(These materials come from many sources over the years and I am indebted for the positive approach of each)
I do not speak as an expert on congregational conflict – simply as a preacher who has spent 34 years preaching/teaching for churches that have often gone through some conflict.
Statements from Church Members:
- “I thought the church was different from other organizations – especially in regard to conflict.”
- “It just kills me when people are this ugly in any community – especially the church.”
- If there is one place where people want to find a respite from the world – a place of peace and harmony, it is in the church.
The Early Church Model.
- Off to a good start – Acts 2:44-47
Bumps in the road:
- Acts 5 – instances of false pretense and lying (Ananias & Sapphira)
- Acts 6 – Neglect of the Grecian Jews causes conflict – the choosing of the seven.
- Acts 15 – Dispute between Paul and Barnabas
- Galatians 2 – Racial prejudice and religious elitism bring about a dispute between Paul and Peter.
- I Corinthians – conflicts over talents, personal loyalties – unrepentant sinfulness…
- Philippians – the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche
- The list could go on and on – we haven’t even touched the Old Testament – Moses at one time is so frustrated with the Israelites and the conflict with them that he says to God, I am tired of these people won’t you just let me die…Any of you ever feel that way?
Conflict is a Natural part of dealing with people – even God’s People – and should be expected.
- Our expectations and our outlook many times determine to a large degree how we hold up under the strain of conflict and what we are able to accomplish through it.
- Ex. Walking and stepping in a pot-hole you’re not expecting.
- Church leaders create conflict to some degree – by calling people to focus on God’s vision – that creates conflict for most people, because his vision is designed to cause change in our lives…and most people are resistant to change.
- Even when a particular change is in our best interest, our inclination is to resist because that change implies that we are imperfect and are somehow lacking.
- The reality of change is that we must reform our habits, reshape our values, alter our relationships or adopt new responsibilities.
- Church leaders who don’t expect conflict are going to get hurt – and will not last in the ministry…to help overcome conflict and benefit from it longevity is required.
An Uncomfortable Feeling.
- Something just doesn’t feel right,
- You can’t put your finger on it.
- Nothing explicit has been mentioned. (Wives are intuitive to this more than men)
A Problem to Be Resolved. (Issue-focused)
- An identifiable problem has emerged and dealing with that matter is the focus – I didn’t agree with the point you made in your sermon last week – You hurt my feelings with what you said – I don’t think this building project is what we need…
- The participants are civil and respectful to one another as they each share their perspectives on the issue.
- Solutions are proposed and in most instances can be resolved in a calm and collaborative fashion to everyone’s satisfaction.
- In my opinion this is the step that most people ignore – and it’s the reason that there is so much rancor sometimes in our churches.
A Person to Differ With (Other person – focused)
- The focus of the conversation changes from what should be done and what is the best solution, to a debate of who is right and who is wrong.
- Frustration sets in because the attempt to achieve one’s goals is undermined by another.
- Parties may become more cautious in dealing with each other.
- The dispute can still be constructive if the parties make a greater effort to see the other person’s point of view.
- On the other hand, if the matter is not resolved, the situation can easily deteriorate into destructive conflict.
A Dispute to Win (Issue-focused – greater intensity)
- Collaboration wanes. Other problematic issues often appear confusing the matters.
- Disputing parties communicate less to each other and more about each other with those who take their respective side increasing polarization in the congregation.
- While there may not be an intent to hurt one’s opponent, it often results.
- Because the overriding goal is for one’s needs to be met or interests to prevail, there appears to be less concern about how that affects others, further exacerbating the conflict.
- One side comes to believe that the other cares little about them. As one side seeks to achieve its’ goals, the other side feels like their interests are being all-too-readily dismissed or sacrificed.
- Action then begets counteraction.
A Person To Attack (Other person-focused – greater intensity)
- A power struggle emerges – parties now see themselves as adversaries and “antagonists” (a Greek word that means “to struggle against” as in Hebrews 12:4)
- When people begin to struggle against each other, watch out!!! An invisible line is crossed that does not bode well for that relationship or for the church.
- At this stage, original issues and context become secondary – the problem is now identified as a person or a group of people…they are the problem.
- An “Us” and “them” mentality sets in. Emotions adversely affect objective thinking.
- Selective perception confirms and fuels negative stereotyping – once stereotyped, the other side can be written off as – progressive, traditional, liberal, conservative – close minded – morons…you fill in the blank.
- Parties avoid each other and assume the worst of the other – In the absence of direct communication, each faction views the other through an increasingly distorted filter of suspicion, false assumptions, exaggeration, misinformation and misperceptions.
- Whereas each side justifies its own hostile behavior as reactions to its opponent and to external circumstances, the actions of one’s adversaries are attacks attributed to internal deficiencies in their character, competency, or spirituality.
- Public admission of having exercised poor judgment or of having made a mistake becomes increasingly unlikely.
