict

Every organization has conflict.  The big question is, how will you handle it?  Will be conflict be channeled constructively, to respond to changes and improve communication and relationships, or will conflict degenerate into toxic and fractured relationships and power struggles within the organization?    When churches consider the cost of intervention, they should measure this against the cost of not intervening.  Early intervention may prevent fractured relationships and divided congregations.

This web site is the home page of a team of Christian Peacemakers who use our  gifts in communication, and our skills as professional mediators, to help strengthen churches.  We conduct trainings in healthy conflict management for church leaders, and we also actively intervene as consultants and mediators in conflicted church situations.   Our aim is to restore the health of your church, so that swords will be put away and pounded into plowshares, so that your church body can return to its true calling, which is to plow the soil of building God’s kingdom.   If you’d like to learn more about healthy conflict resolution for congregations, please continue browsing through numerous articles in this web site, and also fill out the form on this page.

Conflict at its lowest levels on engagement, if managed well, is actually a way to keep the church healthy.  Just as a whet stone rubbing against a knife can sharpen the knife, the rubbing of conflicting interests in a church provides many opportunities for the church members to be in communication and debate, and to sharpen and clarify the mission and focus of the congregation.  Conflict enables us to communicate, to discuss differences and similarities, to really listen to and hear each other, and to forge solutions which meet the needs of the congregation without harming each other and which actually lead to healing and reconciliation.  The goal of good conflict management is not simply to achieve a level of comfort by putting a lid on conflict and pretending it doesn’t exist!   Rather, the goal is for conflict to result in improved communication, airing of interests, and good decisions that account for the needs of all.  Thus,   conflict transformation enables the church body to transform friction into an opportunity for increased understanding, growth, and healing.

Is this realistic, you ask?  In one word: yes!  If conflict is dealt with appropriately.  Conflict in a church is like a flame.  It can feel like a nice, warm campfire –  nicely contained in the fireplace and providing enough heat to fuel the popcorn popper — or it can feel like a house fire raging and destroying the entire structure.  Obviously, it is easier to tend the fire when it has not blazed out of control.

Where is your church conflict on the scale of conflict?  An article on this web site HERE may help you discern this.  At low levels, training for church leaders in healthy conflict management acts like a vaccination against toxic conflict.  Increasingly more hostile conflict requires different strategies.  Ignoring a problem (or waiting until the “other faction” leaves the church) doesn’t make the problem go away, however.   Rather, it is a failure of ministry, a failure to bear witness to the transformative power of God’s word and promises.  How many “unchurched” people, or those who label themselves as “spiritual but not religious” have actually left the church on account of poorly managed conflict?  One can guess, a lot.   A statistic by the Alban Institute indicates that a significant number of  unchurched  people in the USA say they are Christian, but they report that they no longer attend church because of some “painful event”.

The goal of Just Mediation is to stop that from happening!  We are concerned for the entire flock.   When a congregation contacts Just Mediation, a team of committed Believers who are experts in conflict transformation will be assembled to evaluate your particular congregational need and make a recommendation.  Our goal is to contribute to the health of the Body of Christ, by acting as professional peacemakers to help transform conflict from painful event to an opportunity for growth and learning among Believers.  Regardless of what level of conflict your congregation may be experiencing, the professional peacemakers of Just Mediation want to help you.  There are three main ways we can help:

1. Training and Education of Congregation and Congregational Leaders in Healthy Conflict Resolution Skills

Training and education of members and leaders in healthy methods of decision making and conflict resolution imparts helpful skill in tending the campfire.  If the fire is not already out of control, all it needs is to be cared for properly.

It is important that conflict associated with normal and natural transitions be addressed in ways that are healthy and healing, and not in ways that create more divides. When serious conflict does emerge, leaders need tools to respond to these challenges before they escalate into conflict that engages the entire community.  The mediators of Just Mediation, LLC, offer training in healthy, Biblical responses to conflict through on-site consultation, workshops, and leadership retreats.

We are happy to speak to your group and lead a workshop, whether for an hour or a weekend.  Training church members and leaders in conflict transformation skills can be viewed as akin to giving an innoculation to prevent illness from setting in.

