It’s a fact of life that wherever two or three are gathered together, there will be conflict. Below are some general principles about conflict that have worked well in the congregations I’ve served.
First, recognize that it will happen. Genesis 3:14-19 reveals that since the fall we have had conflict in marriages and within the earth itself. It groans, and so do we.
In football, the linebacker isn’t surprised when someone breaks through the line; and when an opponent does, he tackles him. That’s why he’s called a “line-backer.” In a sense, that’s the job of pastors. We’re called shepherds because there are wolves, and the sheep need protection and guidance.
Second, don’t make it worse. There are many principles in the Bible about conflict, but suffice it to say that we must not return evil for evil but rather with good.
Third, have policies about conflict. Since the arising of conflict shouldn’t surprise any of us, we need to have clear statements about what to do in most cases. For example, we should probably know that we don’t argue or get into conflict over minor areas. These are areas that lead to quarrels and get you nowhere. And when there is conflict on staff, it is handled on staff and immediately. This doesn’t mean that staff goes into paralysis when someone disagrees. Part of the staff policy should be that you are allowed to disagree in the proper place.
Finally, have clear lines of authority. Some conflict relates to honor and obedience to those who are called to be leaders in certain areas. Once all sides have been heard, the associate makes the call for the assistant. And the senior, if necessary, overrides the associate. This should be done carefully, and infrequently, but at times it must be done.
Some other general principles on conflict include the following:
- When conflict arises from someone within the church, always go to that person—unless it’s a minor issue over something like a song. Most of us don’t like every song in any worship service. But if someone is trying to cause divisiveness or question motives, such as, “the pastor doesn’t care about older members,” you need to approach that person one-on-one.
- When there is conflict that involves meetings, keep good notes. This sounds harsh, but as any lawyer would recommend, “Have a paper trail.”
- Always pray. Second Timothy 2 calls for prayer that God release people from “the trap of the devil”! I would not suggest you be quick to tell someone he is in a trap of the devil, but you can pray that the person “come to their senses”(v.26).
- Maintain clear policies for times of sustained conflict that is so divisive that others are hearing about it and a potential for division exists. The Bible has clear policies and so should the church. In fact, to be legally proper, any statements of possible church discipline or steps toward settling conflict must be made known to members as they join the church.