ChuckWarnock.com

Confessions of a Small Church Pastor

6 Benefits of Church Conflict


While church leaders usually think of church conflict as bad, conflict can produce benefits.  Dr. David Augsburger, professor at Fuller Seminary, recently shared “what people want in conflict.”  Here’s his list:

  1. Voice. Church dissidents often just want to be heard.  Like a child who isn’t getting attention by being good, dissidents can get attention quickly by creating conflict.  The saying “the squeaking wheel gets the grease” has its basis in this idea.  People want to be heard and have their ideas, feelings, concerns, and opinions valued.  No one expects to win all the time, but everyone needs to have their voice heard.  The benefit of conflict is that all voices get heard.
  2. Vindication.  Sometimes people who have been prescient, or prophetic, or just insightful need to have that insight vindicated.  The church needs to acknowledge they are right, if they are, and conflict provides the platform for their case to be made.  Vindication is a benefit to both the vindicators and the vindicated — one acknowledges the important contribution of another.
  3. Validation.  “You have a valid point” is music to the ears of those in the minority.  Not only do people want their voices heard, they want their position acknowledged.  This is different from vindication because validation does not mean agreement, only recognition.  A church benefits when others can acknowledge that their viewpoints differ, and that the opposing viewpoints have validity, too.
  4. Process. Conflict can produce a process for dealing with issues, assuring that future issues will not be swept under the rug.  This process which some call justice is a guarantee that the voices of all, not just the powerful, will be heard in the future.
  5. Impact. Conflict can result in something being done.  Old wrongs can be righted which is what the apostles did in Acts 6 when they ended discrimination of the Greek-speaking widows by appointing “servants” to distribute the food equitably.  Conflict should produce the benefit of positive impact.
  6. Safety. The minority view might be heard, but if they are treated differently because of their dissent, then conflict starts all over again.  Those in conflict need to know that when the problem is resolved, community is strengthened, and we go forward with the guarantees of future safety in place.  The whistleblowers who speak out are often ostracized in government and business.  For conflict to produce a benefit, those who speak out must be able to do so from a position of safety.

The church is no stranger to conflict, and out of conflict have come some of the great doctrinal statements, mission strategies, and kingdom accomplishments.  Not all conflict produces positive benefits unfortunately, but skilled church leaders can lead a church to a mutually-beneficial outcome when conflict arises.  What’s your experience with church conflict?  Was it managed well, and did it produce benefits to the church? Or was conflict a destructive force in your experience?  I’d love to hear from you if you have a story you can share.

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Categories: Congregation, ethics, leadership

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8 replies

  1. Interesting. We are having a very small discussion about differing perceptions of a national church leaders meeting on my blog. I blogged about it and some in attendance report they didn’t experience the meeting as it was reported to me by one who was in attendance. (I was not present but got a report from a responsible participant.) I was told the meeting was critical of the work of the organization I lead. But, the slight conflict actually opens a conversation loaded with opportunity for better understanding and learning. It opens the door for an important discussion about communications and the role of the church in public media. I welcome that opportunity. I agree that conflict need not be negative. It need not be personal, either, and that’s a more difficult thing to consider. It must be de-personalized, I think, if it is to be constructive.

  2. I am not real comfortable with conflict in any setting, but I have come to realize that many times in have to enter into conflict for a short time and be uncomfortable so I may experience what benefits come from it. (short term pain, long term gain)

    Those six benefits that were listed in the article I would consider a blessing to any organization and to the individuals within those organizations.

  3. Conflict was a very destructive force in our church. Three years later people are still trying to process it and I think it not only hurt the people involved, but it hurt this community as well. It could be years before we repair our reputation if ever.

  4. Friends,
    I’m still thinking about this, so I hope not to wear out my welcome here. Conflict offends our sensibilities in the church, particularly in middle class churches. We’re acculturated to avoid it. This is not an accusation, nor negative judgment, it’s an observation after many years of pastoral ministry and communications ministry.
    We use language in a very sophisticated way. A comment can carry so many levels of meaning that one has to learn how to deconstruct it to get at the core message. And even this allows avoidance. When someone really does get at the core meaning of a camouflaged message the speaker can say, “Oh, you misunderstood my meaning.”
    It took me years and years to understand this very sophisticated use of language in church meetings. Does anyone else see it this way?
    Secondly, David is pointing to a heart-breaking reality. We do personalize conflict and it leaves painful wounds, and tough scars. These take time to heal and the time can span generations. We need proactive training to manage it and skills training to avoid it in a healthy way if possible.
    Now, I’ll stop typing.
    Now, I’ll stop typing.

  5. Thanks for all your comments. David, my prayer for your church is good grieving at what was lost, learning what went wrong, and healing from the wounds still visible.

    Larry, thanks for your candor and for your observations about conflict. We do need new perspectives on the positive outcomes of conflict, but we also need new skills in bringing about those outcomes.

    Steve, I’m with you — I don’t like conflict either. I’m learning that conflict is not avoidable, but it is manageable. I’m working on new skills in this area myself. David Augsburger’s re-released book, Caring Enough To Confront, would make a good beginning in churches that need to learn new skills in interpersonal and community conflict management. I’m reading it now and will post on it later.

    Thanks to all for your comments. You made the insights sharper and the conversation richer. -Chuck

  6. I think you are correct in mentioning that as a society and a culture, we are generally adverse to conflict.

    On the other hand, it is where we go from there that the greater good can happen. Hopefully, that is where David’s church will go.

    Whether we advocate the non violent communication espoused by Marshall Rosenberg to get clarity so you don’t have an experience similar to what Larry describes or handle the situation differently, conflict is a part of every organization.

    At the end of the day though, all of these “benefits” should help us to better understand people’s motivations.

    And when we can see and acknowledge those traits and view them as a benefit to our respective congregations, good things should come of it.

    Thanks again for the post!

  7. Chuck,
    Thanks so much for your post! In our recent discipleship book, “Winning the Real Battle at Church: Safeguard Your Congregation Against Destructive Conflict” I described the difference between constructive and destructive conflict (www.winningtherealbattle.com). In January I began a new blog devoted exclusively to the topic of church conflict – http://www.churchconflictforum.org. We hope our efforts will build up the Body of Christ and further the kingdom!
    Blessings,
    David Noble

  8. Conflict with two choir members both are family sister and siter-in-law also family siblings in choir. Start with Matt 18:15 One refused to meet expel them form church.

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