- December 14, 2006
- By John Rutledge
RIGHT or WRONG?
We’ve had some relational breakdowns in our congregation. Some have suggested that we contact a conflict-mediation expert. Does that idea have merit?
The heart of your question hinges on the word “some.” Does “some” mean 60 percent of the congregation has taken a position in total opposition to the remainder of the congregation? On the other hand, does “some” mean the two most forceful leaders in the congregation have reached an impasse on a particular issue or personality? In either case, the congregation might, through conversation, time and grace, be able to resolve the issue on its own. Alternatively, it may well be that issues are so strong and nerves so frayed that the perspective of a skilled listener with training in mediation could be a positive step toward healing the congregation.
Many times when a congregation calls upon a mediator, the conflict centers upon a staff member who has left or is about to leave the congregation. “Some” want to make a change. “Some” felt the staff member was treated unjustly. In this case, someone, who can be trusted by nearly everyone, who can look at a situation with a fresh pair of eyes, can be invaluable to resolving the issues. Skilled mediators can find the common ground shared by the congregation and help re-establish trust. Sometimes, mediators have to do the hard work of helping the congregation stand up to the bully in the room and reclaim the congregation for the good of the whole.
One more added advantage to the mediator is the objectivity of examining the historic trends within the congregation. From their very inception, many congregations are blessed with a unity of spirit, a shared goal, a love for one another and a mutual desire to see every member of the congregation thrive. A healthy cycle develops in the congregational culture that declares how the congregation will handle difficult issues.
Other churches seem to be plagued with disagreement and conflict from their inception. Consequently, an unhealthy cycle develops in the congregational culture, and members develop bad habits as to how they handle matters. A trusted mediator is able to see the long view of the congregation and spot patterns that are destructive to the life of the congregation. With an honest and open perspective, the congregation can develop a covenant and a strategy for enabling the church to resolve matters and move forward in clear steps.
I would offer the suggestion that if your congregation is considering a mediator, ask for references from previous churches that person has assisted. Contact those referencesboth Baptist churches and churches affiliated with other denominationsand listen to their stories. Do not tell yours. Just listen. Listen to how the mediator helped them see themselves and the mission of the church. Listen to how the mediator recognized their needs and worked to resolve those issues. Listen to the tone of their voice as to how they grew to trust the mediator. Most of the time, these reference calls not only serve as a signal as to whether you are contacting the right person, but they also serve as a beacon of hope, that you, too, can get past this issue and be the presence of Christ in your community.
Stacy Conner, pastor
First Baptist Church