Easy way out of conflict not best option
November 27 2002 by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor

Easy way out of conflict not best option | Wednesday, Nov 27, 2002

Wednesday, Nov 27, 2002

Easy way out of conflict not best option

By Steve DeVane BR Managing Editor

WINSTON-SALEM - Churches in conflict should be wary of making a "premature recommitment," a church consultant said.

M. Wayne Oakes, a consultant for the pastoral ministries team in the Baptist State Convention's (BSC) Congregational Services Group, led a breakout session during the BSC annual meeting on "Finding a Way Through Conflict." The session Nov. 12 was based on a booklet of that name written by Oakes and Dennis L. Burton, director of missions for the Union Baptist Association in Monroe.

The booklet is based in large part on the "Role Renegotiation Model" of dealing with conflict. The model was developed by John J. Sherwood and John C. Glidewell for businesses and adapted for use in churches by John Savage.

The model describes the stages through which relationships, including those within churches, go.

The initial phase is "clarifying roles and expectations." Oakes said it is important for churches to clarify expectations and commit to them. Fuzzy expectations equal fuzzy commitments, according to the booklet.

After the commitment, which can be formal or informal, comes a time of stability and productivity. This is often called "the honeymoon."

"I call it by another name - fantasyland," Oakes said.

There are no perfect churches, perfect ministers or perfect Christians, he said.

Disagreements inevitably happen. The model calls them "pinches."

Pinches are broken expectations that are generally one-sided, personal and sometimes private, Oakes said.

"In human relationships, you cannot not get to the pinch," he said. "It will always happen."

Ministers face pinches all the time, Oakes said. An example is when a member of the congregation on the way out of church complains to the pastor about the sermon.

A pinch can be handled with a quick fix or planned renegotiation.

The quick fix can include an apology and an admission of wrongdoing.

Role renegotiation is an agreement that neither party will "stuff the pain" of pinches. Instead they will communicate using the model Jesus described in Matt. 18:15-17. In this model the person who is offended takes the initiative to resolve the issue.

If pinches are not resolved, they can lead to "crunches."

"A crunch is a pinch gone public," Oakes said.

The pain of a disagreement becomes known and experienced by many people in a crunch. Such conflict usually leads to one of five outcomes, Oakes said.

The first is a forced or mute exit.

This occurs in churches when the deacons coerce the minister to resign by offering to pay his salary for several months. The deacons often think they are acting for the Lord, Oakes said.

The second potential result of a crunch is corporate pain. This occurs when the disagreement triggers unresolved anxiety from the past.

Some unresolved issues in churches have been traced as far back as 40 years, Oakes said. These events can set up expectations that the pastor can't be trusted, he said.

Corporate pain can cause low energy in the church; inappropriate pious language, which Oakes described as "God-talk to hurt each other;" bonfires of controversy with the church facing crisis after crisis; rapid turnover of leadership, both lay and clergy; and scapegoating, with the blame usually focusing on the pastor.

The third possible result is a premature recommitment. In this scenario the pastor might preach a sermon that calls the congregation to confess their faults and recommit themselves to each other.

"The problem is when people recommit to what's not working, they set up a vortex of energy that causes people to walk out," Oakes said.

The fourth potential result of a crunch is the productive approach of a "planned renegotiation." This is similar to the strategy of dealing with a pinch, but it includes deeper anxiety because of past, unresolved conflicts, the booklet says.

The final option is a "planned exit." This is similar to the decision by Paul and Barnabas to part ways in Acts 8.

Oakes suggested several ways churches can apply the role renegotiation model.

If a member of a congregation has a concern with a minister, church leaders should encourage that person to go directly to the minister, Oakes said.

Too often, a deacon will instead wait until a deacons' meeting and tell the pastor that "some people" are upset with him, Oakes said. When the pastor asks who the people are, the deacon will say he was told about the matter in confidence.

"I think that's unkind and borders on unchristian," Oakes.

Even the worst criminals have the right to face their accusers, he said.

If the person with the concern does not want to go to the minister alone, the church leader can offer to go to the meeting. The leader should not talk during the meeting, but instead agree to "pray in the background," Oakes said.

If the matter can't be resolved, a mediation team might need to be formed, he said. Such a team might include representation from outside the church, but should not include members of the church leadership team.

The matter can then be taken to the church leadership with the unresolved conflicts made in writing.

"Use the lowest level of governing authority possible," Oakes said.

The church leadership team has five options.

The issue might be found to be not resolvable. All parties should be encouraged to consider the matter closed.

"There is risk for increased corporate pain," Oakes said.

The leadership team might agree to arbitrate the dispute and mandate a solution. This also risks increased corporate pain.

The team might recommend that the church go through a conflict resolution process.

"We suggest an outside, neutral source," he said.

The leadership might decide to negotiate the minister's exit at an agreed upon time.

"What we're suggesting is nine months," Oakes said.

The pastor and deacons would take the planned exit to the congregation for a vote.

Before the pastor leaves, he will be free to invite search committees to the church. The church would form a prayer team to pray daily for the pastor and his family.

The leadership team might decide to recommend that the church vote on the pastor's tenure with the result to take effect immediately.

The team might take this option if the pastor is found to have a moral failure; repeated, inappropriate or abusive behavior; gross misconduct, dereliction of duty or incompetence in office; teaching or preaching doctrine outside the church's stance; or the embezzlement of church funds.

In this case, the church should consider giving the minister full salary and benefits of one month for each year of service to the church. The church should also allow the minister to use the parsonage or pay housing allowance for that amount of time.

The church should also agree to pay for counseling for the minister and the minister's family for up to six months.

A prayer team should also be formed to pray for the minister and the minister's family.

"Our goal is to minimize damage," Oakes said.

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
11/27/2002 12:00:00 AM by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments
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