How a Healthy Church Resolves Conflict

How a Healthy Church Resolves Conflict

Churches are supposed to represent Christ’s bride. For some however, this image might conjure up an unhealthy persona of perfect, holier-than-thou people coming together to worship God. Anyone who has attended church knows the church is filled with less than perfect people. With those imperfections come biases, personal opinions and preferences that often result in conflict.

Because of this, many churches don’t handle conflict effectively. They often sweep it under the rug or the pastor handles it like a king on a throne—handing down decrees and flexing his power like a tyrant. However, some churches that are healthy handle it effectively. Here are some steps churches can take to handle conflict in the best way possible: 

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  • 1. Don't Ignore It or Drag It Out

    1. Don't Ignore It or Drag It Out

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    If churches do not nip conflict in the bud immediately, it will snowball and become too big a problem to handle. Conflict always comes to a head eventually. Why not stop it before it gets out of hand?

    If a church perceives there is a problem with a church member, set aside time to meet with that person individually. This demonstrates care and compassion for those who have an issue, whether the church agrees there is an issue or not. Listen carefully to what they are saying. Identify if there are underlying issues that may be the real cause of the situation. The church should do its best to resolve both the main symptom as well as underlying causes of the problem as much as it possibly can. 

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  • 2. Take Responsibility

    2. Take Responsibility

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    Once the grievance is aired, church leaders need to take responsibility for their part in the issue. This demonstrates leaders are approachable and willing to take responsibility for their part in the problem. Churches should also ask what the leadership can do to help work through this issue. If the hurt party is receptive, walk away with clear ways leaders can improve their leadership skills and lead with humility and grace.

    Whether it is better communication skills, a proactive attitude towards conflict or working to be a better servant leader, church leaders always have room to grow. Leaders that take responsibility for their part in an issue increases the church’s overall level of health and increases the church’s respect for their leadership. 

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  • 3. Get a Mediator

    3. Get a Mediator

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    If two church members are disagreeing with each other, it is best to let them resolve it. If they can’t resolve it, they should ask a third party to act as a mediator between the two parties. Make sure they choose a person who can look at the situation without bias or judgment (sometimes a pastor is best, but if he is part of the problem an elder or other leader will suffice.)

    All three parties should agree to meet at another location other than either party’s home. This helps maintain objectivity. Ask the mediator to allow both parties to voice their concerns without judgment or interruption. Once both people have spoken their minds, let the mediator help both parties consider what has been said and help them come to an agreement.

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  • 4. Meet Face to Face

    4. Meet Face to Face

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    Due to the potentially difficult nature of conflict, most people just avoid someone that they are in conflict with, or deal with it over email, text or phone. An email or text’s tone can be misconstrued, which only adds fuel to the fire. But when churches meet face- to- face with someone, there are instant consequences for their words.

    Although face-to-face meetings can feel intimidating, they don’t have to be. Although a certain amount of fear before the meeting is normal, each party should examine his heart to see if he has been offensive. Once they have brought it to the Lord in repentance, each party can be confident he has done everything right. 

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  • 5. Listen to the Whole Person

    5. Listen to the Whole Person

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    When we communicate, the verbal communication we use include the words, tone, inflection, and meaning behind the words that are used. The other type of communication is non-verbal. This includes body language, gestures, etc. When someone is speaking, the words they use may mean one thing, but their body and gestures may mean something very different.

    All parties should weigh in with their observations of how the other person is thinking and feeling based on their non-verbal communication. For example, if a person has his arms crossed in front of his chest, this may mean a closed type of communication. Ask that person why he feels so closed off to what the other party is saying. Is there underlying hurt? Disappointment? Disrespect? Sometimes, what is not being said is just as important as what is being said.

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  • 6. Ask Clarifying Questions

    6. Ask Clarifying Questions

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    As everyone unpacks what the issue is, it is important for everyone to open his mind and heart to what everyone has to say regarding the situation.

    Is there truth to the other person’s point of view? Are there areas where the other party is wrong and needs to repent?

    It takes two people to argue. It also takes two people to solve the disagreement. It takes humility on both parts to make that happen. Ask God to point out areas that need to be worked on that will help all members feel respected and valued. 

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  • 7. Come to a Peaceable Agreement

    7. Come to a Peaceable Agreement

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    Romans 12:18 states, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Although it may not feel good to endure conflict, God commands and blesses those who strive to resolve it in a peaceable manner: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

    Come to a resolution that satisfies both parties. Brainstorm action steps to ensure the problem does not occur again. God is a peacemaker. He wants everyone to live in unity and peace with each other. Part of being a part of a healthy church means putting others’ desires before your own.

    As Christians, we are blessed if we seek peaceable solutions to our problems. That means meeting with people and facing issues directly. However, it does not mean everyone will always come to a peaceable solution. Their response to conflict is not your problem; it’s their problem. Sometimes people are unwilling to take responsibility for their actions. As long as it stands with the church, it should do everything within its power to make peace. It is ideal that everyone exists harmoniously with each other, but that doesn’t always happen. 

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  • 8. Ask for Forgiveness

    8. Ask for Forgiveness

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    If members find validity among the issues raised, what should they do? Simply asking for forgiveness helps to foster peace. Pride is eroded and church intimacy prevails when forgiveness is sought after. By offering forgiveness, members not only develop humility but also open the door for each person involved to examine his or her own heart and see if there is anything he or she needs to ask for forgiveness as well.

    Sometimes an apology is all that is needed to diffuse the hostility. Asking for forgiveness acknowledges each person and his concerns. It says to him, “I value you and what you are about to say.” It also says, “In what ways can you help in building me up to be a better Christian?”

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  • 9. Follow Up

    9. Follow Up

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    A month or so after everyone has met and came to a resolution, meet one more time to see if the conflict has actually been resolved. So often churches leave the conflict at the last meeting, assuming peace has been achieved and never speak of it again. But a follow-up meeting ensures both parties viewed the conflict as an opportunity to grow and take the necessary steps to make sure they actually did grow as a result.

    Following-up also gives both parties closure over the situation. It helps resolve any residual issues and helps assure peace has truly been achieved. This helps each person involved make changes and develop as a person so she can be transformed into the Christlike character God desires for all of us. 

    Often when conflict arises, churches want to run and cower instead of facing the problem. God sees our hearts and yearns to know us intimately. God wants us to be reconciled to each other. That is His will for our lives.

    Michelle S. Lazurek is an award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife and mother. Winner of the Golden Scroll Children's Book of the Year, the Enduring Light Silver Medal and the Maxwell Award, she is a member of the Christian Author's Network and the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She is also an associate literary agent with Wordwise Media Services. For more information, please visit her website at michellelazurek.com.

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