Most of us don't like conflict. We usually find it perplexing, stressful and possible. Yet I believe that conflict is not just inevitable but also indispensable -- a uniquely valuable component of our personal and organizational lives. Without it, we lose our ability to hear new ideas and work together toward creative solutions. After having spent time with many different churches and church groups on conflict resolution, I have come to some conclusions which might surprise you: The problem is not the problem.
I am the source of most conflict I experience.
Without conflict, no change or growth ever occurs.
But if conflict is necessary for individual and organizational development, we must learn how to use it effectively instead of avoiding it. In the following reflection, I share some of what I have learned about turning destructive conflict into a constructive experience for change and growth. Without conflict, no change or growth ever occurs
We all know the symptoms of conflict in the church, even if we would rather pretend it doesn't exist. There is internal division, an "us" versus "them" mentality, with increased but often unfocused feelings of anxiety, anger, mistrust, and fear. This results in long unproductive meetings, accusations and decisions made in secret, gradually decreasing attendance, loss of income and even membership. Nobody likes being in the midst of conflict. But church conflict seems especially difficult. We shouldn't be surprised, however. Conflict is sharpest where bonds are strong and encompass the whole person. This is keenly evident in the church with its standard of commitment to a life's belief system. What makes matters worse is that the church as a closely-knit group tends to suppress conflict, rather than dealing with it head-on. This may keep the peace, but only on the surface and only temporarily. It's like a delayed fuse on a bomb. The conflict that finally erupts will not just deal with the immediate issue. It also must deal with the accumulation of hurt and angry feelings long denied. For this reason, we often find that the closer the group, the more intense the conflict. What the suppression of conflict does do is preserve the image of the church as a loving community united in God's service. Such myths keep the church from effectively utilizing conflict for growth. There are others, for instance: - conflict is bad because it threatens the unity of the church - a loving person is always tranquil, stable and serene
- the administration, worship and programs of the church are fixed and established thus not subject to change - individuals and the church as whole should be "spiritual" -- that is, should be "above" conflict.
But real growth demands creativity and risk. We are never moved to change unless we allow our beliefs and behaviors to be challenged. The suppression of conflict, on the other hand, leads to stagnation and conformity. So while the Christian community should be an ideal place for growth, it often erects a barrier to growth by avoiding or denying conflict at all costs. The church has much to gain from the effective use of conflict. The conflict will be there. The question is, how will we choose to handle it? Conflict can alienate and block effective work or it can clarify and broaden understanding of important issues, thereby becoming a source of motivation and a release of new energy. The difference is in the skills that are necessary to utilize this force toward its positive end. Individually and as a group, reflect on the following basic questions regarding conflict in the church. Case Studies
Here are two case studies which provide an opportunity to reflect on the sources and dynamics of church conflict. No doubt you have had experiences with conflict in your own congregation as well. Feel free to draw on these experiences, sharing them with your study group if appropriate, as you...