Conflict Resolution

Title: Conflict Resolution
Category: Pastoral
Subject: Conflict Resolution


Pervasive Conflict is Dangerous

It is almost impossible to have an effective evangelism ministry in a church where internal conflict is pervasive. Conflict saps the energy of the pastor and leaders of the church. Conflict frightens people away from participation in the church, especially participation that involves leadership roles. Conflict can take the focus off of evangelism, worship and fellowship, by creating splinter groups within the church fellowship.

People are Important

Communication, or the lack thereof, is often at the root of church conflict. Recently, a pastor a call from a staff member who reported that member was upset (and so were her friends) because of plans for an Evangelism Banquet because it conflicted with an event in the church which she and others were leading. This probably was created by the fact that someone had failed to contact the group to communicate with them on changing their schedule for the banquet.

To keep this from becoming a larger issue, a staff member was sent to meet with the lady in question, and with her cohorts, to explain the situation and work out a suitable solution. Moving the banquet by 1 hour, so the lady and her group could participate, solved the problem. Two mistakes could have been made in trying to handle this situation, either of which could have exacerbated the problem and could have deepened the conflict.

First, the staff in the church could had taken the attitude that the banquet was more important than this one woman and, therefore, they didn't have to talk with her about it. After all, surely the people saved over the past few months, and the growth of the church, were far more important that her feeble complaint. The truth is, to run roughshod over this lady could have resulted in less people being saved for many months and, furthermore, it could have slowed church growth by enlarging a simple matter into brouhaha! A short meeting and discussion solved the problem, won her allegiance, endeared the staff to her co-workers, and kept the church fellowship united so they could reach even more people with the Gospel.

The second mistake would have been to ridicule the lady for not caring about evangelism and church growth. I have known pastors to do this sort of thing and it has resulted in hurt feelings, divided fellowship, and the loss of ongoing support for the church program. There is nothing wrong with being humble and listening to the complaint. In the end, the banquet was held, the lady and her friends were there, the evangelism program of the church was strengthened, unity was preserved, and everyone ended up in a win-win situation.

Planning is Crucial

There is one more lesson to learn from this example. It is clear that there was a gap in communication during the planning stages of the evangelism banquet. Anytime there is conflict due to a lack of communication, an evaluation should be made of the situation. Time should be spent discovering where the communication gap occurred. Once the cause has been ascertained, the gap should be closed so that future communication problems do not repeat themselves. A good rule of thumb on communicating an event is found in an old, but very important, checklist process. Who? What? When? Where? How? Why? Answering the questions that these words compel can help eliminate problems. Who is to participate? What is the event supposed to accomplish, what must be done to get ready for the event, and what must be done to ensure participation by all people involved? When will the event be held and will that time or date conflict with anyone or any program in the church? Where will the event be held, and does the venue conflict with any other event, program or individuals? How will the event impact people, finances and other activities? How can the event or activity be accomplished in a timely and effective manner? Why is the event being held? Why would people want to participate? These questions, and others like them, are necessary to accomplish and effective ministry and a unified church.

Process must be Thorough

Communication involves more than just planning for events. Communicating properly means thinking through a process thoroughly. One larger church that I am aware of spends one entire day planning the morning worship service. This planning engages the entire ministerial staff in several hours of working, thinking, praying and planning. This church is known for its effective and powerful worship experiences. Most churches will not need that much time to plan a worship service, but even leaders of small churches should spend time thinking through the worship experience. It is embarrassing to an usher or usher leader not to know when to take up the offering. To have the pastor say, "Well, our ushers are not down here. Come on forward men and let’s take the offering," can serve to embarrass the ushers in front of the entire church. The pastor may have been at fault for not informing the ushers of a change in the offering, but the pastor’s actions in pointing out a problem will reflect badly on the ushers or their chairman. When feelings are hurt in public, it can reverberate for weeks, months or even years. Those feelings may lie beneath the surface and only emerge when another issue comes up later. A church member may opposes a pastor on an particular issue which has nothing to do with that issue, but is actually related to something that happened in the past. The attitude may go back to something that happened weeks or months before. Communicating with everyone involved keeps from having people discomfited or humiliated before others.

In the end, communication comes from careful planning and thinking. When planning, think of everyone involved and do your best not to bypass people in the process. This may not sound like an evangelism issue, but hurt feelings, damaged unity and failure to maintain loving leadership, can trip up the best laid evangelism plans in a local church.

Problems must be Addressed

Communication also has to do with receiving information, not just in giving out information. Conflict is usually brewing a long time before the kettle of dispute begins to whistle. A pastor, and his key leaders, must be observant regarding the attitudes of members. Let me give you an example.

In a particular church with which I am familiar, the pastor noticed that one of his laymen began to avoid him. This church member was growing in the Lord and had gotten more and more involved in activities and ministries of the church. Suddenly, the pastor began to see less of him. When he was present, he seemed to avoid the pastor. Rather than letting dismissing this as unimportant, the pastor confronted the man and asked, "Brother, I have noticed a marked change in your demeanor. I have especially noticed this in the way you and I have inner-acted with each other lately. Is there something that I have done or said to cause this?"

It turned out that the layman thought the pastor had done something that kept the layman’s daughter from getting into an important program at a local college. The pastor assured the layman that this was not true and promised to trace the issue to a firm conclusion. The pastor discovered after a few days that a committee in the church kept her from participating because she did not meet the church attendance requirements for the college program. The pastor had never met with this committee and knew nothing about it till he investigated long enough to solve the mystery. Somehow this father, and the rest of his family, had gotten the wrong idea and blamed the pastor. If the pastor had not acted through careful observance to the withdrawn man, a much bigger problem could have erupted in the church. NEVER ignore an apparent broken fellowship, regardless of how small it may be. If you feel something is wrong between you and a church member, seek to solve the problem!

Evangelism works best in unified churches. We hope to share more ideas on Conflict Resolution in future articles. If you have ideas or experiences related to this subject, attach a file to an email and send it to:

Dr. J. Mike Minnix, Editor, SermonCity

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