Dealing Redemptively with Conflict in the Church
By John Aukerman
Seven convention goers attended a Monday conference led by Dr. John Aukerman, professor of Christian education at Anderson University School of Theology, “Dealing Redemptively with Conflict in the Church.”
Aukerman stated that it is not helpful to talk about “conflict management,” because there is no way to manage individuals, let alone the conflicts that arise between them. Rather than thinking about conflict “management,” pastors and church leaders need to accept the reality that conflict is a normal part of life and that the best they can do is to deal with it redemptively, in the love of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Aukerman went on to say that if a church is currently experiencing conflict, the number one thing they need to do is to call in an outside consultant. As in all areas of human behavior, there is no guaranteed outcome, but the greatest probability of successful resolution of conflict is with an unbiased, trained, outside leader to help mediate differences. Many state and district offices of the Church of God provide conflict resolution services, and congregational leaders were encouraged to contact their state office. For those living in an area that does not offer such services, Aukerman suggested that they contact a pastor of another denomination and ask for assistance; the Mennonite Church has done much work along these lines.
The best time to work on conflict resolution is when there is no conflict in the church. When peace prevails, church leaders need to work on deepening interpersonal relationships, growing closer together, and sharing from deep within. Then when conflict arises, as it surely will, church members will have the strength of relationships to speak honestly with each other and to deal redemptively with their differences.
The conferees then went on to study Matthew 18:15–20, a passage in which Jesus gives explicit instructions on what to do when conflict arises in the life of the church. Step one is to go to the person in private and work it out. If that fails, step two is to take one or two others and try again to work it out. Step three is to tell it to the church, and if that fails, step four is to treat the offending member with love. Jesus concludes this discussion with the famous promise that wherever “two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (NRSV).