The Truth About Unresolved Church Conflict

Last week I shared a post on my daily 3 at 3 from TJ Addington entitled Deal With It!  Addington sheds light on a problem that is all too familiar in the church world: failure to confront relational issues.  He nails it when he says:

In the name of grace (and I am a great believer in grace) and conflict avoidance we often prolong the pain to an organization even when we know in our gut that no matter what we do, nothing is going to change. By choosing avoidance we put anchors on the ministry that keep dragging along the bottom, slowing everything down while we are trying to catch the wind and sail.  I have known pastors and leaders that could not let a staff member go even though they know in their heart of hearts that that member is hurting the rest of the team. I know leaders who would not deal with church thugs even though those individuals created chaos in the congregation. Avoidance does not work. It creates greater problems and pain and the longer one waits to address the problem the more difficult it is to do so.

Jeff McClung shared a video on his blog the other day that illustrates this perfectly:

Whether the conflict is between two small group members, staff members, or elders, unresolved conflict inflicts serious damage to far more than those who are directly involved.  As a leader you are tasked with shepherding your flock well, and protecting it from those things that could do permanent harm.  In the words of the pastor from the movie The Patriot: “A shepherd must tend his flock. And at times… fight off the wolves.”

In each context, fighting off the wolves looks a little different.  It may mean confronting a church bully, firing a staff member, or bringing in outside help to work through conflict.  Whatever your context, it means stepping up in boldness and dealing with the issue quickly, and in a God honoring way.

How do YOU handle relational conflict in YOUR church?


About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.

  • Robert Barnes

    First, it’s hard to deal with relational conflict at all–most people simply leave. They view church and church relationships as disposable and past experiences with church conflict have likely been negative. So whenever any conflict, perceived or real or justified or wrong–when they feel it, they flee. 

    Second, there are two primitive reactions–flight and fight. Another group of people, smaller but louder, fight over anything. And they fight dirty. I recently had an issue where someone began to fight over literally non-existent conflict. They appeared to have made it up. And they fought dirty, then left, only to continue to fight from a distance. 

    I have three basics to add that will teach no one, nothing new, but are good reminders. 

    1) Set an example by discussing conflict and how it was resolved in a godly manner. Talk about real examples at the church where it’s appropriate. 

    2) Read everything Ken Sande has to say about peacemaking. His stages and steps don’t apply in every circumstance due to the sheer variety of chaos, but read him and be helped. In case you don’t like Ken Sande, then substitute this–get off your rump and read everything the Bible has to say about relationships and resolving conflict. Make your own notes and follow them, give them to your session/leadership team, and get everyone on the same page with you. Ignorance will absolutely sink you. I know.  

    3) Truly shepherd the flock. Have a high-touch ministry where you know the pulse of the congregation because you’ve been holding their hands and listening to their heartbeat. 

    BONUS: Listen. Listen. Listen.

    • Matt Steen

      Great thoughts, Robert!  I may have to check out Ken Sande…

  • Eric Davis

    Thanks for this Matt. In answering your last question there, we are doing a 12 week conflict resolution study in all of our community groups. It’s been much more fruitful than I thought, and even people checking out christianity seem to be served by it.

    • Matt Steen

      That’s awesome, Eric! What are you using for the study?

      • Eric Davis

        We made the study using: 1) Ken Sande’s books – The Peacemaker & The Peacemaking Pastor and 2) Dr. Ernie Baker’s conflict resolution class from Spring 2007 at Masters Seminary. We first used it for our core-team training when we hit the field here in ’08. Doing this as a core-team was a non-negotiable as a core-team first, and practicing it of course, as you can imagine. Since then, we have adapted it for somewhat of a dialogical small-group atmosphere, to serve seasoned believers and even those checking out Christianity.

      • Eric Davis

        Also, looking back on the struggles in keeping the core-team together, the demands related therewith, and just everyday struggles that the flock faces, I would recommend doing some kind of rigorous biblical conflict resolution study for every church-plant, earlier than later, and especially training every core-team member before planting. It’s a non-negotiable in our opinion here.

  • Pingback: This Week’s Notable Videos | Nov. 19, 2011 | FaithVillage Blog()

  • Pingback: Shepherd’s Notes » Sketchy Duel()

  • Pingback: The Truth About Conflict - sprignaturemoves()