Many us of don’t like conflict (I don’t) and sometimes go to great lengths to avoid dealing with it. Sweeping conflict under the rug can turn tiny issues into big ones and rob us of opportunities to learn and grow together.
In Part 1, we looked at two crippling consequences of conflict avoidance—(1) making lowest-common-denominator decisions and (2) settling for shallow relationships. Today we look at three more.
Sinking into irrelevance
The pace of change keeps getting faster. Although the gospel never changes, our ministry style must constantly change to connect with a rapidly changing society.
When a congregation’s leaders commit to connecting with the surrounding community, it pushes many of us beyond our comfort zones. Christians passionate about reaching out will often clash with those more concerned with their own comfort. Between “what I feel most comfortable with” and “the most effective way to fulfill our mission” often stretches a wide chasm.
Pat Kiefert, president of Church Innovations Institute, describes a congregational study done at Emory University by Nancy Ammerman:
It concluded that every congregation that successfully adapted and flourished in a changing community had a substantial church fight. Those that chose to avoid conflict at all costs failed to flourish. No exceptions.[i]
Pretending differences don’t exist
A committee member complained to her pastor about a long-standing committee policy that was causing problems. But when the group discussed the policy at its next meeting, she kept quiet, insecure about expressing disagreement. So, the other committee members still don’t know about the problem and ministry suffers.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, as one person sharpens the wits of another” (NRSV). When people sidestep working through differences, the iron never gets very sharp, working relationships remain strained, and the group tends to make poor decisions. In a healthy church, people know how to disagree without being disagreeable.
Being complacent about complacency
I was having breakfast with three church leaders who were considering a strategic planning process in their church. One asked, “How can we convince our people we need this when they are so content with the way things are?” I knew this church prized keeping the peace above almost everything else, so I suspect my answer shocked them. “One of the most important responsibilities of church leadership,” I said, “is to create tension. Consistently highlight the gap between the way the church is and how God wants it to be. Make your people so aware of what God is calling them to be that they can no longer be content with the way things are.”
In a complacent church, it’s the leaders’ job to disturb the peace.
- Have you see conflict avoidance in your church? In your own relationships?
- What negative consequences have you noticed?
- What could have been gained by working through these conflicts rather than avoiding them?
This post adapted with permission from The More-with-Less Church by Eddy Hall, Ray Bowman, and J. Skipp Machmer (Baker 2014).
[i] Net Results Magazine, January 1996.
ANNOUNCEMENT: On April 2, a new book by our own Dr. Mike Hare will be released: WHEN CHURCH CONFLICT HAPPENS. Mike leads Living Stones Associates’ Church Health Consulting Track. You can order the book here.