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Church conflict can prove healthy if handled biblically, speaker says

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–While church conflict can devastate people and rip the heart out of the congregation, conflict also can result in positive change if it is handled biblically, said Bob Cavin.
Cavin, director of the Texas Baptist Leadership Center of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, spoke at the National Innovative Church Leadership Conference hosted by the Glorieta (N.M.) Conference Center, May 25-28.
He quoted a definition of church conflict from Lloyd Elder, professor and director of the Moench Center for Church Leadership at Belmont University, Nashville, Tenn.: “Conflict in the congregation is a situation in which two or more members or factions struggle aggressively over what is, or appears to be, mutually exclusive beliefs, values, assumed powers or goals.”
The cause of the conflict may be miscommunication, misunderstandings, personality differences, doctrines, values or finances.
Though people may initially want to reach an easy compromise, Cavin said the healthiest thing they can do is confront the issues and stimulate change.
“Conflict,” Cavin said, “can force us to look at what needs to change. Perhaps it is an attitude, a pattern of behavior or a value. Whatever it is, the conflict creates an atmosphere for soul-searching and prayer that will result in positive change.”
Conflict is inevitable and a natural outcome of ministry, he said, pointing to Jesus’ ministry in which conflict was an everyday occurrence.
“Jesus had conflict with Satan, the crowd, the Pharisees, his disciples and even his own family,” Cavin observed.
The leader’s goal is not to avoid or manage conflict, he said. It is to transform conflict by the power of God.
“Transforming church conflict is a shared leadership process where trust is pursued, and openness and acceptance [of others] is practiced,” Cavin said.
By using biblical guidelines, such as private confrontation (Matthew 18:15), counsel (Matthew 18:16), church discipline (Matthew 18:17) and the spirit of the peacemaker (Matthew 5:9), the leader is able to transform conflict into something positive.
Other strategies for transforming conflict are:
— Renegotiate the relationships with contracts or agreements.
— Encourage opposing sides to talk through the issues and discover possible solutions.
— Attempt to bring the groups to a consensus by encouraging collaboration.
— Facilitate the members to attack the problems and formulate acceptable outcomes.
— Negotiate among differing parties to bring about a healthy compromise.
— Involve a third party to arbitrate.
When the conflict is transformed, the members of the congregation grow in their fellowship toward one another and their relationship with Jesus Christ, Cavin concluded.

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  • Jim L. Wilson