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View Pointers for Resolving Church Conflicts

Pointers for Resolving Church Conflicts

The core of this process can be stated simply:
(1) identify the issue, the area of concern or conflict;
(2) clarify the goals or wants of the various parties;
(3) search for alternatives that enable all parties to achieve as many of their goals as possible: and
(4) covenant to follow the chosen alternative.

Every person has basic innate needs. The activity of one’s life seeks to fulfill this set of needs. In order to fulfill these needs, a person works towards goals. Goals are states of being that do not now exist but that we can imagine existing. In other words, goals are targets toward which we direct our actions.

We are intentional, goal directed beings, seeking the fulfillment of our needs through the achievement of our goals, and we are beings who must pursue our goals in social settings. Thus, the clash, many trying to occupy the same space at the same time.

Most of the great religions of the world promise a future pictured as a blissful, peaceful, conflict free state. The church perhaps embodies most vividly this human desire to avoid conflict. As a result, most churches develop norms rejecting behavior that encourages conflict and rewarding behavior that tends to suppress it.
There are personal goals, personal goals for the organization, and the organization’s goals.

We always perceive the world from our point of view, and we act on the basis of it. Human pride, self glorification, and making personal perceptions absolute ultimately corrupt. The deification or veneration of our own views builds the barriers, creates the separations, and deepens the estrangement from God and others.

The Ten Most Predictable Times of Church Conflict:
1. Easter
2. Stewardship Campaigns/Budget Time
3. Addition of New Staff
4. Change in Leadership Style
5. The Pastor’s Vacation
6. Changes in the Pastor’s Family
7. Introduction of Baby Boomers into the Church
8. The Completion of a New Building
9. Loss of Church Membership
10. Increase in Church Membership

The Practice of Resolving Conflict
1. Help others be “edified”.
2. Strive for effective communication.
3. Examine and filter assumptions.
4. Identify goals.
5. Identify the primary issue.
6. Develop alternatives for goal achievement.

Five Styles of Conflict Management
1. Win/lose = achieving goals at the expense of relationships
2. Accommodation = giving up goals to preserve relationship
3. Avoidance = neither goals nor relationships can be preserved
4. Compromise = give a little, get a little
5. Win/win = high concern to reach goals and build relationship

A Pattern for Resolving Conflicts
One church drew up a list of guidelines and agreed to follow them when differences arose or people voiced concerns. Some of the guidelines were:
1. Dealing openly with conflict can be healthy and useful for the church. It is okay for people to differ with one another.
2. Resolutions for the sake of quick agreement are often worse than agreements that are carefully worked out over time.
3. Fair conflict management includes

  • Dealing with one issue at a time.
  • If more than one issue is presented, agreeing on the order in which the issues will be addressed.
  • Exploring all the dimensions of the problem(s)
  • Exploring several alternative solutions to the problem(s)

4. If any party is uncomfortable with the forum in which the conflict is raised, it is legitimate to request and discuss what the most appropriate forum might be.
5. Inappropriate behavior in conflict includes, but is not limited to

  • Name calling,
  • Mind reading (attributing evil motives to others),
  • Inducing guilt (“Look how you’ve made me feel”),
  • Rejecting, deprecating, or discrediting another person,
  • Using information from confidential sources or indicating that such information exists.

6. Fair conflict always allows people who are charged with poor performance or inappropriate behavior

  • to know who their accusers are,
  • to learn what their accusers’ concerns are,
  • to respond to those who accuse.


by Larry Shallenberger

Sometimes conflict spreads to the point of consuming the energies of the whole church. Conflict specialists have identified recognizable phases of the progression of conflict in an organization:

Phase One: Sparks

  • People have minor disagreements over their goals, needs, perspectives, value, methods, or interests.
  • People can still be led to work through their disagreements by acceptance, approval, or appreciation.
  • People express disagreements through minor power plays.


