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Conflict Management — Part 7

Forming A Peacemaker Committee In The Church

By Bryan H. Sanders

Conflict in our churches is a reality. Someone said that a church without conflict is probably a church that is dead. Although we tend to be shaken by conflict, in itself conflict is not the real issue. Rather, the issue is whether and how the church responds to conflict in a way that honors God. Paul asked if we are not even competent to judge trivial cases (1 Corinthians 6:2) and whether nobody is wise enough to judge between believers (verse 5).

How do we address the issue of conflict and discipline in the church? One option is the formation of a conflict resolution committee with individuals trained to help church members resolve their disputes in compliance with the standard of Scripture rather than simply the law of man. A peacemaker committee ideally would have the same status as the most important committees of the church and be under the direct supervision of the senior pastor. A committee of this nature co

uld take many forms, but some commonalities of such a committee should be considered for constructively resolving conflicts.

Commit To Resolving Conflict Scripturally

Before forming a conflict resolution/peacemaker committee, church leaders must desire to build a church that is willing to resolve conflict in a biblically faithful way. Conflict must be viewed as an opportunity for church members’ growth and discipleship. Unless the church leadership commits to the process, forming a committee will be just another program.

Establish The Committee’s Mission In Writing

Since many conflicts result from miscommunication, it is imperative that the committee’s mission be clearly communicated to the congregation as well as to those who serve on the committee. The written mission should be stated in positive terms with the goal’s being not only to foster reconciliation and restoration to individuals in conflict or the church’s tenets of faith but also to resolve issues.

It is easy to project an authoritarian image of the committee to the congregation that would defeat its success. With the mission in writing, though, the congregation can be referred to the written policy if someone misstates the purpose for the committee’s actions.

Seek Those With Peacemaker Reputations

One of the keys to an effective peacemaking committee is good peacemakers. Identify those in the church who have distinguished themselves as peacemakers in previous conflict situations. They should not be known contention makers or those who are quick to judge others but, rather, those who exhibit the fruit of the Spirit — wise, patient, caring.

Committee members should (1) be able to keep matters in confidence, not given to discussing what they hear with others in the church, and (2) be able to judge a matter of conflict or sin rather than judging the person.

Equip The Saints

Committee members should receive extensive training in helping others to resolve disputes. A series of seminars teaching conflict resolution procedures and skills should be an integral part of committee members’ training. The focus of the training should be practical and functional in its approach rather than theoretical in nature so the participants can apply their skills immediately upon role-playing and real life situations would be critical to a successful seminar.

Teach The Congregation

For the committee’s work to be successful, the congregation must be able to understand the nature of conflict and the discipleship function of the church.

If individuals are unwilling to participate in a foundational characteristic of the church (church discipline), they will be unwilling to allow a committee to help in reconciliation and the resolution of conflict.

Many in the church today may view the church as a social club or society; however, the leadership of the congregation has an obligation to the membership to create a caring church that is responsive to the discipleship of the individual parishioner.

Be Willing To Seek Assistance Outside The Church

Sometimes conflict is not resolved because the parties are unwilling to look for help outside their own congregation. They fear appearing less spiritual if others know they are embroiled in a conflict. This attitude should and must be dismissed if we recognize the value of conflict properly resolved.

Contacting an outside source, such as the Evangel College Center for Conflict Resolutions Studies, for help provides a church with a resource to help reconcile relationships and resolve conflicts that may not be resolvable using internal procedures.

—Bryan H. Sanders, j.d., is associate professor of government and legal studies at Evangel University, Springfield, Missouri.

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