Conflict management in the local church

Conflict management training is needed by staff and lay leaders for the local church to overcome challenges and problems facing the local church today and to prepare for challenges in the future. Conflicts are not new in the church.  Throughout the issue of the church conflicts have emerged and continue to emerge.  However, what matters most is how well prepared church leaders are to meet the emerging issues.  So as to prepare church leaders to handle conflicts in the church a good understanding of the sources of conflict in the church is required.

Conflicts result from a number of sources for instance, conflicts result from communication breakdown which can be occasioned by pride in members of the congregation, dishonesty amongst members of the congregation, when love is missing amongst church staff, leaders and the congregation, when Christians cease to be obedient to the teachings of the Bible, when leaders start scrambling of leadership positions, where respect is lacking, or even in situations whereby church leadership fails to guide the ‘flock’ in the right godly manner.

Training in conflict management for staff and lay members in the church is coming at the right time when the above-mentioned sources of conflicts are evident in the local church.  Broadly speaking, the conflicts can be traced to organizational structure in the local church, personal factors and communication issues[1].

The church is increasingly becoming an institution, which is tasked with a lot of responsibilities.  Infact the church today is assuming a business model considering that many churches have different programs, which have to be managed in a professional manner. Therefore, conflict management training is ideal inorder to nurture, improve and encourage the potential and capability in the staff and lay leaders in the church.

Training is aimed just at that; preparing the staff, the lay leaders and the congregation to better meet and manage the challenges of today’s church leadership.  The training program is carefully constructed in terms of content to meet the demands of church leadership as well as individual needs and the needs of the church as an organization.  The training is designed in such a manner as to make the staff and lay leaders acquire new knowledge in areas of conflict management skills, team leadership skills, managing change as well as managing diversity.

In addition, the training is aimed at meeting the goals and objectives of the church by making sure that staff and leaders in the church understand the purpose, goals and objectives for the church.  The training is also aimed at updating the leaders on church doctrines as well as scriptures bearing in mind that scriptures are always applicable to any situations.  The training aims at making sure that church leaders are able to set goals for their church which are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

Throughout the training program, the learners will be expected to participate through role-playing, listening and asking questions so as to understand better about conflict resolution as well as execution of the conflict resolution strategies.  The training is crafted with an understanding that different people have different needs and all should be taken care of.  The method of learning adopted in the training is very important considering the fact that staff and lay leaders in the church consist of people of different age such as adults and even teens.

A good training program must create an avenue for getting immediate feedback on the effectiveness of the training inorder to make sure that the desired change and behaviour output is achieved[2].  Getting feedback also ensures that behaviour reinforcement is possible and also to make sure that learners are able to give their input to make the learning process what it is supposed to be.

A follow up is critical given the fact that sources of conflicts vary constantly and therefore church leaders must often be equipped to deal with emerging issues.  Therefore a careful organizational analysis made to determine training needs of the staff and lay leaders of the local church is a continuous exercise.  Equally important is follow up to make sure that the training achieves its goals.

Solving Differences in the Church

Whenever people gather, difference will always emerge, but for Christians, love and patience must triumph.  Acts Chapter 6 presents a classic theology of conflicts for today’s church staff and lay leaders.

In those days, when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their windows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.  So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “ It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God inorder to wait on tables.  Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of Spirit and wisdom.  We will turn this responsibility over to them and we will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word”.

This proposal pleased the whole group.  They choose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.  They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid their hands on them.  So the word of God spread.  The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith[3].

The Jerusalem Jewish community was caught up in a conflict between Hellenists and Hebrews.  The issue of conflict was not different from many causes of today’s conflicts.  It revolved around complaints about unfairness in the way one group treated the other.  However, it is worth noting that these conflicts did not divide the Christians.  Conflicts resolutions strategies was applied by the disciples to resolve the conflict which was threatening the very unity of the nascent church and threatening to break the church apart.

There emerged organizational structure problems, which led to unmet needs in terms of food distribution, and this threatened to break the church.  The conflict was to be solved through restructuring the church so as to meet the needs of every single Christian.  The successful conflict resolution resulted into the appointment of 12 people to oversee the distribution of food.

