The magnitude of the problem of conflict in churches makes it important. Unresolved or badly resolved conflict has been devastating to churches, to both members and leaders. Damage can continue long after the visible conflict has been addressed, if secrets from the conflict remain, and can result in patterns of decline or only marginally maintaining the status quo. Pastors suffering from conflict often leave the churches they were called to by God, sometimes in shame and frequently deeply hurt with careers damaged or ruined. In such circumstances, spouses and children can be torn from a beloved church home.
While conflict can be devastating and generally is avoided, conflict is also inevitable in human beings. Consequently, a healthy process that can lead church members to address conflict before it becomes destructive is vital. Often, when members identify a concern, they seem unable to name it or address it early—when it would be easier to do so. According to Marc Dupont in Toxic Churches: Restoration from Spiritual Abuse, open and honest communication can become almost “dangerous,” with members developing an unwritten code of rules. These can include being blinded by personal perceptions of reality, remaining quiet regarding abuse in order to “protect” the pastor, and guarding a false facade at all cost. This type of behavior results in major crises, splits churches, devastates congregations, damages the souls and spirits of believers, and hampers and hurts the witness of Christ. Sometimes conflicts are numerous and addressed before growing and going public. However, those that do become public before the Presbytery is able to intervene often are devastating. The cost of not changing is high.
I am motivated by this topic, because I have watched churches I care about be devastated by their conflicts. I have counseled well-meaning members who were stymied by lack of personal knowledge and ability and by church cultures that resisted discovery. Resolving conflict is a vital tool used by God to do the deep, transformative work in human beings.