I have spent many years working with congregations in conflict. I begin by encouraging members to enter into an intensive period of prayer—for the congregation, for the pastor and other leaders, for the presence of the Holy Spirit, and especially for those with whom they disagree.
My work frequently involves interviewing congregational members about their concerns. When I report back (without names) what I hear, I encourage people to listen carefully to what others said about their own positions. Honoring rather than dismissing differences can open up new ways of looking at problems.
Two key things to remember when you face a conflict situation:
- Establish ground rules to work through the issues respectfully. People need to be encouraged to speak for themselves and not unnamed “others.” Sitting silent in a meeting and then venting in a parking lot helps no one.
- If the conflict is within a congregation, keep the mission and goals in mind. Don’t get so caught up in internal issues that you forget the world outside your window.
Every congregational conflict has elements of the Tower of Babel and the promise of Pentecost. God promises a hope that will not disappoint.
Please pray for the Women of the ELCA executive board which begins meeting today in Chicago (and no need to infer any relationship between this post and that meeting. It is purely coincidence!). This message was adapted from “Bickering in the Body” written by Karen G. Bockelman that first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Lutheran Woman Today (now Gather) magazine.