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Religious educators study ways to turn conflict into victory

SAN ANTONIO (BP)–“A church educator could well be called on to spend 30 percent or more of his/her time and energy in conflict resolution,” said William Treadwell, a popular authority on church conflict.

Treadwell, along with Larry McSwain, president of Shorter College, Rome, Ga., discussed recognizing potential conflict and dealing with it creatively as they spoke at the 42nd annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Religious Education Association, Feb. 13-15 in San Antonio.

Treadwell is minister of education at First Baptist Church, Waco, Texas, and adjunct professor at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary. McSwain and Treadwell are often called on to help churches and ministers find ways to turn conflict situations into constructive learning experiences.

Treadwell reminded the educators they are expected to be agents of change. “But change often causes conflict,” he warned. “While not seeking it, the educator’s task is to engage conflict in such a way that the ‘players’ can integrate convictions and feelings on a higher plane and move forward together. When conflict becomes a win/lose contest, negotiation is called for as an engagement procedure.”

However, Treadwell observed, it is virtually impossible to negotiate a theological issue. “Then,” he said, “it becomes a question of how much diversity a church can handle.”

According to Jeter Basden of Baylor University, outgoing SBREA president who helped plan this year’s program, conference leaders were “on target” as they addressed the theme “Turning Defeat into Victory in Congregational and Personal Conflict.”

Basden, associate professor of ministry guidance at Baylor, used the Alamo, a short distance from the group’s meeting place, as a metaphor for how seeming defeat produced by conflict can be a rallying point for ultimate victory. The conference leaders to whom Basden referred included Chuck Kelly, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, McSwain and Treadwell and Howard Hendricks, distinguished professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and chair of its Center for Christian Leadership.

According to Basden, “The goal was to help ministers deal with conflict created by the diversity of generations in their congregations, the collision of personal expectations with those of constituents and ministers’ internal struggles as they follow their calling.”

In that vein, Hendricks reminded participants “the goal of ministry is not to have a pain-free, stress-free life, but to do what God called you to do in HIS strength.”

In the process of zealously pursuing that calling, however, Hendricks said ministers often go beyond their personal limits, thus producing “burnout.” He went on to list several characteristics of burnout based on 1 Kings 20 (withdrawal, depression and despair, physical/emotional exhaustion, bitterness and self-pity and a feeling of indispensability), along with some practical means of dealing with the condition.

Among the latter were three important things that create “margin” (defined as the gap between rest and exhaustion): a healthy devotional life, time with family and exercise. “Marginless ministry is the disease of the ’90s,” Hendricks said.

The SBREA elected new officers for 1998. They are president, Jerry Chiles, associate pastor to adults, Forrest Hills Baptist Church, Raleigh, N.C.; president-elect, Bernie Spooner, director of the Sunday school and discipleship division, Baptist General Convention of Texas; vice president, Margaret Slusher, director of church development, Noonday Baptist Association, Marietta, Ga; eastern vice president, Pat Ford, minister of education at First Baptist Church, Spartanburg, S.C.; central vice president, Kenneth Mooney, church training director for the Louisiana Baptist Convention; midwestern vice president, Jimmy Dunn, minister of education, First Baptist Church, Nashville, Tenn.; western vice president, Jim Walter, professor of adult education, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas; secretary treasurer, Lawrence Klempnauer, vice president for student services, Southwestern Seminary; and assistant secretary, Sandy Sigmon, administrative/education assistant, Atlanta Baptist Association.

Merle Basden of Fort Worth, Texas, continues to serve as SBREA executive director.

Members also learned the board of directors had empowered outgoing chairman Bill Grambrell of Marietta, Ga., and new chairman Beau Colle, Alexandria, La., to appoint a work group to study the future direction of the organization. The group will conduct a broad-based survey of Baptist educators, examine the purpose of the association, consider a name change and recommend ways for the association to become more inclusive.

In keeping with its tradition, the association selected colleagues to receive its distinguished leadership award for outstanding service to the profession and the organization. At the Friday night banquet presentations were made to longtime members Charles Lowery, Pineville, La.; Harry Piland, Dallas; and Harold Souther, Sarasota, Fla. Harold was the second Souther to receive the award. His brother, William H. Souther, was selected in 1983. Both have served as SBREA president.

Reflecting on the 1997 meeting in San Antonio, one SBREA member, Ron Palmer of South Carolina, observed, “It is clear that effectiveness in ministry for the years ahead will be determined by our ability to discern our strengths and build on them, rather than focusing on trying to turn weaknesses into strengths. Our present situation has taught us that when you spend energy on weaknesses, you neglect what is already strong, and that makes everything just average.”

The 1998 SBREA annual meeting will be April 15-18 in Atlanta’s Sheraton Gateway Hotel, with the theme, “Building Partnerships for Ministering in the Global Village.”

    About the Author

  • Mike Harton