By God’s grace, most conflicts between Christians can be revolved personally and privately. There are times, however, when we may need the assistance of other people to help us address complicated, prolonged or emotionally charged differences. Thus, there are three different levels of peacemaking at which conflict may be addressed.
1. Personal Peacemaking
Most of the peacemaking passages in the Bible are directed at individual Christians, which shows that God expects each of us to take personal responsibility for doing everything in our power to resolve conflicts we may have with other people (see, e.g., Matt. 5:9; 5:23-24; 18:15; Rom. 12:18; Gal. 6:1; Col. 3:12-15).
A summary of key peacemaking principles is available at Biblical Peacemaking, including: how to identify the underlying causes of conflict, when and how to confess, confront and forgive wrongs, and how to negotiate reasonable agreements.
For more detailed guidance on personal peacemaking, see The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict.
2. Church-Based Conciliation
As desirable as it is to resolve conflict personally, the Bible is filled with examples where individual Christians could not make peace on their own. Paul needed Barnabas’ help to be reconciled to the apostles (Acts 9:26-28); Onesimus needed Paul’s intervention to reconcile to Philemon (Philemon). Sometimes each of us needs similar help, which is why the Bible also contains guidance on how the church can provide this assistance (see, e.g., Matt. 18:16-20; 1 Cor. 6:1-8).
Guiding People Through Conflict illustrates how church leaders can assist their members to resolve family, congregational, business and even legal conflicts through:
- Conflict coaching (helping one person see how to pursue personal peacemaking more effectively),
- Mediation (facilitating a conversation between the parties that enables them to reconcile and resolve their differences) and
- Arbitration (hearing both sides in a conflict and providing a binding solution to the matter).
Although church leaders can usually provide coaching and mediation in an informal manner, they are welcome to adopt and apply the procedures, rules and forms in this booklet in order to provide a clear and objective process for guiding members through conflict.
Preparing for Conflict
Church leaders can prepare for conflict in three ways. First, equip your entire congregation with skills for preventing and resolving conflict by hosting a live seminar or using study materials provided by Relational Wisdom 360 or Crossroads Resolution Group, LLC.
Second, encourage all of your leaders to read the Leading Christians Through Conflict ebooklet so they are prepared to carry out their role as peacemaking shepherds of the flock when conflicts arise.
Third, identify especially gifted leaders and members in your church and encourage them to go through more advanced training in peacemaking and Christian conciliation (provided by the ministries listed above) so they can serve as an in-house resource for teaching, coaching and mediation.
3. Professional Christian Conciliation
Although most conflicts in a church or ministry can and should be resolved personally or with the help of trained leaders, there are some conflicts that call for the assistance of professionally trained conciliators who subscribe to the procedures and standards set forth in Handbook for Christian Conciliation.
This could include Certified RW Conciliators™ (trained by RW360) or Certified Christian Conciliators™ (trained by the Institute for Christian Conciliation).
This kind of professional assistance is especially helpful in these types of cases:
- Serious conflicts within a church or ministry leadership team, including cases of moral failure, governance deadlock or long-term discord. Outside help is especially helpful when there is no designated outside body (e.g., denominational agency) that can provide objective and trusted guidance.
- Serious congregational conflict, especially when the leadership team has little training or experience in conflict resolution or has lost its credibility with a significant portion of the congregation.
- Disputes that involve complex legal issues or significant financial or property rights.
- Marital, divorce or childcare conflicts that the leadership team is not trained to address.
- Cases involving emotional trauma, power imbalances or abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, child, elder, spiritual, etc.).
When a church or ministry encounters these types of conflict, they can seek assistance from one of the ministries listed above, or from one of the other organizations or individuals listed at Conciliation Providers.
See additional peacemaking resources at Free Downloads.