I hate conflict, with a passion. I have to admit that I try my best to avoid it at all cost. However, conflict comes to all churches in various ways. If you are the pastor that means you will often be the one to manage conflict. I do not have the perfect answer to all problems, but here are some insights of conflict in a small-town church.
1) All conflict involves everyone.
Whether it is a couple going through a divorce, board members in disagreement, or a family dealing with illness bringing conflict from the stress; the conflict affects everyone. It always amazes me that people in a small-town church think their issues and disagreements are private or unknown affairs. The reality is everyone knows something is wrong, and in some way it will have a negative effect on everyone.
2) Most churches live in avoidance, causing small issues to become large issues.
Conflict is considered so evil by most people that any level of disagreement is pushed into the background. Many small issues build until, like a volcano building pressure, things explode. Then people say things they wouldn’t otherwise say and do things they would otherwise not do.
3) The heart of most conflict is an improper view of me, we, and He.
We all are born into sin, and selfishness often rears it’s head and causes us to take up issues that are me verses we issues. When we push our issues against others we forget that in the church, it is supposed to be a we mentality, because we should work in community. Even more important, we forget that in the church it isn’t about me and it isn’t about we because in reality it’s about He. We are not the body of ourselves, our town, our denomination, or our church. We are a part of the Body of Christ, so it is about Him.
Conflict can’t always be avoided, but we can be calmer through conflict if we take a lot more time to pray through issues, and follow the good advice of Matthew 18.
1) Deal with conflict early at the smallest level possible.
Don’t let things build until it explodes. Instead involve only those who need to be. Never drag others into the problem who aren’t involved.
2) Only escalate situations to involve others if necessary.
Jesus said to take a friend if we can’t solve the solution. And, we only involve the leaders if that doesn’t work.
3) If situations come to the point that it can’t be resolved never stop praying.
Jesus says to treat a person lost in their sin, who we have tried to reach as we would other sinners. In history many thought this meant to disown or ignore them. However, when we see how Jesus treated sinners it changes our view. He kept trying to reach them ate with them and gave them dignity. We should never let our conflict keep us from praying and caring for the others we are in conflict with. In the end, if it isn’t about you or me, and it is about Christ we should beware that both sides may be wrong. Praying for others often brings clarity and understanding as the Holy Spirit works on our hearts.
4) Pray, Pray, Pray:
We can never underestimate the power of prayer to change our hearts and to overcome the greatest conflicts. We must pray and take time away from the situation to gain better perspective and direction in all situations. The Holy Spirit can change things in us and in situations that nothing we do can ever overcome. So, it should be our first, continual, and last step in dealing with any level of conflict. Trust God’s Spirit to guide you through.
May God Bless you in your leadership journey.