One of the best ways to make sure that a conflict is resolved in a conciliatory and biblically faithful manner is to include conciliation clauses in any contracts you sign. Depending on how they are written, these clauses may either informally encourage or formally and legally require that any dispute related to a contract be resolved through biblically based mediation or arbitration rather than through litigation. These types of clauses are being used throughout the country in a wide variety of businesses, ministries, churches and schools.
Using these clauses may help you to avoid the stress and expense of the secular legal system. They should not be used merely for that reason, however. Nor should they be used as a means to conceal wrongdoing, place others at a disadvantage or deprive others of valid legal rights and protections. Instead, conciliation clauses should be used by those who are committed to biblical principles of peace, justice, and reconciliation, and who place a high priority on honoring God and preserving relationships even in the midst of conflict.
It is important to realize that legally binding versions of conciliation clauses may limit your ability, as well as the ability of other parties to a contract, to use the civil court system to resolve a dispute. Therefore, these types of clauses should be used only when all parties to a contract have been provided with complete and detailed information about the conciliation process so that they know precisely what they are committing to and what legal limitations they are accepting.
Conciliation clauses may be written in several ways, depending upon the preferences of the parties. RW360 recommends the language in the following clauses. There is no copyright on the clauses, and you are free to use them at your discretion. The legally binding versions of these clauses have been court-tested and should be modified only with the advice of legal counsel.
Informal Commitments to Christian Conciliation
In light of the power imbalance that exists between church leaders and individual members, RW360 recommends that churches use informal commitments to Christian conciliation in church bylaws or membership covenants rather than legally binding clauses. For example:
(For bylaws) If I there is a conflict between members or leaders of this church, we commit to making a sincere effort to resolve it according to the peacemaking principles set forth in Scripture (see, for example, Prov. 19:11; Matt. 5:9, 5:23-24, 7:3-5, 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 6:1-8; Eph. 4:29-32; Gal. 6:1; Phil. 2:1-4; www.rw360.org/peacemaking). If we are unable to resolve a conflict through personal conversations or informal mediation, as described in Guiding People Through Conflict (www.rw360.org/gptc), or through the established disciplinary process of this church, we agree to give prayerful consideration to resolving the matter through formal Christian conciliation, which is described in the Handbook for Christian Conciliation (www.rw360.org/ccshandbook).
(For membership covenant) If I have a conflict with another member or a leader of this church, I commit to making a sincere effort to resolve it according to the peacemaking principles set forth in Scripture (e.g., Prov. 19:11; Matt. 5:9, 5:23-24, 7:3-5, 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 6:1-8; Eph. 4:29-32; Gal. 6:1; Phil. 2:1-4; www.rw360.org/peacemaking). If we are unable to resolve a conflict through personal conversations or informal mediation, as described in Guiding People Through Conflict (www.rw360.org/gptc), or through the established disciplinary process of the church, I agree to give prayerful consideration to resolving the matter through formal Christian conciliation, which is described in the Handbook for Christian Conciliation (www.rw360.org/ccshandbook).
These types of informal clauses encourage the use of conciliation while also ensuring that people will enter into such a process voluntarily and with the opportunity to carefully evaluate the process in light of their religious convictions (see, e.g., 1 Cor. 6:1-8) and to seek outside advice that enables them to thoughtfully decide whether this process is appropriate for their particular situation.
Legally Binding Conciliation Clause Option A
RW360 recommends the use of legally binding conciliation clauses in contracts between parties of equal power and bargaining strength, such as business or professional contracts.
The parties to this agreement are Christians and believe that the Bible commands them to make every effort to live at peace and to resolve disputes with each other in private or within the Christian church (see Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8). Therefore, the parties agree that any claim or dispute arising from or related to this agreement shall be settled by biblically-based mediation and, if necessary, legally binding arbitration in accordance with the Rules of Procedure for Christian Conciliation of the Christian Conciliation Service®, a division of Relational Wisdom 360, (complete text of the Rules is available here). Judgment upon an arbitration decision may be entered in any court otherwise having jurisdiction. The parties understand that these methods shall be the sole remedy for any controversy or claim arising out of this agreement and expressly waive their right to file a lawsuit in any civil court against one another for such disputes, except to enforce an arbitration decision.
Legally Binding Conciliation Clause Option B (more concise language)
Any claim or dispute arising from or related to this agreement shall be settled by mediation and, if necessary, legally binding arbitration in accordance with the Rules of Procedure for Christian Conciliation of the Christian Conciliation Service®, a division of Relational Wisdom 360 (complete text of the Rules is available here). Judgment upon an arbitration decision may be entered in any court otherwise having jurisdiction. The parties understand that these methods shall be the sole remedy for any controversy or claim arising out of this agreement and expressly waive their right to file a lawsuit in any civil court against one another for such disputes, except to enforce an arbitration decision.
Conciliation Clauses for Employment Contracts
In light of the power imbalance between employers and employees, RW360 recommends that employers use an informal commitment to conciliation (like the examples provided above) rather than a legally binding clause with their employees. An informal commitment can prevent an employee from feeling coerced into a process he or she does not fully understand or believe to be safe and neutral.
If an employer prefers to use a legally binding clause, he should be aware that some courts have placed limitations on the enforceability of mediation and/or arbitration clauses that are used in employment contracts, usually because of the financial burden that a mediation/arbitration process can place on an employee. One way to avoid this problem is to include this additional language in an employment conciliation clause:
The parties acknowledge that a conciliation process necessarily requires time and financial resources. To facilitate this process, [Employer’s Name] agrees to pay all initial fees and expenses that may be required by the mediator, case administrator, and/or arbitrator to carry out a conciliation process. The final apportionment between the parties of those fees and expenses shall be negotiated during mediation or, if necessary, decided by the arbitrator. The parties agree that they will make every reasonable effort to contain expenses by limiting the amount of fact-finding, investigation and discovery to what is reasonably necessary to conduct a fair conciliation process.
