Many scriptures show us that unresolved conflict is displeasing and unacceptable to God (Matthew 5:23-26, Hebrews 12:14-15). Unresolved conflicts are grave and sinful, and call for urgency and conclusiveness in resolving them amongst us as disciples. When we don’t resolve conflicts, they can grow, fester and linger with significant costs to our spirituality, emotions, unity and finances. These disagreements, and sometimes disruptions, can go as far as splitting churches and the brotherhood.
When we fail to resolve conflicts, it not only hurts us but hurts God. God hurts when we don’t forgive others. He wants us to forgive as he forgave us. God hurts when we are not united. Jesus prayed passionately for our unity before he departed. Many of us know of unresolved conflicts in our churches and regions and have done nothing about them. Brothers and sisters, this should not be.
God wants us to be peacemakers, to be like-minded, to love one another, to repay evil with blessings and to live at peace with everyone. God expects unresolved conflicts to be escalated progressively until final resolution (Matthew 18: 15-18). Unresolved conflicts therefore have no place among God’s people.
We should recognize that conflicts will occur even as we make efforts to avoid them (Romans 7:21-23), and that conflict can occur even amongst the best of us, as we see with Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15. Having this understanding that conflicts will arise, with sometimes far-reaching consequences, there is a clear need to prioritize, be proactive and responsive in putting in place effective and formal Conflict Resolution (CR) structures across our brotherhood at every level (local, regional and global). Such CR structures should address the following needs:
- Be accountable, trustworthy, firm and fair.
- Get the buy-in and widespread acceptance of our churches, and be given appropriate authority.
- Promote unity at every level and enjoy a high rate of successful interventions.
- Promote biblical teachings, professional training and development in CR to every level of our brotherhood.
- Achieve reduction in long term costs often associated with unresolved and protracted conflicts.
- Attract funding and be adequately funded.
An African proverb says: “To engage conflict, one does not bring a knife that cuts, but a needle that sews.”
We therefore present below two alternative proposals for consideration on what CR structure would best meet our needs.
1. A Global Approach to Conflict Resolution
Over the last 15 years several conflicts have spilled from one region of our churches into another, sometimes even traversing the globe, eventually costing the faith of innocent bystanders, the heart of the conflicted who gave up, and so much time of leaders and unanticipated expenses. The goal of preserving the overall wholeness and unity of our brotherhood is not in question. There is a question; however, as to what approach has the combination of strong biblical support and cost-effectiveness while producing overall resilience.
Local and regional approaches should always be used first as exemplified in Matthew 18. However, when local and regional leadership cannot resolve conflict their members will suffer unless there are other options. Local and regional churches are at a disadvantage with conflicts that spread to other regions because of potential insular bias and/or lack of resources. The global approach:
- Local and regional leadership resolve conflict if at all possible
- A Global Conflict Resolution (GCR) panel be formed to handle conflicts that cannot be resolved on a local and regional level.
- The GCR panel would be comprised of men and women from around the world who are commended by the brotherhood for their maturity, formally learned skills and experience in resolving difficulties.
- This approach to protecting the wellbeing and global unity of Christians is rooted on the Scriptural mandate requiring competent dispute handlers (Deuteronomy 1:9-18) and the heart of Christ (John 17:22-23).
Preparedness: When a conflict spreads from one region to another there are eight possible impediments that a well-intending helper might encounter: 1) the lack of a full backstory, 2) the limitations of language, 3) obscure cultural components, 4) their distance to the matter, 5) their competence, 6) the lack of broad agreement on protocols, 7) the willingness of the parties to come to the table and 8) the funding required for bringing the main parties together for resolution. A global approach can factor these hurdles into roadmaps, well-developed agreements and overall team development.
Who makes the call: It is best for disruptions to be sorted out within a regional family of churches before they get out of control and spread elsewhere. That said, there are three cases when the GCR panel would become advantageous:
- The regional chairman requests help for regional matter,
- An unresolved matter spreads to another region and both regions are unable to achieve resolve, or
- If a series of substantiated and consistent complaints in a region raise issues of defamation to the cause of Christ, which will invariably affect the larger fellowship.
Process: In all cases the panel will inquire of petitioners to determine if they have fulfilled their Scriptural responsibilities of “going to the brother.” Communication with the local leaders and the regional chairman is an essential next step. An inquiry would commence once the investigators are deemed impartial and capable by the main parties. Only after the initial investigation would the GCR panel determine if the next step forward is advice, mediation, arbitration and/or training.
Containment: The most frequent mishaps or disruptions have been a contested church discipline, an outspoken individual with a serious complaint or a power struggle among ecclesiastical leaders, most of which lead to witnesses and friends galvanizing around a spokesman. When those leading figures possess a celebrity status it becomes increasingly difficult to manage locally. However, a panel comprised of multi-lingual mediators, mental health specialists, organizational health and risk management consultants can contain a matter that might otherwise be unstoppable. The panel becomes the “final stop” to restore balance from runaway conflicts.
