Church planters will face conflict. The answer is not if, but when. God uses conflict to accomplish His purpose and plan for our lives and the church. Conflict has played an important role in the personal stories of many of the great men and women of the Bible. Abraham, Joshua, Moses, Sampson, and David are examples of individuals whose faith was increased as the result of personal conflict. In the New Testament, the early church grew despite conflict and persecution. In fact, the early church seemed to grow as a result of conflict (Acts 15:36-41).
The New Testament identifies several factors which cause church conflict:
1. Church members feeling overlooked by church leaders (Acts 6:1)
2. Church leaders disagree over church tradition (Acts 15:1-29)
3. Church leaders disagree over ministerial practice (Acts 15:36-41)
4. Divisive people wanting to usurp power (Rom. 16:17-18; Titus 2:10)
5. Misuse of spiritual gifts for personal gain (1 Cor. 14:26)
Although conflict is never easy, it is often a necessary and essential part of church growth. Wherever there are people involved there will be conflict. The question is not if there will be a conflict, but when and how will we handle it. Conflict in the local church is an opportunity for growth and development. Both church planters and lay people can benefit from conflict when it is handled right. For a church plant to continue to grow it must encounter some level of conflict. Conflict is necessary to bring about change and change is necessary to bring renewal.
1. Understanding the Context of Ministry
We must understand our context of ministry because it is important when evaluating how to deal with conflict. What might be a potential problem for one pastor may not be a problem for another. We must evaluate conflict on a church-to-church basis. A church of 1,500 will deal with conflict different than a church of 200. A new church will handle conflict different than an established church.
2. Know the Facts Before You Confront
Decide to deal with conflict before it ever gets started. First, research the situation. I have learned that when most people are presented with the true facts, they are more capable of responding in a positive way.
3. Involve Key Leaders in the Conflict
In all congregations there are certain people who are the primary influencers. Find out who these influencers are in your church and build a relationship with them. Involve them by presenting them with the facts. By the time you have to involve the congregation everyone will already be in your corner. It is important to surround yourself with key leaders who stand by you when conflict comes.
3. Turn Confrontation Into a Stepping Stone
Once I had all of my facts together, and I had all of my key leaders in my corner, it was time to bring it to the congregation. I knew that if I handled this conflict correctly that it would strengthen our church rather than tear it a part.
The ultimate goal of conflict management should be to restore relationships not to destroy them. Rather than causing discord, it actually brought our church closer together. Small but significant conflict situations can be a steppingstone for your church.