Every congregation experiences conflict as a part of normal, healthy growth and change. These periods of conflict can be difficult for individuals and congregations. The United Methodist Church of Eastern Pennsylvania recommends a process to move congregations to resolution and growth.
Biblical & Theological Foundation
Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” – Matthew 18: 21-22
Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with stories about conflict between individuals, within groups, between cultures and, yes, even between God and humanity.
Conflict can be a catalyst for renewal, health and change and serve as a mechanism for growth. At other times, however, conflict can be destructive and cause serious dissension. A clear and healthy process for working through conflict empowers a congregation to move forward in the midst of the challenges and increase faithfulness and fruitfulness.
Healthy relationships include communicating honestly, reconciling willingly, and sharing and receiving forgiveness. We honor God when we work to resolve differences, offer forgiveness and reconcile differences within the congregation.
Growing our congregations beyond conflict requires intentionality, hearts for forgiveness and well-trained Staff-Parish Relations Committees (SPRC) and church leaders. We are committed to equipping leaders to lead through conflict.
Three Steps for Resolving Conflict
If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. – Matthew 18:15
Begin with prayer for yourself and the people in conflict. Invite God to share wisdom, enable understanding and open communication that resolves differences.
If you have a concern about an action of a pastor, staff member, or parishioner, attempt to work it out directly with the person. Speak to each other face-to-face. Explain how you are affected and provide an opportunity for reconciliation. You are encouraged to start the conversation by saying – “I experienced (describe what you felt or experienced) when you (describe the action of the individual) and I would like to resolve our differences.”
But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. – Matthew 18:16
If your concern is not reasonably resolved by direct communication, speak to a member of the SPRC and ask for help to resolve your concern. The SPRC may take one of several actions:
- Ask a member of the committee to mediate a conversation between the people in conflict.
- Have those with concerns meet with the full SPRC and pastor so that they may hear the concerns identified.
- Connect with an outside resource person if there does not appear to be a path forward to address the concerns. If the conflict involves the pastor, contact the superintendent first.
SPRCs are encouraged to participate in conference training on conflict resolution and to seek consultation about mediating conversations.
If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. – Matthew 18:17
If you do not believe that the SPRC has adequately addressed the concern or believe that the SPRC has not acted objectively, you may ask the SPRC chairperson to contact the superintendent. The superintendent will further review the concerns and determine if additional steps are warranted.
When the conflict arises because of an allegation of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment or sexual abuse, the SPRC chairperson or the pastor should contact the district superintendent immediately (within eight hours) so that the Sexual Misconduct Policy is implemented.