Handling conflict in church

Jay Voorhees has posted a couple of posts about controversy surrounding a congregation in Birmingham, Alabama. The posts and the comments are both interesting and frustrating because such complex controversies are impossible to fully understand from a distance.

One issue that has come up in the conversation is the way the secrecy of the process of investigating and acting upon allegations breeds distrust and causes harm. I agree with the general rule that secrecy creates problems in organizations. My instinct is to fault secrecy. I used to be a journalist after all.

But I find myself wondering how I would handle such issues if I were a bishop (Lord, have mercy) or a DS.

Imagine you are a DS. You get word that something wrong is going on with one of the pastors you supervise. You do not have any way of knowing up front whether the allegation is true or not. But you know people are upset and are convinced wrong has been done. You are going to have to investigate, but the allegation is serious enough that you can’t leave the pastor in charge while you investigate.

Once a situation gets as far as a formal complaint to the DS, it is probably not going to be fixed without a lot of mess and pain. And no matter what is decided, some people are going to be passionately convinced it was handled wrong.

I wonder how the church best deals with such matters. I wonder how I would.

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One thought on “Handling conflict in church

  1. John, it sounds like a very messy situation. It also sounds like (as Jay points out) that the congregation, though wounded, is continuing in its mission in spite (or perhaps because) of its woundedness. That one aspect of the whole mess is admirable.

    What would I do is I were a DS or Bishop? I would hope and pray that I wouldn’t play “I’ve got a secret” with the congregation involved. I would hope and pray that I would respect the congregation and its leadership enough to make sure that they were in the loop throughout the process. And I would hope and pray that I would be able to play a pastoral role to the congregation as they dealt with the upheaval in their lives.

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