2. Assessment and Recommendations in  Situations Involving Conflict

Ideally, conflict in faith-based organizations will be identified and addressed before it reaches a flashpoint of causing a crisis.  However, it can be helpful to have a fire extinguisher on hand.

No matter how positive it may be overall, change in culture and the worldview of members or leadership can create tension in the healthiest of organizations.  Or conversely, refusal to change may create stress.  Intervention at this stage of conflict can improve communication and help people adjust and work things out peaceably.

Perhaps your congregation doesn’t need full scale crisis intervention, but it would benefit from clear intervention, education, and minor mediation that would help your congregation navigate these tricky periods.

We would be happy to consult with your leadership team and engage in individual mediations or facilitation of group meetings to address important sources of conflict.  We can also impart these skills to leaders and congregants both by way of leading them through the process so they see the positive effects and by deliberate training events.

3. Crisis Management and Congregational Mediation for Highly Conflicted Congregations

If conflict is not addressed early, it can build to crisis levels.  Changes in leadership, building programs, worship innovations and capital campaigns often expose fault lines not apparent under normal circumstances.

Often these problems are ignored until these issues are out of control and have escalated into a major conflict.   Is the conflagration to the point where your congregation needs a fire truck and firefighters?  We can help with this, too.

The professional mediators of Just Mediation, LLC, (Alexandria Skinner, J.D., Beth Padgett, M.A., and Mark Buchan, M.A.) are equipped by training, experience, and calling, to intervene and guide in crisis laden situations and assist your church in healing from the inside out.  We are able to manage any level of mediation, ranging from conflict coaching for individuals to design and implementation of full scale congregational mediations for large congregations.  Although our work is confidential and therefore we do not reveal the names of congregations that have utilized our services, we are confident in our ability to help.

For more information, for a consultation, or to arrange for a speaker for your group, meeting, or retreat, call 803-414-0185.

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Recognizing Stages of Conflict and Knowing When to Call for Help

Conflict is a normal part of life.  It occurs every day.  At its lowest stages, conflict is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow together.  At its highest levels, outside intervention is required.  In between, there are distinct stages that most patterns of conflict follow.  Different conflict intervention strategies are effective for each different stage of conflict.

In this article, learn more about predictable stages of conflict and the types of interventions that are appropriate at the various stages.

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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 .

Christian Mediation for Church Congregations

Conflict!

Does the word “conflict” make you want to cringe?  Are you afraid that if your church has conflict, it might be torn apart?   Unfortunately, this can happen.  The good news is, it doesn’t have to.

What makes the difference, you might ask, between a church that has smooth sailing through conflict or one that flounders in the choppy seas?  Well, a couple of things.  Of course it matters what type of conflict the church is experiencing.  Conflict over the color of the paint in the parlor does not rise to the same level as conflict related to serious doctrinal issues!  But another key factor is how that conflict is handled.   Conflict can be healthy, or it can be toxic, all depending on how we respond to it.  Do we respond as a team to address problems, or do we respond by fighting against each other?    The mediators of Just Mediation, LLC, are all dedicated Christian Peacemakers who will help your church tackle tough issues without injuring the people in the process.  We have a track record of assisting congregations in ways that are experienced as helpful, healing, and restore a feeling of wholesomeness.

Help from us begins with a phone call.   After we speak with you on the phone, we will develop an initial assessment and proposed course of action that is tailored to your needs and your budget.  Whether it’s through telephone consultation only, through leadership training, or through complex mediation involving the entire church body, we are confident that we can help in some way.

Our approach is firmly grounded in Christian principles of Conflict Transformation.   We combine (1) total commitment to Christian peacemaking theory and practice with (2) training in leading principles and practices in conflict transformation, (4) extensive practical experience as mediators and trainers in conflict transformation, and (5) specific training in mediation of congregation-wide disputes from the internationally recognized Lombard Mennonite Peace Center.  We also provide training for church leaders in healthy organizational leadership.

Take heart from this quote from John Paul Lederach, from The Little Book of Conflict Transformation:

Conflict … creates life:   through conflict we respond, innovate, and change.  Conflict can be understood as the motor of change, that which keeps relationships and social structures honest, alive, and dynamically responsive to human needs, aspirations, and growth.

Conflict means there is movement and growth and life.   To meet with us in person, by telephone, or by way of Skype, fill out the contact form below:

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