Resolving Conflicts Within the Church

Friday, August 28, 2015

Conflicts Within the Church: What do you usually do when you get disappointed with your church? Do you pout? Throw tantrums (at your age? really?), do you lay low? Pick a fight? Or blame it on the church? People have a lot of different reactions to conflicts. The way we handle it can either mitigate or aggravate the problem.

Remember, Jesus told us there would be conflict: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33, NIV. Churches are not exempt. In fact, a wise man has suggested that if Jesus had made his statement in specific reference to churches he might have said, "Wherever two or more or gathered in my name there will be conflict!" However, we obviously all want peace within our churches and most of us understand how difficult that can be to achieve.

If you are looking for ways to bring peace to your church, you must seek a commitment to peace -- for you personally, for your church leaders, and eventually for your entire church membership. A commitment to peace can be made by committing to three vital concepts -- the 3 Cs.

First, you must make a commitment to COMMUNICATION. Communication is simply a sharing of information. Communication is a practical function that helps identify opportunities, challenges, strengths, and weaknesses. Scholars in communication tell us that there are numerous subsets of the category of communication: good, bad, effective, ineffective, complete, incomplete, etc. Almost all agree that communication from any subset is preferable to the absence of communication (which is actually another subset of communication!). For some reasons, in church settings, we often believe that not communicating at all is preferable to addressing a disagreement or conflict. Christians must be committed to active communication -- the constant sharing of information with others. The path to make this communication effective and helpful is promoted by the second commitment.

Second, you must make a commitment to CONVERSATION. Conversation is enhanced communication. It can be best described as a place or environment where communications can be explored, massaged, and experimented with. Conversation is where people seek to understand others -- and where we try to help others understand us. When we describe conversation in everyday life, we think of personal interchanges -- usually congenial and always cordial. Respect for the other person is essential. In fact, we most often associate "conversation" with talk between friends. Several things happen in a friendly conversation. Friends usually give each other the benefit of the doubt. They accept what's presented at face value. In other words, until they learn differently, they don't pick at the other person's perspective regarding what has happened or what needs to be done. That being said, friends feel comfortable in asking questions and pointing out other perspectives. They can ask about feelings and express their emotions. In conversation, friends can most often arrive at agreement. But, at the very least, friends can come to an understanding of the other's perspective and determine how that will affect their relationship. The importance of relationship is reflected in the third commitment.

Finally, you must make a commitment to COMMUNITY. Regardless of the outcomes of communication and conversation, church leaders and members must remain firmly committed to community. We must demonstrate our willingness to follow Christ's teachings on unity. Our witness to the world depends on it. In praying for the people who would be brought to God's kingdom through the work of his disciples (in other words, a prayer for us!), Jesus said, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17:23, NIV.

We have been given a ministry of reconciliation -- the job of continually bring people back to God through Jesus Christ. If we lose sight of this calling, if we have no commitment to community, we will never see peace in our churches.

Prepare yourselves with conflict resolution by:

  • Developing the proper heart attitude - Meek (Galatians 6:1); Humble (James 4:10); Forgiving (Ephesians 4:31,32); Patient (James 1:19,20). 
  • Evaluating your part in the conflict -Matthew 7:1-5(removing the log from your own eye first is necessary before helping others). 
  • Going to the individual (not to others) to voice your concern -Matthew 18:15. This is best done in love (Ephesians 4:15) and not to just get something off your chest. Accusing the person tends to encourage a defensiveness. Therefore, attack the problem rather than the person. This gives the person a better opportunity to clarify the situation or to seek forgiveness for the offense.
  • If the first attempt does not accomplish the needed results, continue with another person or persons that can help with mediation (Matthew 18:16). Remember that your goal is not to win an argument; it is to win your fellow believer to reconciliation. Therefore, choose people who can help you resolve the conflict. 

Conflict is best handled when individuals prayerfully and humbly focus on loving others, with the intent of restoring relationships.
Ref: Duncum Center for Conflict Resolution

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