- In this negatively charged environment, such an acknowledgement would likely open oneself to embarrassment and further criticism – the attempt to protect themselves, their vulnerabilities and insecurities is accomplished by attacking.
My Face to Save – (self-focused, greatest intensity)
- The term “face” refers to how a person is viewed by others. As long as someone is viewed as a respectable member of the community, all is well.
- When one’s public image is seriously challenged, watch out for a significant escalation of the conflict.
- To have one’s public image challenged is to be attacked on a very personal level. It is to be charged with maintaining a false façade.
- The attacker seeks to publicly unmask the other person’s true and despicable identity. To the extent that this “insight” is believed, the prior course of the conflict is reinterpreted.
- With these new lenses, words or actions that may have been originally perceived in a positive light are now viewed as part of a larger, deceitful strategy – False motives are attributed throughout. The conflict is no longer understood in terms of shades of gray – it is perceived in terms of black and white and an ideological battle between the forces of good vs. evil.
- To “save face” against such an attack on one’s identity, people will respond with an equally ferocious assault of their own. Disputants will unleash a torrent of negative descriptions against those who have attacked and maligned them, attempting in turn, to undercut and discredit them.
- They will label those on the other side as unreasonable, immoral, untrustworthy, mentally unbalanced, and /or sub-human – this conclusion justifies almost any action against the other side, exacerbating the cycle of conflict to dangerous levels.
A Person to Expel, Withdraw From or Ruin (Other person-focused – greatest intensity)
- The parties are locked in an all-or-nothing battle.
- The church is no longer big enough for everyone.
- The solution is whether to drive out the problem person or people or leave. – or another way to state it is:
- The conflict may be so personalized, intractable, or irrational that the adversaries would rather suffer private loss or the church’s ruin to see their opponent defeated.
- When the dust settles, the worship, fellowship, and the work of the church, as well as the individual lives of those involved are adversely affected…often for years to come.
- For some, winning the battle or driving a person from the church is still not enough – the ruination of a person’s reputation may continue long after the battle is over.
- Another faction will express shame and bewilderment for what they have said or done – others will have shame also but blame others who they claim led them to do and say such things.
- When it comes to matters of peace and unity, the New Testament couldn’t be clearer:
- Jesus said, “be at peace with one another.” – Mark 9:50
- Peter said, “seek peace and pursue it.” – I Peter 3:11
- Paul said, “Make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:3 —The Escalating Stages of Unresolved Church Conflict (Kenneth C. Newberger)
How to Turn a Disagreement into a Feud
1. Be sure to develop and maintain a healthy fear of conflict, letting your own feelings build up so you are in an explosive frame of mind.
2. If you must state your concerns, be as vague and general as possible. Then the other person cannot do anything practical to change the situation.
3. Assume you know all the facts and you are totally right. The use of a clinching Bible verse is helpful. Speak prophetically for truth and justice; do most of the talking.
4. With a touch of defiance, announce your willingness to talk with anyone who wishes to discuss the problem with you. But do not take steps to initiate such conversation.
5. Latch tenaciously onto whatever evidence you can find that shows the other person is merely jealous of you.
6. Judge the motivation of the other party on any previous experience that showed failure or unkindness. Keep track of any angry words.
7. If the discussion should, alas, become serious, view the issue as a win/lose struggle. Avoid possible solutions and go for total victory and unconditional surrender. Don’t get too many options on the table.
8. Pass the buck! If you are about to get cornered into a solution, indicate you are without power to settle; you need your partner, spouse, bank, whatever.
10 Steps for Conflict Resolution
- Set a time and place for discussion.
- Define the problem or issue of disagreement.
- Talk about how each of you contributes to the problem.
- List past attempts to resolve the issue that were unsuccessful.
- Brainstorm new ways to resolve the conflict. List all possible solutions.
- Discuss and evaluate these possible solutions.
- Agree on one solution to try.
- Agree on how each individual will work toward this solution.
- Set up another meeting to discuss your progress.
- Reward each other as you each contribute toward the solution.
Five Conflict Handling Intentions
- Competing: when one person seeks to satisfy his or her own interests regardless of the impact on the other parties to the conflict, he is competing.
- Collaborating: A situation in which the parties to a conflict each desire to satisfy fully the concerns of all the parties. In collaborating, the intentions of the parties are to solve the problem by clarifying differences rather than by accommodating various points of view.
- Avoiding: a person may recognize that a conflict exists and want to withdraw from it or suppress it. Avoiding included trying to just ignore a conflict and avoiding others with whom you disagree.
- Accommodating: The willingness of one partying a conflict to place the opponent’s interest above his or her own.
- Compromising: A situation in which each party to a conflict is willing to give up something. Intentions provide general guidelines for parties in a conflict situation. They define each party’s purpose. Yet people intention is not fixed. During the course of conflict, they might change because of re-conceptualization or because of an emotional reaction to the behavior of other party.