Now that the USA government shutdown is over–at least for a while–let’s reflect on the lessons churches can learn from the shutdown about conflict. Many of these are lessons of what not to do. These lessons are also politically neutral. It does not matter what position you personally favored.
First, if you avoid for too long the conflicts in your church, and fail to engage the crucial issues, it gets to be really messy. If you do not proactively engage low intensity conflict when collaboration is a great engagement strategy, when it escalates it will soon move beyond your capacity to positively engage it. At that point, the best you can hope for is a short-term fix rather than a long-term solution.
Second, if you do not get your way either you will give up or you will come back to engage the issues of conflict another day. At times it is tough to tell which you are doing until we see your long-term actions. Negotiation involves compromise and bargaining where everyone gives up something and no one is truly happy. You seldom forget what you lost in the last negotiation, and frequently bring the same issues up again in the same way and get the same results. This, of course, is popularly known as insanity.
Third, a key way to tell the emotionally mature persons from the emotionally immature persons is that the emotionally mature believe the health of the church is more important than winning. The emotionally immature believe that winning is more important than the health of the church. They are willing to hurt the church and are self-righteous about claiming they were right. They fail to realize they themselves are among the people who get hurt.
Fourth, people who take radical positions and will not negotiate have power that is up to seven times greater than their numbers. Their focus is actually on control rather than empowerment. They want to keep others from being what they do not want them to be. The truth is they are significantly dysfunctional individuals. The depth and breadth of their influence will depend on mildly dysfunctional people who are willing to support them. Without supporters they are just making noise.
Fifth, if after an unhealthy conflict a church does not intentionally change its dysfunctional pattern, it will find itself becoming a repeat offender. The most important period following an unhealthy conflict situation is the next six to 18 months when a church has the opportunity to permanently change its dysfunctional patterns. Or not.
Sixth, at times the best thing to do is to change the congregational cultural from one of debates and compromise to one of dialogue and collaboration. This requires a focus on civility, seeking to apply the unconditional love of Jesus, and deep respect for others while remaining humble yourself. That is tough for many people. Yet, the empowerment of dialogue and collaboration is so great it is worth the journey.
Seventh, when you have consensus around an umbrella mission and vision you will find a way forward. When there is no consensus about mission and vision, you wander in a wilderness without a clear sense of spiritual strategic direction. If the vision for the church is divided, unclear, non-existent, or selfish, it will be impossible to find a way forward. Only a miracle of God or a “Hail Mary” pass will work.