Primary Causes of Conflict in a Church

Although the causes for conflict are unlimited, some of the recurring areas of conflict center these five issues.

1. The purpose and vision of the church

2. The roles and goals of leadership

3. The approach to music and worship

4. The core values and resulting philosophy of ministry

5. Unfiltered expectations of transfer believers

Prevention of Conflict

It is impossible to prevent conflict, but we can take some strategic steps to reduce the number of occurrences and the intensity level. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Legitimize disagreement by frequently acknowledging that we will not always agree on everything, but we will always love and accept each other.

2. Have an open-door policy for people to share their views and concerns with you in a non-threatening atmosphere.

3. Communicate frequently the focus and direction of the church. Remember that communication is “creating understanding.” If people do not understand, you have not communicated.

4. Practice Carefrontation. When you know that someone is finding it difficult accepting a person (interpersonal conflict) or a ministry direction (substantive conflict), go to them in an attitude of care to help lead them in the process of understanding and reconciliation.

Managing Conflict

Conflict is inevitable. We should not be shocked by it, but we should expect it. Unity is not natural, it is more supernatural.

Oneness must be worked at because it does not just happen as a natural flow of life. What can a church planter do to prepare himself for disagreements, disputes, and all-out conflict?

Memorize and practice good conflict approaches. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Always confront conflict – left to itself conflict will usually accelerate and escalate. (Galatians 6:1-2, Matthew 18:15-17)

2. Never carefront conflict without personal introspection. What are my motives? Will I build or bruise? Am I dealing with the beams in my own life? In serious matters there is no substitute for prayer and fasting.

3. Keep conflict in the smallest circles possible. (Matthew 18:15-17) Small fires are easier to manage than big ones. This practice builds trust and protects confidentiality.

4. Climate and readiness are central to reconciling any dispute. It is of little value to attempt a peaceful remedy in a riot. Reducing emotional stress is a first step at working toward understanding. A listening ear and diagnostic dialogue can go a long way toward reducing frustration.

5. Place a high priority on the relational passages of Scripture and put a high trust in the Holy Spirit of God to use His Word. Passages like I Corinthians 13, Ephesians 4, and Colossians 3 can be used by God to prepare people for resolution if they will commit themselves to a steady diet for at least 30 days.

6. Seek to separate the symptoms of the conflict from the real ailment. Often people who are in conflict with a ministry approach are really in conflict with a ministry value. Once the differing values can be discussed, then steps toward understanding and accepting the ministry approach can be taken.

7. When praying with persons, who are in conflict, ask them to picture themselves sitting in a room alone and then to invite Jesus to enter the room and sit in the chair next to them. Suggest they now share their conflict with Jesus through prayer. Listen carefully to their prayer so you can better understand their perception and concerns.

8. Try to deal with conflict in neutral and informal settings. Avoid the formality of an office or meeting atmosphere. Only if conflict escalates should you consider a more formal setting.

9. Finding out what a person really wants as a result of a resolution process is vital to the path and outcome in conflict management. Spend time asking them to describe the future, as they would like it to be.

10. The way you and others approach conflict is a direct result of your basic temperament. Understanding yourself and others will put you more at ease and increase your ability to work toward resolution.

11. Conflict resolution is a process not an event. Develop thinking patterns that cause you to explore the need for several meetings and mutually agree on purpose, time and place. Remember changing attitudes and values is more difficult than changing things.

It took time for the disagreement to become a dispute and it will take time to diffuse the issue and regain the relationships.

12. There is usually more than one solution to a given situation. Most of us have been taught through our school system that there is only one right answer to a problem. That is not so when dealing with interpersonal and substantive conflicts. Try to identify several approaches to resolution before landing on one that you think is “the” answer.

13. It is good to see yourself as the tiller of a ship in the midst of a storm. Therefore, move carefully and remember that only Jesus can say, “peace” and bring instant calm. The rest of us must navigate very prayerfully.

14. There are times, for the sake of the ministry, that the only solution to a situation is an extended cooling off period. This could be in terms of days, weeks, and possibly years. Acts 15:36-41. It is never easy to say “good-by,” but sometimes it is best for all.

Keys for Growing Unity In A Team.
  • Attendance – We need team member present for us to be effective. One person’s absence will affect the whole group.
  • Punctuality – Let’s show respect for each other and the collective investment of our time by being punctual.
  • Affirmation – We may not always agree but we will love each other unconditionally.
  • Confidentiality – We will not repeat anything outside the team for which we do not have permission from the team.
  • Openness – We will seek to help others on the team by risking disclosure of our own strengths, weaknesses, and needs.
  • Honesty – We will develop a climate of love in which truth can be mutually shared in order to build up one another.
  • Sensitivity – It will be our practice to listen and accept each person by seeking to put ourselves in their situation.
  • Prayer – We should all work in the confidence of knowing that we are praying for each other daily.
Keys to Growing Unity adapted by RAH from Em Griffin’s book, Getting Together.

Used by permission of Fresh Start Ministries, © Bob Humphrey

Copyright © 2003 Fresh Start Ministries
Last modified: 06/25/05

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Gordon Penfold, Fresh Start Ministries, P.O. Box 178, Eaton, CO 81065, Phone: 970.631.6740, e-mail: