rapidly growing church on the north side of Milwaukee has an unusual neon sign showing through the glass
windows of its front doors.The brightly
lit purple colored sign says, “Sinners welcome here!”How appropriate that the place where
forgiveness should reside should encourage sinners to “come on in.”It is exactly this issue of “sinners” that we
also need to consider when we discuss the leadership and professional staff of
our churches as well.For even ministry
teams are made up of “imperfect people.”
the most successful ministry staffs across the country, sin still transcends
into the personal daily grind of each parish ministry member and with it comes
the potential for conflict.Dr. Phil Van
Auken in his book, “The Well Managed Ministry”
states that “When imperfect people interact in imperfect ways, conflict
results.Conflict is inevitable in all
organizations, including those with a Christian mission.” (Van Auken, 8.1)Ken
Sande says that “you cannot prevent conflict in the church.” (Sande, 1) He
further suggests that God may even allow conflict in order to bring about a
change at the congregation or to encourage spiritual growth.Marlene Sweeney in her article “Dealing
with Conflict” says that “conflict may be unavoidable, but it is not
unmanageable.” (Sweeney, 1)
is expected in a church – after all, Satan desires to divide a
congregation.It is especially
anticipated among the parish ministry staff. For if Satan can divide the
spiritual leadership of the church, the consequences will gravely affect the
congregation and its mission as well. Sande cautions that “anytime a conflict
between two people in a church is not properly resolved, it can grow to infect
an entire congregation. Such conflicts are often more intense and destructive
than those in secular organizations.” (Sande, 1) Scripture tells us to “pursue
the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.”
(Romans NKJV) For this reason, a ministry staff needs to
learn ways to respond to conflict positively – especially when it is among the
ministry staff.There needs to be a
pro-active process to maintain and resolve the potentially destructive nature
of any staff conflict.
is not always a negative.Sometimes
conflict can help teams to refine their ministry goals or objectives and
promotes a dialog among staff. It can also encourage problem solving and
challenge the staff toward a greater vision or goal.Negative conflict will destroy communication,
energy, and productivity and cooperation among the parish staff members.It is essential that negative conflict be
dealt with as soon as possible in order to minimize its caustic effect on the
Van Auken of BaylorUniversity in Waco, Texas suggests that the best way to manage conflict is to
first understand its root cause.He
suggests that most conflicts originate from a lack of goal assimilation and
suboptimization.If the parish team does
not take ownership of the goals they will not be willing to “suboptimize” or
compromise their own departmental preferences or desires for the sake of the
greater ministry.(Van Auken, 8.2)
how the individual members of the parish team deal with conflict is also a
pro-active method toward conflict resolution.A simple test from the Alban Institute called “Discover Your Conflict
Management Style” offers six responses used by many parish workers.Note, often times we will use more than one
response to deal with a conflict.They
·Persuade others of your position (this works only if they
·Compel them through the enforcing of rules, regulations and
·Avoid discussing the issue or Accommodate the issue
by “giving in”,
·Collaborate a mutual solution,
·Negotiate a deal (can be done as part of a collaborative
·Support a resolution as just an observer (non-involved third
The Conflict Resolution Center of Pittsburgh, PA
suggests these ten ways to easing tension in a church and toward solving
you need each other; work together toward a resolution.
the conflict; don’t ignore it.
to others opinions without judging it.
your audience and respond accordingly.
the effect of change on the congregation before conflict sets in.
alert to your emotional involvement to an issue.
issues separate; deal with them one at a time.
all parties in a conflict – everyone should own into the solution.
objective and respect everyone’s perspective on an issue even if you do not
necessary, bring in a mediator. (Mendelson, 2)
Van Auken offers three “conflict-reduction” and four
“conflict-coping” strategies for
with ministry team issues.The conflict-reduction
conflict should not be about person or personality – stick to an issue.
separate a person’s feelings or emotional delivery from their actual thoughts.
non-confrontational throughout the process.
The conflict-coping strategies are:
·Superordinate: seek a common cause and commitment toward a
ministry vision or goal among those having the conflict.
·Fractionize: break the conflict down into smaller more
manageable issues which the ministry team can more easily deal with.
Pollination: create an
understanding and acceptance between the various ministries of the parish team
with the intent of promoting interdependence.
·Compromise: not always plausible, but works well when the
purpose is agreed upon by the team but the process or facilitation has not been
“strategies” and suggestions are all well intentioned and they clearly desire
to promote a pro-active approach toward conflict resolution; however, the
process still requires a change in attitude and behavior.A “holy habit” needs to be developed in order
for the team to work effectively through the inevitable conflicts Satan and our
sinful condition are going to bring to the ministry table.
my 21+ years of team ministry, the most effective approach I have found to
developing a “holy habit” in conflict resolution is based upon a book by Ken
Sande.Sande has simply applied Biblical
methods and responses for dealing positively with conflict. Part two of this
presentation will take a closer look at his approach to conflict resolution and
you will see how it can easily be applied to a parish team ministry, a marriage
or a simple disagreement among friends.The program is called “Peacemakers.”
Lott, David B. (2001). Conflict Management in Congregations.Bethesda, MD: The Alban Institute.
Leas, Speed B. (1997).Discover
Your Conflict Management Style: Revised Edition. Bethesda, MD: The Alban Institute.
Leas, Speed B. (2002).Moving Your
Church through Conflict.Bethesda, MD: The Alban Institute.