The above demonstrates that there should be freedom of expression today in the church as there was in the early church.  Drawing from the way the early Christians handled conflicts in Acts 6:1-7 it emerges that differences if resolved amicably and in the open, can be resolved and result into greater cohesiveness in the church.

There should be commitment from leaders to show love and patience for that is the only way to overcome disagreements, negative attitudes as well as values which do not rhyme with the teachings of the Bible.  As evidenced in Act 6:1-7, the disciples viewed the conflicts positively and therefore they were able to overcome.  The conflict resolution strategy applied was accommodation in that they accommodated the views of the Hebraic Jews and the Grecian Jews and were able to tolerate the diversity, which was threatening to divide the church.

Today, as it was the case in the early church Christians come from diverse cultural backgrounds and the diversity should be managed well to the advantage of the spread of the gospel.  If this is not done properly, the mission of the church cannot be accomplished.  The situation is even different today and more complex than it was in the early church given the fact that the society today is more liberal and has access to new knowledge and ideas.  This calls for tolerance as was the case in Acts 6:1-7.

Understanding Sources of Conflicts

Church staff and lay leaders must understand the different dimensions of conflict.  Conflicts results from differences in opinions, values, perspectives and convictions amongst individuals.  Usually conflicts can be experienced among groups of people, within an individual as a result of disappointment of unfulfilled goals.  Church leaders need to understand that conflict in church can be healthy especially if it involves differences over opinions for instance on how a certain task may be performed.

A classic example of a conflict in the early church which emerged as a result of differences in opinions, values, perspectives, and convictions amongst the Christians is given in Acts 11:1-9.

The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.  So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “ You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them”.  Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened:  “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision.  I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was.

I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds of the air.  Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter.  Kill and eat’.  “ I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth’. “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘ Do not call anything impure that God has made clean’. Acts 11:1-9[4].

In Acts 11:1-9, a conflict emerges between Peter and the circumcised believers.  Peter resolves the conflict amicably by avoiding a negative confrontation and to some degree retreating to explain his position.  This is a show of humility and a great lesson for staff and lay leader in the church on how to solve conflicts by explaining.

This shows that some conflicts being experienced in today’s church emerge out of leaders failing to explain issues and opting to take a hard stance on issues.  It is a lesson to lay leaders and church staff that the conflicts they are experiencing today can be solved if leaders demonstrate humility and understanding in the way they resolve issues.

Conflict management is important in the sense that if conflicts fail to be resolved in the right way, they pose great challenges to the church and its leaders in that they can curtail productivity leading to underutilization of resources and therefore it becomes hard for the church to achieve its goals[5].

Conflicts, if allowed to continue for very long periods without being stopped, could degenerate into chaos and disintegration of the body of Christ.  In the church setting conflicts often result due to communication barriers between the church staff and members of the congregation especially if the church leadership encourages a high bureaucratic system.

The communication barriers results into tensions between the church leadership and the members of the congregation as each party starts to feel the other one as unfriendly.  If the members of the congregation lack a shared vision and common values, this can be a catalyst for conflicts in that values are what guides the behaviours of Christians and therefore the more the values of the church members differ, the more the church members are likely to get into conflicts with each other.

It is here where church leaders are supposed to come to the rescue of the church in terms of conflict management.  As the decision makers, the church leaders are supposed to minimize the harmful effects and maximize the gains from the conflicts by engaging all the parties involved in the conflict management.

The above calls for collaboration and problem solving strategy as a way of understanding the problems facing the church and the members.  This requires the church leaders to define the problems in the clearest way possible and ensure that the unity of purpose of Christians is maintained.  Collaboration emphasizes the evaluation of what each party involved in the conflict stands to lose or gain inorder to make sure that the resolution arrived at is acceptable to all groups[6].

