“So amid the conflict, whether great or small, do not be discouraged, God is over all; count your many blessings angels will attend, help and comfort give you to your journey’s end”.
These words by Johnson Oatman were written in 1897 and set to the familiar tune BLESSINGS, by Edwin O. Excell the same year. Since this is the fourth verse it completes the lesson of strife a human soul might encounter – tossed about, lost; burdened with a load – our cross to bear; other’s riches – yet Christ’s wealth is our promise on which to cast our many blessings. Who could have ever thought this was also a song for a church in conflict? A body of believers, the church can be tossed about, burdened, seeking riches, know Christ is the answer – yet, amid conflict, great or small become immune to the possibility that God is over all nor are there any blessings to be found.
This writer deals with church conflict every day. More often, the conflict is great, rather than small. Every church conflict is serious and truly out of character for a body of Christ’s believers.
One of the more recent suggestions I have made is for a church to decide ahead of time how they would settle disputes or conflicts. An Article with Sections in the Bylaws of the church would be a step in the right direction, or possibly in a Policies and Procedures manual. Either place could detail a process to follow where consistent ecclesiastical/biblical direction is given. Part Thirteen in the December 2006 issue of Church Staff Digest will provide a method for handling church conflict.
All churches have or will have conflict. However, it is possible for a church to have conflict and remain healthy IF they have a process in place to follow.
Jim Van Yperen, author of Making Peace: A Guide To Overcoming Church Conflict, states: “A healthy church has learned a way of thinking and seeing and behaving that is redemptive, so that when real conflict comes, they’re able to handle it. They’ve learned that God is sovereign over all things, so that conflict is not necessarily a threat.”
Ken Sande of Peacemaker Ministries says, “Conflict is actually an opportunity. First Corinthians is a long conflict resolution letter. At the end of chapter 10, Paul sums up by saying, … ‘whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God, not for your own good but for others. Follow my example”’.
Churches need to take the high road and be prepared to handle conflict as God would look at it. He has given every church the opportunity to exalt Him – not man. God wants the church to behave so differently that the people take notice and are impressed. Church conflict can be an opportunity to grow in Christ likeness – the only thing we have to do is prepare the church on how to handle conflict efficiently. Conflict is not something we go looking for, but when it comes, we need to slow down and say, Lord if nothing else, in this conflict situation refine my spirit to count the blessings.
“A sure sign you’re using weapons of the flesh instead of weapons of the Spirit is that you’re getting short-term gains, but long-term losses.” Rene Schlaepfer, Pastor, Twin Lakes Church, Aptos, California.
One of the most vicious battlefields/conflicts a Christian will possibly encounter is on the floor of the church business meeting! No where is there a greater charge of emotional energy – usually focused on things of the flesh rather than things of the Spirit and the Kingdom of God. When the personal emotional energy is to win at all cost – the body, the church takes on conflict. Sometimes it is short term. Sometimes it is very involved and takes days/weeks to resolve. Many conflicts could be resolved instantly with good parliamentary procedures or policies and procedures in place to process the negotiation procedures. When these are missing, conflicts can certainly form.
Seriously, the church business meeting is NOT the place nor the time to resolve conflict, great or small. If the bylaws support the procedure all “new business” should always be directed to the proper committee/team/group who has been empowered by the congregation to administrate that task. A report of the concern/question/idea from the empowered committee/team/group would be due in the “old business” carried over to the next scheduled business meeting. Any special business meeting to settle a conflict situation would require proper notice and time and would require a recommendation of action from the committee/team/group.
Another method to handle conflict is to create an ad hoc committee to face the conflict in a closed session – thus taking it off the church business meeting agenda and focusing on a special time and place. A “mediator” (a neutral party non-church member) could be present to direct the discussion, draw the conclusions made in the meeting and help write a written resolve of the conflict. This method is working very well. It allows proper discussion and “venting” over a 3-4 hour session that thoroughly reviews the timeline of the conflict and draws consensus toward resolve. Once the resolution has been written and agreed upon by the ad hoc committee a formal report concerning the resolution needs to be reported to the congregation in a called special business meeting. Church records should contain the report from the committee and that the conflict is officially settled.
While it is true that too many “church fights” have resulted from ill-conducted business meetings, the fundamental principle of parliamentary law still holds true:
“The application of parliamentary law is the best method yet devised to enable assemblies of any size, with due regard for every member’s opinion, to arrive at the general will on the maximum number of questions of varying complexity in a minimum time and under all kinds of internal climate ranging from total harmony to hardened or impassioned division of opinion.” (Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised, 10th Edition, Cambridge, MA; Persens Publishing, 2000; pvlviii.)