Selection: The GCR Panel would be vetted by and be accountable to the Elder’s Service Team, be comprised of 12-15 members from around the world, each certified in a field related to CR, serve a maximum of two consecutive two-to-three year terms. They would be subsidized by a global fund or from a committed portion of allocated regional funds requested on an as-needed basis.
Advantage: The global GCR panel will providethe most impartial and detached approach at investigations. It will become the strongest resource for overall expertise, a repository for transformative “proactive” practices, and panelists who can provide conflict competence training.
Can you think of a better approach than the one described here? A better question: “Who would you call if someone very dear to your heart was at the center of an escalating and devastating conflict in a far-away region of our churches?”
2. A Regional Approach to Conflict Resolution
Do we take unity seriously? We are disciples of Jesus Christ, so of course we do (John 17:20-23). Do we want everyone striving to create, promote and maintain unity? Yes (Ephesians 4:3-6). Do we believe that unresolved conflict is one of the greatest threats to unity? Yes (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Do we want to have the right people in place to help deal with conflict? Yes (Exodus 18:13-26). Do we want to set up a program specifically to deal with unresolved conflict that seems to be plaguing more and more of our churches? Yes. The real question is how do we go about doing that and what will that look like.
Most of us want relational influence and authority in our lives that is built on the foundation of trust and mutual respect. We do need these relationships to speak into our lives when we are ‘stuck.’ This is no different for the churches that we belong to. When we get into a conflict situation that seems to be ‘stuck,’ we want trusted advisors to help us resolve it. If there is a time when the conflict needs to be escalated to the point of discipline, who better to do that difficult job than whom we have shared a common spiritual history with. We want our closest brothers and sisters to deal with the worst in us to hopefully bring out the best in us. Trusted brothers and sisters that help with these situations also need to have some skill, experience and ‘formal’ training to be more effective at what they do. We want to work with trusted disciples that have various skills and training in organizational health, healthy communication and conflict resolution. It would also be helpful to have those trained in mental health and other wellness disciplines to offer their perspective when unity is being threatened by an unresolved conflict. Some of these suitable people may already be in our churches but they have not yet been identified, empowered and utilized effectively. Many of these people are already volunteering and functioning on an ad hoc basis within their respective situations. Before we bring in paid outside professionals or advisors to help, would it not be worth it to consider our local churches to see if we can ‘staff’ our own needs within the region with volunteers?
We could form a volunteer regional conflict resolution group in every regional family of churches and call it the ‘Conflict Resolution Team’ (CRT). When a local church is stuck or when the conflict starts to spread outside the local situation, it’s time for the CRT to help. When there has been many concerns and complaints brought to leadership, it’s time for the CRT to help. The local church could invite the CRT to come in and help as well. The members of the CRT would already know the culture and history of the region. The CRT members would have well established relationships across the region already, so the ‘trust and authority factor’ is not that much of an issue. This will cost some money for travel, lodging, food, etc. The money spent on volunteers would be considerably less than hiring an outside group to come in. Maybe we could set up a regional ‘Unity Fund’ that local churches can voluntarily contribute to. This would be similar to the way we collect and allocate our local benevolence funds. The money could also be used to facilitate training by the CRT to develop a new generation of CRT candidates and thus we are investing back into our own local churches. We believe in multiplying our expertise and experience across the region. It is very different than bringing in an outside expert or group… when they are done with their work, the expertise and experience leave with them.
Some will ask, what if a cross-regional conflict arises? In these cases, it would be important for the regional CRT to build strong relationships with other regional CRTs from around the globe. Each CRT could be a resource for the others for both training and conflict resolution purposes. For this to really work, the local churches and the regional leadership need to be humble and willing to solicit and accept help from another regional CRT if the conflict is beyond the skill, resources and suitability of the regional CRT.
In summary, the Regional Conflict Resolution approach…
- Minimizes risk: Authority & trust issues towards outsiders; Culture, historic & language issues
- Formation of a volunteer regional CRT: Identifies volunteers within the region who are trusted, skilled, experienced and trained to promote unity & conflict resolution
- The expenses of the regional CRT can be funded by a regional ‘Unity Fund’
- The regional CRT will build a strong network of relationships with other regional CRTs to share resources and solicit help when necessary for complicated conflicts
- A healthy regional CRT can be a wealth of resources and experience for the whole movement
ICOC 3.0 Conflict Resolution Task Force
- Chairman – Walter Evans, Philadelphia – Elder/Evangelist; Chairman Elders Service Team
- Omo Iyamu, Lagos – Elder
- OV Iyamu, Lagos – Wife of Omo; Human Resource Consultant and Management Trainer
- Faridah Enrile, Manila – Women’s Ministry Leader; Professional Counselor; Speaker at 2017 Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness
- David Jung; Winnipeg – Evangelist; Registered professional counselor; Professional mediator
- Luis Mendez, San Diego – Elder; Chairman, Mexico Family of Churches
- Steve Staten, Chicago – Former Evangelist/Teacher; Founder of Bridging International specializing in conflict resolution