Another strategy, which is very applicable to church leaders, is the accommodation style of conflict management. It is through accommodation that the church can avoid separation of its members.  Therefore church leaders must be willing to deliberate issues by treating all parties with love and showing humility at all stages of conflict management.  Compromise is also a style of conflict management and sometimes, Christians are supposed to give up their positions for the sake of their ‘brothers and sisters’.

This means that the Christians should be willing to suffer so that the church may stand.  The other strategy which church staff and lay leaders can utilize is the win-lose strategy which requires the staff to exert or to enforce the rules of the church even if it means harming or hurting a few of the members.  This type of conflict management is evidenced in Genesis chapter 3 when God had to decisively punish Adam and Eve as well as the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the world animals the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the Garden?’”. The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the Garden, but God did say, ‘ You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the Garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’.”…And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offsprings [a] and hers; he will crush [b] your head and you will strike his heel.”

To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in child bearing, with pain you will give birth to children.  Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you”.  To Adam he said, “ Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it’ cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat from it all the days of your life”[7].

In the above-mentioned conflict, it emerges that God punishes the offenders and therefore the conflict management strategy God adopts in this case is the enforcement of rule by punishing the offenders.  This is a lesson to the church staff and lay leaders that sometimes it becomes crucial in the church to punish those who go against or disregard church doctrines.

In conclusion, it has emerged that staff and lay leaders in the church today must be equipped with the knowledge of the Bible as well as some of the contemporary management styles such as collaboration, accommodation and win-lose strategy if they are to overcome or negotiate the conflicts facing today’s church.  It has also emerged that there are many sources of conflicts today and therefore the ability of church staff and lay leaders to overcome such is paramount in the fulfillment of the mission of today’s church.

Bibliography

Acts Chapter 11;1-9.  The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids.  Michigan. Zondervan  1978.

Acts Chapter 6;1-7.  The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids.  Michigan. Zondervan  1978.

Fisher, K., Rayner, S., Belgard, W., 1995.   Tips for Teams: A Ready Reference for Solving Common Team Problems. New York: McGraw-Hill Inc. pp.75-87

Genesis Chapter 3:1-17.  The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids.  Michigan. Zondervan  1978.

Nilson, C. 2003.  How to Manage Training:  A Guide to Design and Delivery for High Performance. 3rd ed. New York: Amacom.

Schermerhorn, J. Hunt, J. and Osborn, R. (2005). Organizational Behaviour. 9th Ed. John Willey & Sons Inc. pp 102-109

Spector, P., Fox, S., & Van Katwyk, P. 1999. The Role of Negative Affectivity in Employee Reaction to Job Characteristics: Bias Effect or Substantive Effect. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology,72. pp 19-58.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. 1979. An Integrative Theory of Inter-group Conflict. In W.G. Austin & S. Worchel (eds.), The Social Psychology of Inter-group Relations. Montreal, CA: Brooks/Cole. Pp. 110-138

NAIROBI MUNICIPAL COUNCIL NBNHFNHH HHBHRHRG OF KHNFHGGH HNFFH RN [1] Fisher, K., Rayner, S., Belgard, W., 1995.   Tips for Teams: A Ready Reference for Solving Common Team Problems. New York: McGraw-Hill Inc. pp.75-87 [2] Spector, P., Fox, S., & Van Katwyk, P. 1999. The Role of Negative Affectivity in Employee Reaction to Job Characteristics: Bias Effect or Substantive Effect. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology,72. pp 19-58. [3] Acts Chapter 6;1-7.  The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids.  Michigan. Zondervan  1978. [4] Acts Chapter 11;1-9.  The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids.  Michigan. Zondervan  1978. [5] Schermerhorn, J. Hunt, J. and Osborn, R. (2005). Organizational Behaviour. 9th Ed. John Willey & Sons Inc. pp 102-109

[6] Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. 1979. An Integrative Theory of Inter-group Conflict. In W.G. Austin & S. Worchel (eds.), The Social Psychology of Inter-group Relations. Montreal, CA: Brooks/Cole. Pp. 110-138 [7] Genesis Chapter 3:1-17.  The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids.  Michigan. Zondervan  1978.