Conflict in any relationship is painful, but within a church family it can be downright devastating.
Lewis Miller, Florida Baptists’ West Florida regional catalyst, has helped pastors and congregations navigate the turbulent waters of conflict over the years. Miller said that even with a biblical mandate to resolve issues peacefully and in God-honoring ways, churches sometimes struggle to know when or how to go about it.
“Churches tend to wait too late to ask for outside help,” he said.
While it may seem difficult to do so, seeking a peaceful resolution can be easier for churches that engage in mediation. This process helps both parties voluntarily reach a compromise and agree to hold each other accountable to the resolution.
According to www.churchmediators.org, conflict in American churches is pervasive, and in some cases catastrophic. Every year more than 19,000 churches nationwide experience what is considered to be “major conflict,” with as many as 25 percent of those resulting in someone leaving the church.
Miller said a big part of the mediation process is figuring out a way forward once the conflict has been resolved.
“You have to let go of history,” he said. “God is the only one able to forgive and forget, but we should intentionally choose not to remember some things.”
Miller has witnessed some recurring reasons for conflict over the years, with the most prevalent being a fight for control of the church.
“The No. 1 reason for forced termination of pastors in this state and across the nation is control of the church or some facet of it.”
Other sources of conflict are poor communication, poor relational skills and sin within the church.
But Miller said any church can find successful resolution and a way forward if it comes into the mediation process with the right attitude.
“Come to mediation with a desire to surrender your rights and demands and bring glory to God,” he said.
The stakes are not only high for the church family in crisis but for its witness as well.
“The community knows and watches to see how the church reconciles versus how the world reconciles,” Miller said. “We can bring glory to God when we handle it properly.”
By Nicole Kalil, Jacksonville-based reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness