Conflict in the church
By HOLLY McCRAY
The youths wanted different music on Sunday mornings. The worship committee met, drew up a short list of hymns, and told the teens to choose from that. The youths did not respond. People of opposing views complained to the pastor. Emotions escalated. Church members threatened to boycott worship.
This role-play and others recently helped 61 people learn about group conflict and how to respond effectively to it.
They attended a five-day Mediation Skills Training Institute presented by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center. OKC-Church of the Servant hosted the training, sponsored by the Conference’s Leadership Development Ministry Team (LDMT). Dianne Peters and Charles Rettig led the planning.
The main objective is to build Local Church Response Teams of trained clergy and laity who will volunteer to help Oklahoma churches in crises, said Rev. Peters, who chairs the LDMT. Those teams can troubleshoot and give programs about conflict in families as well as conflict in congregations.
The highly regarded Peace Center training was a first step, Peters said. The Oklahoma mediation volunteers will meet quarterly, and additional training will be scheduled.
Richard Blackburn of Lombard, Ill., presented the late August seminar. He drew from more than three decades of personal experience as a mediator. The executive director of the Peace Center has taught the ministry of reconciliation internationally.
On the opening day, Blackburn identified biblical roots for the training. And he spoke about "the Matthew 18 process" in conflict resolution. Matthew 18 includes the parables of the unforgiving servant and the lost sheep and Jesus’ instructions "if your brother sins against you …"
Blackburn noted that Christians have diverse opinions as well as gifts.
But when church people "get overfocused on differences, they forget our common ground — in Jesus," he said. "Listening is really hard when you feel attacked, because you tend to go into reactive mode."
The week-long training taught lots about good communication. Some of Blackburn’s advice is shared here.
- Use "I" statements. Speak for yourself, not "many." How many is that?
- Be specific; don’t generalize. "You never keep your promises" just makes a person defensive.
- Listen carefully and paraphrase to lower the intensity of emotions.
- Talk to each other without a table separating you, "so people don’t go into committee mode," Blackburn said.
- "Too often we think we can calm our most ardent critics by putting them on a committee. That doesn’t work."
- Invite people to pray with you about an issue.
- "The clergyperson can’t take on desperadoes by themselves. Give laity leaders responsibility. If you empower other folks to be part of the new vision, the recalcitrant person gets isolated," Blackburn said.
Suggested resources included the book "Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians," by John Paul Lederach (2014).
Among the participants were 14 laypeople and some current and former district superintendents.
A comment by George Warren summed up lessons learned: "I need your point of view to see better. We need each other so we together can see what God sees."
"Blessed are the peacemakers," Jesus said (Matthew 5:9).