Conflict and churches go hand in hand. There are many reasons for this, but the fundamental issue is that people are interested in what they invest in. And, members have a vested (financial, emotional) interest in church decisions. This interest often insights passion – which sometimes results in conflict.
A major source of conflict in the church is the tug-of-war over the utilization of ministry resources – people, time and money or over the philosophical or doctrinal direction of the church.
These can be very emotionally charged issues, if not managed appropriately. One way to minimize conflict is to have a plan and to communicate well. When everyone understands what the mission, vision and values of the church are; and the strategy by which the church hopes to achieve its mission, issues are filtered through that lens which can minimize conflict.
If your church is experiencing conflict, here are a few tips:
15 Resolution Tips to Battle Conflict in MinistryChurch & conflict go hand in hand. We've put together a few tips to help resolve issues in ministry > Click To Tweet
Listening is a skill that can be fine-tuned. Taking the time to really understand another person can be one of the most important steps in conflict resolution. When we understand another’s perspective, it helps us comprehend and allows us to be open to making concessions and adjustments to bring resolution.
“This you know, by beloved brethren But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” James 1:19
2. Slow to Speak
We all can learn to be better at this, but sometimes we need to simply stop and think before we speak. Particularly when we are feeling impassioned about an issue, it is easy to spew words that we might later regret and are impossible to take back.
“When angry, count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, a hundred,” said Thomas Jefferson. That is still good advice and can help us avoid a regretful conversation.
3. Confront the Issues
There is an interesting dynamic within ministry in that conflict is often avoided because Christians don’t want to be labeled as anything but sweet and kind. However, the Bible is very clear about this. In the book of Matthew, Jesus says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Matthew 18:15
People often ignore one of the most important words in this passage and that is in private. Make sure you keep these conversations private and not public. Be sensitive to others and do not make the mistake of making a public issue out of a private one.
4. Be Kind
It is hard to be kind when we are angry; however, we are required to use kindness as a tool to diffuse even the most challenging situations.
Early in my career I worked in a pediatric hospital emergency room. The experience was enlightening, oftentimes shocking and many days very sad. When parents bring their vulnerable children into a hospital emergency room they are often scared, confused and defensive. They internalize a sick child and often blame themselves for the situation. These tendencies often result in parents who became challenging, disruptive and act out.
The hospital hired a very wise woman who would sit with these disgruntled families, gently listened to their stories and was able to take extremely volatile situations and turn them into very calm encounters. Her secret was to listen to them and to show them kindness. She was wise enough to know that confronting them with anger would only make the situation worse. Did I say she was a very wise woman?
Kindness goes a long way in diffusing conflict. Use it as your secret weapon!
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1
5. Use Wisdom
The book of proverbs is full of wisdom and using wisdom in how we communicate can bring healing to the most divisive situation. Take time to think and pray about situations and use wisdom in how you address them.
“There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18
6. Exercise Forgiveness
Very often unresolved conflict is the result of unforgiveness. The Bible is very clear about our responsibility to forgive others when we are wronged and to do our part in finding reconciliation.
“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” Luke 17:3
7. Identify Common Ground
Everyone comes from different backgrounds and life events. These variations in experiences give us all different perspectives and responses. Work to find common ground and look for those things to come to agreement on. Celebrate what everyone agrees on (achieving the church mission) and then agree to disagree on nonrelated issues – then move on.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9
8. Work to Maintain Peace
Resolving conflict is a two way street and there are times when both parties do not have the same intentions for resolution. When this is the case, do your best to maintain peace and not add fuel to the fire. Accelerating the situation typically does not end well.
“…If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men..” Romans 12:18
Playing referee in church conflict is never fun but there are some things you can do to keep church conflict at bay. Try these tips:
9. Clear Mission and Vision
Every church needs to have a guiding mission and vision by which to operate. Write down the vision, and communicate it to members. This will help them to have a better understanding of what the church is trying to accomplish.
“Write the vision; make it plain on tables, so he may run who reads it.” Habakkuk 2:2
10. Strategy and Plan
While it is important to have a mission and vision, there needs to be a plan. Take the time create a strategy and plan for achieving the mission and communicate the plan to members. This results in an understanding for how and why decisions are made.
11. Budget toward the Vision
Many churches have conflict over financial resources and determining the best way to use those resources. Budget toward the vision and share the budget with members. This will help members understand where budget dollars are allocated. For instance, budget allocations should support the strategy and plan.
Oftentimes conflict is the result of simple miscommunication. Communicate, communicate, communicate! There can never be too much communication when it comes to sharing the church mission, vision, values and budget. The more you communicate the better chance you will have to control the rumor mill and what people talk about. The secret is to communicate information before members think to ask questions. Stay ahead of the communication curve and you will alleviate unnecessary conflict.
Not everyone has been schooled on how to resolve conflict. Develop conflict resolution training and start with your leadership team. If church leaders know how to nip conflict in the bud you may be able to keep conflict from getting bigger than it needs to be.
14. Meeting Structure
Very often it is church volunteers who facilitate church meetings. Some of whom may not have a background in meeting facilitation. Create a required meeting structure that all teams are asked to use. Ensure the meeting facilitator creates meeting agendas, takes meeting notes and follows up on assigned tasks.
15. Identify Improvement Opportunities
Very often conflict is a result of internalized frustrations. Make sure your church has an avenue for members to offer suggestions for improvement. Consider these improvement ideas a gift. Statistics show that most people will not complain about internal frustrations but if you have members who are willing to share ideas, it will allow the church to change, grow and improve.
Church conflict need not keep you up at night. Take the time to develop a plan and communicate the plan. Talk about the issues, use kindness in communication and forgive. These simply steps may just be the tricks to controlling the conflict in your church!