“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” -Romans 15:5-6
One of the greatest challenges in congregational life and mission is that of conflict. A study of 14,000+ congregations in 2000 indicated 75% experienced some level of conflict. In 2008, another study found that 74% of congregations were in conflict over leadership, money or finances. While a stable percentage, it is troubling to consider that at any given time, three- fourths of congregations are conflicted.
According to the 2000 study, the top reasons for conflict were member behavior, use and abuse of funds, worship, leadership styles, and decision-making. A study conducted in 2004 of Christian pastors by Christianity Today indicated top sources of conflict were control issues, vision/direction, leadership changes, pastor’s style, and finance. The good news is conflict over theology and doctrine was rather low—the bad news is that conflict within the church, as within any human organization, is a part of life most of the time.
In spite of the rampant conflict, however, pastors and congregations most often refuse to acknowledge conflict, deal with it openly and creatively, and fail to see it as an opportunity for redirection and renewal. Conflict in the church is not the roadblock, but the unwillingness to approach and address conflict positively is the real challenge, hindering mission and ministry. As in all human relationships, the key is to deal with conflict openly and creatively.
The pathway forward in dealing with conflict in this way is honesty, clarity, good communication and a commitment to resolution for the sake of the whole. The goal is to develop a congregational climate in which conflict is embraced, when present, as a necessary means for redirecting life, ministry and behavior in positive ways so that renewal happens and mission and ministry are unhindered.
- How have your congregational leaders addressed conflict in the past? Share one real-life instance of conflict in your congregation and how it was/was not addressed.
- What are current sources of conflict in your congregation?
- Do your elected leaders lead, or is there “shadow” leadership that keeps conflict stirred up in your congregation, subverting the efforts of pastor and elected leaders?
- Are you able to be honest and open in your communications, or is such honesty and openness discouraged or not welcomed? Are complaints/negative comments offered directly and encouraged, or are there “triangulation” and “secret” communications and complaining?
- Conflict handled positively creates positive outcomes: greater wisdom and effectiveness; can be purifying/freeing; can lead to better defined vision; improves communication; creates stronger relationships; brings about reconciliation. Dealing with conflict and tension will lead to growth in attendance/participation.
- Most congregations wait too long to address conflict and/or request outside assistance; addressing conflict/tension as quickly as possible is key to positive outcome.
- All involved must seek win/win, not win/lose solution.
- Even when outside consultation is requested, the congregational pastor/leaders and members must do the work—no one can do it for you.
- Leaders must deal with “bullies.”
- Leaders must lead, and not allow “shadow-leaders” to control the outcome.
- Leaders must covenant together how they will deal with conflict and agree to hold one another accountable.
For additional information on this series of articles connected with The Academy, please visit: The Academy.