Wednesday, May 16, 2012

De-escalating Conflict: Dealing with Conflict in Christian Ministry Part 5

The goal within a conflict in a church ministry is not to provide justice through judgment.  Justice, ultimately, is God’s task, to offer the perfect balance of justice and mercy to all men.  Being human, full of human motivation and reactions, our balance between justice and mercy is a bit off-kilter.  Our purpose, again, is to create a place of safety for everyone.  The best way to create safety is not to have a context of crime-and-punishment, but a context of repentance and reconciliation.  This means that the ideal, although not always realized, is to give anyone who is in conflict a place of safety because of their neccessity to have a space apart from the usual actions of the world.  If someone acts in opposition to the rules of the ministry, the main goal is not to punish them for their wrong action, but to convince them that such action is in opposition to everyone’s good.

How to respond to broken rules or conflict:
Patience—First of all, the Spirit fruit of patience is necessary.  Conflict is rarely resolved quickly, and it takes as long as it takes.  If a person is belligerent, then the leader must have “long-suffering” (to use the KJV term) with the one confronting them in order to have the success of bringing peace.  Part of this patience is that we invite them to give us their perspective of what happened.

Approaching Privately— It is best to speak to each person involved in a conflict separately.  Everyone needs to speak their perspective, but in the midst of a conflict, no one is able to hear the other person’s perspective.  Also, if someone is doing something inappropriate, it is best to confront them about it without adding to their shame by confronting them in front of their friends—especially because being in front of their friends might encourage them to act with bravado instead of thinking about the larger perspective.

Listening—In order for us to understand the conflict, we must listen to the reason of the person who is initiating the conflict.  The goal of listening is twofold.  First of all, if we are going to make a right judgment of the situation, we must understand the full context, and that will only be done by listening to whoever is causing the conflict.  Secondly, we need for those who are causing the conflict to feel heard and understood.  Thus, we are not listening as a goal in and of itself, but we are responding to what the other person is saying, and asking appropriate, not leading, questions.  When they feel understood and heard, we can move on to responding.

Objectivity—It is important in a conflict between two participants that the leader not take sides.  The participant must see that the leader is “no respecter of persons”, willing to look at a conflict from both sides.  This means that we need to consider what this conflict means from all parties involved and to speak to each of them from their perspective.  We also need to see that there is almost never a single wrong party in a conflict.  It takes one person to begin a conflict, but it takes more than one to continue it.  It's not our place to place blame, but to create a safe place for everyone.  This means that whomever took part in the conflict must be spoken to, fairly, about their part in perpetuating it.  Also, objectivity means that we cannot take the sides of any of our co-leaders who have perpetuated the conflict.  If any leader—even ourselves!— is involved in aggressive behavior, we must apologize and make no excuses for them because they are a leader.

Find Agreement—One way to quickly defuse a conflict is to find something to agree on with each person you are dealing with.  You can tell someone that you understand their perspective or that you agree that what was done to them was wrong, or just some part of what they said.  To agree with them is to defuse any idea that you are enemies.  Instead, you have made a connection with them and they will be more ready to listen to you.

Humor—Another way to defuse a situation is to use humor in speaking.  Not humor at anyone’s expense, but if you can speak lightly, it makes the situation less heavy and eases the minds of those involved.

Speaking for Peace—What response we give is based on two perspectives—first of all, their point of view, and also the perspective of the community.  Our response to them needs to recognize their needs and speak to them from their understanding of what happened.  Then we need to bring them into the larger perspective of the community, and how their actions aren’t appropriate for everyone else.  A very few people won’t care about others or their needs, but this is rare.  When we speak to them about this, we need to be gentle, remembering that resolving conflict is a part of the ministry to everyone involved, including those who cause the conflict.

Disciplining— For some smaller rules (such as blasphemy) a gentle (even humorous) reprimand is enough.  But if someone has broken a serious rule—stealing, violence or aggressiveness, or selling drugs for example—then there should be a discipline that is appropriate.  If someone is loudly threatening someone else, then they might be asked to leave for the day.  If a person acts with violence, they might be asked to leave for longer.  The reason for discipline is to communicate to the whole community that everyone’s security is important and to communicate that certain actions cannot be allowed in this safe place.  For someone who knows that they have done something very inappropriate for the church, they might actually appreciate a small amount of discipline as a kind of penance.  Again, just make sure that the discipline is appropriate with the rule broken.

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