Church Conflict

Mediation: When you experience conflict at church, your whole life can be thrown off balance. It may seem that the people you depended on the most can no longer be trusted.

What can you do to stabilize your life? One option is to work together with a mediator. Many assume that the other person would be upset by your suggesting mediation, but that is not always the case. It shows that you care enough to try to work it out.

Congregations suffer when members cannot see eye-to-eye. Doing business as usual gets harder to do when the focus is on angry people instead of mutual goals.

There are several types of conflicts: conflicts over facts, resources, methods, psychological needs, and values, to name a few. Most disputes include several of these components. Your mediator can help you improve your communication, focus on the real issues, and help you brainstorm solutions that you all can live with.

The most common response? “Why didn’t we do this earlier?” With mediation, you can work it out…together.

In mediation, a neutral third party, meets with those who need to make decisions. This decision-making process begins with an explanation of mediation, an agreement on ground rules, and the setting of an agenda. As each person shares his or her perspective on a given topic, the mediator notes the remaining topics that need to be discussed, as well as the common ground the participants share. The next steps involve problem-solving, and clarifying any agreements reached in mediation.

Mediation helps to create a climate for breakthrough in communication. By having an agreed-upon process, and providing safety for the participants, the disputants experience a balance of power. Mediators can help those in conflict to focus on the real issues that divide them, to express emotions appropriately, and to understand their common ground and shared values.

Differences are acknowledged in mediation rather than “swept under the rug,” and by bringing up the diversity of beliefs, the mediator often helps the participants understand each other better. Best of all, the mediator can help the disputants collaborate on an agreed-upon solution, rather than forcing a compromise.

Should Christians be suing each other? If you are involved in litigation, mediation is the best alternative. Consider the suggestions noted in the Church of the Brethren 2001 Statement on Litigation at http://www.brethren.org/ac/ac_statements/2001Litigation.html.

Workshops: Some congregations hire mediators to provide a workshop or retreat on conflict or communication skills. Learning how to listen is a skill that we all need to brush up on. Understanding conflict is important. Learning how to create a climate for breakthrough can be essential to a congregation’s health. Learning how to start, and, more importantly, how to stop a fight is helpful.

Another option that has proven success is for congregational members to individually take the “Style Profile for People at Work” by Susan Gilmore and Patrick Fraleigh of Friendly Press. Congregants can greatly improve their communication skills by learning about four communication styles. The style inventory has been taught to Mennonites, Brethren and others in the religious and business communities since the early 1980s. The key is understanding a variation of the Golden Rule. With styles, we “do unto others” what they would have you do unto them, not what you would want to have done to you. This simple premise has been expanded to include the steps in communicating based on style, learning about own our styles, understanding calm and storm conditions, the stress shift, and hot tips for communicating with someone of each of the four styles.

Meeting Facilitation: Your congregation may need to have a serious discussion on a hot topic. It is not a decision-making process. If your congregation needs to make a decision, a mediator can facilitate the meeting and ensure that all voices are heard.