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Monday, May 6, 2019

"When Church Conflict Happens" (Michael Hare)

TITLE: When Church Conflict Happens: A Proven Process for Resolving Unhealthy Disagreements and Embracing Healthy Ones
AUTHOR: Michael Hare
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019, (256 pages).

People don't like conflict. Some would choose either to fight it or to take flight. As long as there are people, it is only a matter of time before differences of opinion would turn into conflicts. If we could not avoid it, the next best thing that we could do is to prepare for it. According to author Michael Hare, conflicts are opportunities in disguise. Learn to ask for help when needed. Learn how to navigate conflict and to use them as opportunities for learning about people and the Church. This book shows us how to:

  1. Understand the problem and avoid common mistakes
  2. Create a functional model to analyze and resolve conflicts
  3. Use various tools to evaluate and implement the conflict resolution model.

Note the title of this book. It is not "Why" or How to prevent conflicts, but to prepare oneself or one's Church on what to do when conflicts happen. Part One of the book covers the three common approaches many churches adopt whenever there is a conflict. The "Peace at any price" approach recognizes conflict as the worst possible condition, and they would do all they can to avoid it. The "firefighter" approach sees all conflicts as fires to be put out as quickly and as quietly as possible. The "spiritual problem" approach equates all conflicts as attacks by the devil. All of these three approaches regard all conflicts negatively and they all sought to extinguish all forms of conflict. Instead of such negative perspectives, Hare proposes a more positive model, that seeks to change the way we view conflict; to understand the various positions; and to find a constructive path forward. For even the most healthy of churches have conflicts from time to time. Instead of dismissing all conflicts, why not understand them so that we could work out the knots and kinks and prevent future occurrences. They could teach us wisdom and self-control; greater understanding and teamwork; and to develop relationships at deeper levels. We learn of relationships at five levels.

  • Structural: systemic environment that all groups live in;
  • Inter-Group: dynamics in between groups;
  • Intra-Group: group dynamics within the group;
  • Inter-Personal: relational dynamics in our interactions with others;
  • Intra-Personal: our reflexes, emotions, thoughts.

The key is to learn to present the conflicts as clearly and as inclusively as possible, without bias toward any one group. Subsequently, we need to identify what conflict relationship levels are they in. Finally, we work through the rationale and solutions if any. This model helps us identify root causes and move toward solutions. More complicated conflicts would involve complex relationships that overlaps with the different levels of group and personal dynamics. Hare uses the example of the Early Church in Acts to show us how conflicts could be identified, understood, and dealt with. In "Interpersonal Conflicts," we need to follow the Matthew 18 example of resolving interpersonal conflict. We need to work toward mediation in the spirit of mutual respect. For some of us, the more challenging part is our inner conflict, something that even the biblical giants had struggled with. This is an important filter because there are conflicts that arise out of personal demons. Many people erroneously assumed the problem is always others or outside of themselves. In any conflict understanding and resolution, we need to leave no stones unturned, including our own inner rocks of pride or slabs of stubbornness. We might even be dealing with multi-layered egotism.  Hare also helps us make a distinction between forgiveness and forgetting. We may forgive but that does not necessarily means we have instant reconciliation. Apart from that, it would be helpful to know our respective conflict styles: Collaborating, Competing, accommodating, avoiding, and compromising. Regardless of which approach we prefer, good conflict resolution requires us not only to know which is most appropriate but when to utilize or use a combination of approaches. It might also call for creative uses of all of them.

My Thoughts
This is an immensely practical book that is steeped with understanding of what relationships entail. I like the positive outlook he has with regard to resolving conflicts, that such matters are not something to be quickly and quietly dismissed but intentionally worked through. By seeing them as opportunities to learn and to grow, we no longer need to be victimized by fear. Instead, we could turn what seems unhealthy into a healthy educational experience. Avoiding conflicts may increase the state of unforgiveness. Any such peace may work out initially but given the nature of sin, the moment we allow sin a foothold into our lives, things would likely become worse. Even if we could avoid one conflict, there is no preventing others in the future from happening. The better approach would be to have a system of conflict resolution in place. Train members on how to use them. Maintain a big picture of Church togetherness in mind. Remind one another that we are all on the same side. There is no such thing "them-versus-us" in a Church.

One of the biggest strengths in this book is the need to identify the nature of the conflict. Don't miss out the model of mapping out the conflicts in question. An important skill to cultivate is the ability to define what exactly the issues are before even venturing into solutions mode. Sometimes, we don't know how to deal with conflicts simply because we don't have the exact vocabulary to describe them. This book definitely gives us the language of conflict resolution. I highly recommend this book for church leaders and anyone who work with people.

Michael Hare has been a senior pastor for over two decades. With fifteen years experience as a church conflict consultant, and more recently as chaplain and ombudsman at Compassion International, he is well equipped not only to teach us the fundamentals of conflict management but also to show us that it is possible.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Moody Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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