Church conflict a common problem
April 27 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Church conflict a common problem | Friday, April 27, 2001

Friday, April 27, 2001

Church conflict a common problem

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor What happens when conflict overshadows a church's fellowship and mission? American churches are not unique in experiencing internal discord. Denominational leaders in southern Africa have taken active steps to deal with congregational controversy, using a model with a North Carolina flavor. In March 2000, Wayne Oakes of the Baptist State Convention (BSC) and Dennis Burton of the Union Association traveled to Johannesburg and Cape Town to lead week-long training events in each area. Oakes is consultant for minister-church relations on the pastoral ministries team of the BSC's congregational services group. Burton is director of missions for the Union Association, which has worked closely with the seminary in Cape Town.

Oakes and Burton trained consultants from each association, along with other Baptist Union leaders. They wrote a manual for conflict resolution that southern African leaders have since revised to fit local cultural contexts.

The materials used were similar to those used in conferences and consulting services the BSC has provided in North Carolina, featuring a conflict resolution model developed by John Savage of LEAD Consultants in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.

Terry Rae, general secretary of Southern Africa's Baptist Union, says the conflict resolution training is one of the most important results of the N.C. partnership. Leaders of the six Baptist associations in southern Africa responded to the training by developing conflict resolution teams in each association and networking the teams across the larger convention.

In Western Province Baptist Association, which includes a large area around the western cape, the team includes area coordinator (equivalent to Director of Missions) Angelo Scheepers and layman Jonathan Matthews, who is partnership coordinator for the convention.

The process, Scheepers said, involves a great deal of listening, spread over many sessions. All parties involved in the conflict must be heard. Pain must be shared and issues confronted. Only through such honest encounters with the sources of conflict can wisdom prevail, he said.

Conflict resolution requires a substantial portion of Scheepers' attention in his association of more than 90 churches and missions.

In the Baptist Northern Association, the area around and north of Johannesburg, new area coordinator Steve Mann is finding it difficult to visit all the church fields in the association because effective conflict resolution requires much of his time.

In southern Africa, as in southern American churches, conflict often swirls about the pastor. Perhaps the pastor has a vision for church growth that will require changes the church does not want to make, or a shift in power that long-term leaders resist. Perhaps the pastor has overstayed his welcome or effectiveness but is reluctant to move on. In southern Africa, a number of pastors - many from previously disadvantaged areas - exist below the "breadline" (some make no more than $100 per month) and live in a modest "manse" owned by the church. They have minimal resources to provide a home or income in retirement.

Southern Africa's Baptist Union is working to assist retiring pastors but has limited funds available. Conflict resolution teams help churches and pastors work out mutually beneficial contractual agreements, and to set up clear succession strategies for pastoral transition.

Matthews can point to multiple success stories growing from his association's active involvement in helping churches cope with conflict. At times, the association takes the initiative, rather than waiting for the church to ask for help. "Many things have come out," Matthews says of one church currently in the resolution process. "We are on the verge of a breakthrough."

On the opposite end of the country, near the town of Mebopane, pastor George Mataboge praises recent conflict resolution efforts in the Baptist Northern Association. He speaks of a church that recently completed a lengthy process of conflict resolution and reconciliation. With a great smile, he said, "They say it was a miracle!"

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4/27/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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