Thursday, February 17, 2009
Shane Garrison, assistant professor of educational ministries at Campbellsville University, led a poignant session on dealing with conflict. Since many churches will experience conflict at some point, it is essential that church leaders be equipped with effective tools to foster reconciliation and prevent the church’s growth from being stunted.
Church leaders should not be surprised when they encounter conflict, rather they should anticipate it because people may easily become upset when something they want or are accustom to is changed or taken away. In his book, “A Work of Heart,” leadership consultant Reggie McNeal explains, “If you are a spiritual leader, you will be embroiled in conflict occasionally or frequently precisely because you are leading. Leadership that is not encountering difficulty probably is not trying to accomplish much.”
Garrison, a doctoral candidate at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and president of Maple Trail Ministry Consultants, cleverly suggested that pastors and deacons take a cue from Smokey Bear. As one would when putting out a fire, Garrison urged them to “stop, drop, and roll” whenever they find themselves engulfed in conflict.
“Forest fires can be started by a little spark. Put the flame out quickly or it will cause extensive damage,” he reminded the group. He offered this helpful advice: Stop the conflict appropriately, using Matthew 18 as a pattern for resolving disagreements; drop the faceless gossip, secret meetings and parking-lot discussions; and roll in seeking out help when needed.
Indeed, if more churches heeded this counsel, much of the ill feelings between members that lead to dissension, deep hurt and sometimes church splits might be avoided. Those in the midst of a conflict should seek out the sound, biblical counsel of a trusted former pastor, a pastor of another congregation, a trusted business person who possesses skills in negotiation, an associational director of missions, or the convention’s leadership department personnel.
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