Resolving Conflict

Last time we talked about irresolvable conflict, and I asserted that three things (not an exhaustive list) can contribute to destructive conflict if left festering and unchecked: a lack of loving communication; a reluctance to compromise on nonessentials; and a failure to conform to Christ and obey His Word.

Resolution cannot take place if the issue on which the quarrel centers is not discussed. This means both parties speaking and listening—not just hearing and certainly not just ranting but genuinely engaging one another in heartfelt and clear communication that seeks understanding.

A gracious spirit is essential when resolving conflict, as is the openness to admit that your perspectives, actions, or thoughts on a certain issue might be wrong.

Several years ago I had a conversation with a church board whose pastor had recently resigned. The reason for the resignation was rooted in a doctrinal difference between the pastor and a few church members, including one member of the board. This doctrinal difference had festered and in the end grew into a full-fledged leadership conflict.

The irony is that the declared reason for the conflict (a doctrinal difference) was not really the root problem. The root of the problem was that someone was not going to get their way.

As I talked with this church board, I realized that the real issue in this church was power and control. The real conflict was not over right doctrine but about who gets to say what right doctrine is.

How does a pastor handle such a conflict? What do you do when conflict arises and no matter how hard you try resolution does not seem possible? Was the pastor right to resign? Were these folks right to push the issue to the point of inflammation? Was there anything that could have been done to alleviate or resolve this conflict? Was this conflict really irresolvable?

2 Responses to “Resolving Conflict”

  1. Kris says:

    Admittedly, some denominational structures make this difficult, but my question is how people like this find their way to official positions of power? We all have the discontent matriarch or patriarch of the church who is going to have sway because of the relational authority they have built over the years, but how do we allow someone without the maturity to move through conflict into such a critical position?

    This isn’t to say our leaders shouldn’t have the ability and freedom to disagree with us. I’m saying that it’s critical that we only allow emotionally mature believers to take part in leadership. Emotional maturity does not cause “Inflammation” in this way.

    One of the most frustrating conversation I had to have was with a member of the board (which I inherited) who simply disagreed with every point of action, but did it through festering and suggesting instead of bringing it into the open. It wasn’t long before this emotional immaturity lead to his removal and eventually he left the church. His removal lead to a season of renewal for the church, and in the past 6 months we’ve shed much of the “Sacred Tradition” which had crippled the church.

  2. Dennis Moles says:

    Hey Kris, this is a real sensitive issue in many churches. It is funny how emotionally unhealthy, spiritually immature, or socially inept people (this extends to pastors too) find their way into church leadership. But there is also another real issue that we face and that is well meaning but misplaced people. Sometimes it is not the successful business person who makes the best board member. Sometimes longevity of service is not equal to quality of service. It is necessary that we not only teach people how to handle conflict but that we also teach them to identify their gifts and find their place of greatest potential for service of the King.

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