The Association of Christian Schools International has incorporated language similar to this in a model Mediation/Arbitration Clause they recommend for employment contracts in their schools. If a school prefers to commit to a conciliation process that involves the principles of relational wisdom and is administered under the auspices of RW360, we recommend that they change the first sentence in the second paragraph of the model clause to read as follows:
The parties agree for the arbitration process to be conducted in accordance with the “Rules of Procedure for Christian Conciliation” (“Rules”) of the Christian Conciliation Service, a division of Relational Wisdom 360. A copy of the Rules may be obtained from the school office or at www.rw360.org/ccshandbook.
Conciliation Clauses in Trusts and Wills
Conciliation clauses may also be included in trusts and wills. As indicated in this article, the legal enforceability of such clauses varies from state to state. Regardless of legal enforceability, however, these clauses can still encourage people who have disagreements over a trust or will to settle their differences in a conciliatory manner. The following language is appropriate for use in a trust or will:
I believe that God wants Christians to make every effort to live at peace and to resolve disputes with one another in private or within the church (see Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8; Ephesians 4:1-3). I believe that obedience to these principles honors and pleases God, benefits those involved and may lead others to faith in Christ. Therefore, trusting that my family and friends will honor my beliefs and wishes, I ask that any questions or disputes that may arise during the administration of my estate be settled by mediation and, if necessary, arbitration in accordance with the Rules of Procedure for Christian Conciliation of the Christian Conciliation Service®, a division of Relational Wisdom 360 (complete text of the Rules is available here).
Helpful Facts About Conciliation Clauses
- Conciliation clauses have been used successfully for many years. The language suggested above is similar to language that has been used for decades by the American Arbitration Association.
- Conciliation clauses may be used in almost any kind of contract. They are useful in employment, sales, construction, and professional services contracts.
- Conciliation clauses are simple to use. Even though there are basic steps that must be followed when using them, these clauses are not complex. Once you understand the underlying concept, you may use them in many kinds of contracts.
- Conciliation clauses can save you a great deal of time, money, and energy. A lawsuit can consume thousands of dollars, deplete you emotionally and spiritually, distract you from important activities and people, damage your reputation, and continue for years. A conciliation clause can help you to stay out of court and avoid many of these hardships.
- Conciliation clauses can help to preserve valuable relationships. When conflict erupts over a contract and people go to court, the adversarial process often damages their relationships beyond repair. In contrast, conciliation provides a way to settle substantive issues while at the same time resolving personal differences and promoting genuine reconciliation, allowing people to resume their personal and business relationships.
- Conciliation clauses are legally enforceable. Both state and federal courts will usually enforce conciliation agreements that require arbitration. If a dispute arises and either party refuses to participate in conciliation efforts, the other party may petition a court for an order to compel the parties to proceed with mediation and arbitration. Similarly, if either party files a lawsuit regarding a contract violation, the other party may ask the court to stop the suit and direct the parties to proceed with conciliation. Numerous courts have held that these types of conciliation clauses as well as resulting conciliation decisions are valid and enforceable. See cases here.
- Conciliation clauses do not affect other rights. When you sign a contract containing a conciliation clause, only your rights and responsibilities related to that particular agreement are affected.
- The best time to agree on how to settle a conflict is before it arises. When people are initially negotiating a contract, they are usually on friendly terms and seldom expect serious problems in their relationship. If a conflict arises later, however, trust evaporates quickly; people often become defensive, suspicious, and hostile, and may refuse to agree to conciliation. Therefore, the best time to suggest using conciliation is when a contract is first being written and both sides are inclined to see a conciliation clause as a prudent, non-threatening precaution.
- Conciliation clauses may be implemented even if there is not an established Christian conciliation ministry in the parties’ community. The language proposed by the Christian Conciliation Service commits the parties to a defined process, not to a particular conciliator. If a conflict develops and conciliation is necessary, the parties may ask leaders from their respective churches or other respected individuals in their community to settle the matter using the Christian Conciliation Service’s Rules of Procedure. If such assistance is not easily available, they may bring in experienced conciliators from another location. (If the parties cannot agree on who will handle their case, the Rules provide that the Christian Conciliation Service will make that decision.)
- It is wise to talk with an attorney before using a conciliation clause. In some states conciliation clauses must be written in a certain way to be legally binding. A visit with an attorney can confirm your commitment to avoid litigation, alert you to local requirements, and ensure the enforceability of a conciliation clause in your contract.
- The Christian Conciliation Service has materials that can help you explain the benefits of using conciliation clauses. One of the best ways to persuade other people to agree to use a conciliation clause is to encourage them to visit our web site and provide them with copies of relevant documents. If you begin using conciliation clauses today, you are taking a wise precaution against unnecessary stress and expense in the future. Moreover, by openly committing yourself to the conflict resolution principles set forth in Scripture, you will be making a clear statement that you trust in God and desire to follow his principles in every aspect of your life. Please feel free to contact the Christian Conciliation Service for more information about the use of conciliation clauses.
These Conciliation Clauses were written by Ken Sande and adopted by the Association of Christian Conciliation Services in 1990, with the understanding that they would be available to “any Christian conciliation ministry, church or other organization or person who wishes to encourage parties to resolve conflicts through Christian conciliation.” These clauses are published through RW360 pursuant to a special license.