They say that what doesn't break you, makes you stronger. Conflict almost broke our church. In a five-year period (1997-2001), our congregation went through not one, not two, but three church splits. Each Sunday I would enter the sanctuary, see newly empty seats, and wonder, Are those friends on vacation, or will I never see them again? When people in town learned where I went to church, they would say, "Oh, you're that church with all the problems."
By God's grace, we emerged from that crisis, by doing three things:
1. Repenting. Our leaders—those who were left in this demoralized group—went on a weekend retreat and conducted a "fearless and searching moral inventory." We listed specific sins and shared what we had written with the church and with people who asked about our story.
2. Praying. We began regular prayer meetings, for as our senior pastor, Stewart Ruch, said, "We are going to build this church through prayer and fasting."
3. Training. Stewart says that "You have to fight for unity," and so we began to train people in our newcomers' classes. That led to the following document, which we now have each new member sign. New people realize, "How I handle conflict really matters." They consistently tell us, "Thank you for sharing your story so honestly, and for calling us to a higher way."
Conflict often happens with the people we're closest to—people in our small groups and on our ministry teams. Other times, group members see small-group meetings as a place to share gossip or criticism of the church. It's important that everyone in your group understands healthy guidelines for handling conflict. When we all commit to handling conflict in healthy ways, our relationships are stronger.
Biblical and Pastoral Guidelines for Handling Conflict
The Bible expects that Christians will have conflict—early churches did—and therefore, it continually calls us to forgive, love, and work for peace (Eph. 4:31-32; 1 Cor. 1:10). Therefore, we call upon every member of Church of the Resurrection to commit to the following, with God's help:
Handling Conflict Directly
- Accept that conflict is a reality any time people come together, including in the church. Therefore, I will not run from it, over-spiritualize it, or deny it; I will face it directly. If I sense tension with someone, I will go to that person and ask, "Is everything okay between us?" If I am hurt by or angry with someone, rather than talk to others about that, I will go to the person who hurt me, doing my best to follow the guidelines in Matthew 18:15-17.
- When I hear someone speak an unkind word against anyone, I will not merely listen and empathize with how badly the speaker has been treated. Instead, I will ask the person to go directly to whomever he or she is criticizing or complaining about—even if that makes me seem uncaring.
- I will preserve the unity of our Communion by going, before the service or during the Passing of the Peace, and ask forgiveness for the way I have hurt someone.
- To confront someone or ask for change, I will do that face to face or by phone, not in an email.
Handling Information Well
- Since every situation has two sides, I commit to not accept or believe any negative report, no matter who gave it, until I have gone to the other person and asked to hear his or her perspective.
- When I need to pass on information or criticism, I will not do it anonymously or under the label "Many people feel"; instead, I will name who gave that information or who felt that way.