Church conflict resolution fails in many churches. If you are reading this, you likely are experiencing some type of church conflict or are in the process of a church conflict resolution process in your church. Don’t fret, with the right process and knowledge about the obstacles you may encounter, you can make the right decisions to get your church on track. You can experience a healthy approach to church conflict that ends with a church conflict resolution that unifies your church rather than splitting it. (Even if you aren’t in the midst of conflict, please continue reading as conflict will inevitably arise and you’ll want to be well equipped.)
9 Reasons Church Conflict Resolution Fails in Many Churches
1) There is no consistent teaching on conflict.
Do you teach on conflict regularly? If not, what would it look like for you to teach on conflict on a regular basis as a way of laying a Biblical foundation for how you and your church handles conflict? Consider how teaching from the pulpit or through small groups would benefit your congregation.
2) The pastor doesn’t model Biblical conflict resolution.
If you want to change the behavior of others, you should start by changing your own behavior. Otherwise, you setup a situation where your character can be called into question. You also will benefit from people having seen it through your example.
3) There is no agreed upon process for handling church conflict.
A paragraph in your by-laws is not going to change the way that your church handles conflict. Having an agreed upon approach to deal with conflict can help you when things get really bad. But the biggest factor effecting conflict resolution is the culture of your church. Ensure you have an approach to conflict resolution everyone agrees on, or else you will get yourself into trouble and end up with a free-for-all approach that lacks a healthy way to handle conflict.
4) Church leaders don’t support the church’s process.
You can have things in writing all day and subsequently assume things are going well. However, if your leaders don’t support the process, you will find lots of backroom deals and discussions occurring that violate the agreements that were previously made. Rather than arriving at that point, take some time to help your church leaders understand what you believe about conflict. Encourage your team to walk through conflicts using a process such as Peacemakers, and potentially bring in an outside (neutral) party who can help people walk through conflicts. If you do this regularly, the reception of bringing someone in during a more difficult conflict will be much more accepted.
5) Unity has been supplanted by the “Me Monster”.
How often do you and your church leaders pray for unity? Is it really something that you and your church values? I hope so. Many times when church conflict escalates out of control, pastors leave, church members hold secret meetings, and the climate is nothing but tense. Why? The reason is a lack of concern for unity and a focus on getting “what I want.” You will hear phrases like, “This is my church” or “after all I invested in this church…” or “Who does he think he is doing ____ without speaking with me?”
Where have you seen the “Me Monster” in your church? (As an aside, Brian Reagan originally made the concept of the Me Monster popular in his video of the same title. You can watch it here.)
6) Church discipline is a foreign language.
When is the last time someone has been placed under church discipline at your church? You might not know the answer to this question if you are a church member who doesn’t hold any leadership positions. You might not know the answer, because it has never occurred.
Two of the biggest problems with church discipline are lack of clarity and compassion. Oftentimes people don’t follow any type of church disciple process, because it has never been formally clarified as to what it is or what should occur. Therefore, everyone decides to avoid all church conflict resolution in order to “keep the peace.” But another issue is a lack of compassion. If we truly care for those around us, we won’t allow them to stay in the unhealthy patterns they have gotten into. We will lovingly help them to change, and sometimes that means issuing church discipline.
7) Our relationships with people supersede our belief in Scripture.
I don’t mean this one in a judgmental way at all. Honestly, I’m guilty of this one in more ways than I’d like to admit. But how often do we have the tough conversations we need to have with someone else, because Scripture tells us…even if that means a rift in the relationship? What conversations need to occur in your church, among your church leadership, or with a disgruntled member about something that is sure to cause tension? Could you be contributing to the conflict by avoiding it and letting the issue fester in your heart?
The people that you are close to certainly mean a lot to you, and you should always show compassion towards them. Yet we also need to be careful that our relationships with people don’t trump the words of Scripture.
8) Gossip has infiltrated the church like a poison.
As soon as you start to think your church doesn’t struggle with gossip, you should probably reconsider. Gossip destroys your church from the inside out. It causes people to believe untrue information about others. It leads people to pursue unhealthy approaches to conflict. Gossip encourages triangulation (where you seek validation from others for your side rather than speaking with someone directly).
9) We have a lack of outside mentors and facilitators.
Over the course of the last month, three different pastors have contacted me about unresolved conflict within their church. Some months it is much more than that. Pastors routinely wonder who they should speak to and who will the congregation trust. They questions if they should leave to preserve the unity of the church, along with many other questions. My answer to those questions about church conflict resolution is that it depends. Every church and every pastor and every conflict are so different that a one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work.
As a pastor or other church leader, one of the things you should do early on is create a list of people you can call when conflict arises. Look at their training. You aren’t looking necessarily for a black and white thinker who has pastored multiple churches and planted churches in many places. Those people have great experience and can be wonderful resources. But you need to look for people with specific training in the area of conflict resolution and biblical peacemaking, in order to ensure you are following a Biblical approach rather than inviting someone to cut and paste their experience onto your church.
Some good resources in this area will be your denominational leaders, area supervisors or district superintendents, or church consulting firms. Another organization I believe in and often recommend is called Peacemakers. While receiving my training in Conflict Coaching and Mediation, I found their principles to be the clearest available on the market that also align with Scripture.
– The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict – This is the best place to start to begin shaping your thoughts on how to handle biblical conflict resolution. It is also one of the best tools you can use to take your leadership team through an intentional study in preparation for a more church-wide study, focus, or transition that may require biblical conflict resolution. (It is currently on sale for $2.99, as well for Kindle.)
– Resolving Everyday Conflict – This book is a bit less comprehensive and more accessible for the average person wanting a cursory overview of their principles. It could easily become a small group study guide, a church-wide curriculum, or something else.
– Peacemaking for Families (Focus on the Family) – This book is for families looking for a better way to handle the conflicts they face.
– The Peacemaking Church – This kit includes books, DVDs, example sermons, and other helpful articles to help your church become intentional about its approach to biblical conflict resolution. To the best of my knowledge, this resource is not sold at Amazon.
Each year, Peacemakers holds various training events around the United States and in other parts of the world. They have a large annual event called the Peacemaker Conference with many different training opportunities during September. (This year it will be held in Denver, Colorado, on September 24-26.)
(As a disclaimer: I have no material connection with Peacemakers today and have not been compensated in any way for recommending them. My recommendation come from personal experience. A few of the links to resources in this post are, however, affiliate links for which BradBridges.net will receive a portion of the proceeds of each purchase you make on Amazon.)