  • Never allow the growth of the church to shift emphasis away from the value of the individual. When 10 to 15 percent feel “used” for the cause, the organization will move to phase two.
  • Hold leadership retreats for spiritual and relational development.
  • Promptly respond to complaints. Things seldom right themselves.
  • Review the church master plan annually with the church to keep ownership high.

Phase Two: Sparks Igniting the Storm

  • People become uneasy with each other because of perceived unfairness.
  • Diversity is despised and not affirmed.
  • Discussions reinforce their positions.
  • The groups discuss strategy to handle future meetings.
  • Opposition is depersonalized by characterization.
  • Concern for personal image heightens.


  • Reject a wait-and-see attitude.
  • Acknowledge there’s a problem and call for prayer and fasting.
  • Hold spiritual life meetings with a neutral visiting speaker.
  • Exercise church discipline when appropriate.
  • Involve neutral mediators to settle the disturbance.

Phase Three: Firestorm in Full Fury

  • Slander is the common form of communication.
  • People become identified with strong positions.
  • Leaders emerge on each side.
  • Organizational structure is used as a weapon. The constitution and bylaws are used to leverage positions.
  • Each side believes they understand the other’s wrong motives.
  • The pastor is usually in a no-win position and has a 50-50 chance of weathering the conflict.


  • Hire a crisis management consultant.
  • Prayerfully determine if there’s an evil core to the conflict, and start church discipline.
  • Balance grace and justice.
  • Consult a Christian attorney to make sure that issues are handled in a way that doesn’t provoke a lawsuit.
  • Be decisive.

Phase Four: Consuming Winds

  • The conflict has spread to 10 percent of the leadership and 20 percent of the body.
  • Facts are hard to find. Arguments are emotion- based.
  • Fighting is seen as the only option because neither side believes the other is capable of change.
  • A subgroup’s power is seen as more valuable than the entire organization.
  • The reputation of the church is damaged in the community.
  • Prayer and Scripture are used to justify personal ideologies.
  • Revival and spiritual warfare are talked about in a quick fix manner.
  • Board members improperly use church discipline.


  • Work closely with the consultant.
  • Teach solid biblical truths on spiritual warfare.
  • Don’t allow Scripture to be used as a weapon.
  • Minister to the faithful who aren’t involved in the controversy. Don’t allow them to be neglected.
  • Don’t let the conflict become the pulpit theme.
  • Call the congregation to prayer and fasting. Don’t divulge sensitive information but get the church involved.
  • Whether it’s best to stay or leave. Sometimes parting is best for all parties.

Phase Five: The Final Burn

  • Conflict may lead to litigation.
  • The object now is to discredit and destroy. Winning is no longer enough.
  • The church has moved from mediation to arbitration.
  • An outside party officiates the dismantling of the organization.


  • Set up task forces to discover the complexities of each group’s complaints. Make the complexity apparent to all in order to avoid simplistic thinking.
  • Hire a neutral party to do a fact-finding procedure. When people feel heard, it bleeds out the emotional tension.
  • Refocus the church’s efforts on problem solving.
  • Don’t hesitate to eliminate nonfunctioning ministries or sell excess property. Preserve potential resources for future ministry.

Phase Six: Rebuilding on Burnt Timber

  • One group may start a new church, while other people scatter to others churches.
  • Some people (often the youth of the families involved) are lost to the faith due to bitterness.
  • A faithful remnant will remain with the property and the ministry as it either dies or struggles with minimal effectiveness for years.
  • Resentment lingers between those who departed and those who stayed.
  • With proper leadership and time, the church can emerge.


  • If the pastor resigns, hire a trained interim pastor to prevent the cycle from repeating itself.
  • Invite a speaker to speak to your remnant on themes of unconditional love, forgiveness, and unity.

This article is excerpted from Children’s Ministry Magazine.
Source: “Firestorm: Preventing and Overcoming Church Conflicts” by Ron Susek (Baker Book House).


Category:Phase 1 - Launch Team Development