Christian Ministry Resources
Strategies for Peacemaking in Church Conflict
- Strategies for Peacemaking, Managing and Resolving Church Conflict
- Navigating Ongoing Unsolvable Tensions, Polarity Management
- Other Often Recommended Texts
- Related Ministry Resources
Most church leaders are motivated to deal with conflict only when necessary. This is understandable. Ideally, church leaders would train themselves during peaceful times to be better prepared when conflicts arise, but this is rare. When they do face a difficult conflict, and are more receptive to resources, they often want simple, step-by-step guides. These are hard to come by. Church conflict is usually too complex for a generic guide to apply to every situation. Also, even the most practical guides are more technical than most busy church leaders are willing to wade through. The result is that leaders usually just do the best they can and hope and pray for good outcomes.
These realities make it difficult when someone says, “Could you please recommend a book on conflict to help us through our mess?” It depends on the mess. That said, some resources are accessible enough to help, no matter how pressing the situation.
One caveat. Some conflict skills are specialized, such as mediation, arbitration, and group facilitation. Rarely can one become proficient in these interventions by reading a book. Training is necessary in settings that integrate instruction, practice, and evaluations by qualified professionals. For those interested, I highly recommend Peacemaker Ministries Training and Events.
I have tried to describe the ministry resources below so readers may choose the right one(s) for their circumstances. Remember to see the list at the bottom for resource suggestions in related areas.
Strategies for Peacemaking, Managing and Resolving Church Conflict
- Tara Klena Barthel and David W. Edling, Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care. - Two experienced church consultants from Peacemaker Ministries offer a biblical vision of conflict redemption and four universal principles from Acts 15 that apply to most church conflicts, no matter how complex.
- George W. Bullard, Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict (TCP Leadership Series) – Bullard presents what is arguably the best explanation, integration and application of the “Levels/Intensities of Conflict” and Conflict Styles models. This helps leaders identify the severity of a conflict and activate the resolution style that is best for the circumstances.
- Stephen R. Covey, The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems - Perhaps the best and most current guide to collaborative conflict resolution and problem-solving.
- Hugh F. Halverstadt, Managing Church Conflict – The standard in addressing the complex dynamics of interpersonal and group conflicts that influence the larger congregation and how to educate, coach, resolve, manage, and/or constrain the parties involved. Strategy is set forth in a flow-chart.
- Speed B. Leas, Moving Your Church Through Conflict - Leas’ unique contribution is his “Five Levels of Conflict,” that describes how conflicts begin as problems to solve but can escalate into intractable situations if not managed well in the early stages. Bullard distills much of Leas in Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict listed above.
- Speed B. Leas, Discover Your Conflict Management Style, Revised edition - Often read as a companion to Moving Your Church Through Conflict, this book gives a more thorough description of six styles of approaching conflict: persuading, compelling, avoiding/accommodating, collaborating, negotiating, and supporting. A very helpful supplement to Bullard.
- James Osterhaus, Thriving Through Ministry Conflict - Coaches ministers in the feelings, behaviors, and perspectives that allow them to lead more effectively in conflict.
- David R. Sawyer, Hope in Conflict: Discovering Wisdom in Congregational Turmoil - Shows how church conflicts and crises can and often are redeemed into new life for congregations.
- Norman Shawchuck, Conflict Management Learning System – Though hard to find, this is one of the better basic training mechanisms on conflict management for church leaders (second only to the volumes by Speed Leas’ described above). Especially good in dealing with group conflicts.
Other Helpful Resources (listed in suggested order):
- Peacemaker Ministries, Guiding People Through Conflict – A quick-to-read, 48-page booklet provides the best succinct summary and how-to on conflict coaching, mediation, and arbitration.
- Christopher Moore, The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict, 3rd edition - A standard, thorough text on the mediation process. A good follow-up to Peacemaker’s Guiding People Through Conflict listed above.
- Marlin E. Thomas, Resolving Disputes in Christian Groups – One of the best integrations of all of the best insights on church conflict management.
- James Qualben, Peace in the Parish: How to Use Conflict Redemption Principles and Processes – Good discussions of the role of congregational purpose, biblical theology, the Matthew 18 pathway, and how to overcome obstacles to conflict redemption.
- David W. Kale and Mel McCullough, Managing Conflict in the Church - Results from a survey of over 40 pastors regarding their experiences of church conflict. Discusses the common list of subjects in volumes of this kind, but from a pastor’s perspective.
- Kenneth O. Gangel and Samuel L. Canine, Communication and Conflict Management in Churches and Christian Organizations – A good collection of theory and practice on conflict. Probably best to peruse it as a supplement to main texts. Material is arranged in bullet-points, charts, diagrams, inventories, etc. for quick access.
Navigating Ongoing Unsolvable Tensions, Polarity Management:
- Barry Johnson, Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems, 2nd Edition – Many conflicts cannot be solved so as to never occur again, but must be managed as ongoing dynamics. Polarities such as present/future, large gatherings/small groups, traditional/contemporary, stability/change, etc. are not solved by choosing one end of the pole over the other exclusively, but by finding a natural rhythm between the two. Polarity Management helps with this.
- Roy Oswald and Barry Johnson, Managing Polarities in Congregations: Eight Keys for Thriving Faith Communities –Oswald teams up with Johnson, the originator of Polarity Management, for a church-related application of this approach that moves congregations beyond a limited either/or posture about issues that have two strongly opposing camps.
Other Often Recommended Texts:
- Lynn Buzzard and Laurence Eck, Tell It to the Church: Reconciling Out of Court
- James Dittes, When the People Say No: Conflict and the Call to Ministry
- Carl S. Dudley and Earle Hilgert, New Testament Tensions and the Contemporary Church
- Horace Fenton, When Christians Clash: How to Prevent and Resolve the Pain of Conflict
- Leslie B. Flynn, When the Saints Come Storming In: What the Bible Says About Friction in the Fellowship and How to Resolve It
- Kenneth Quick, Healing the Heart of Your Church: How Church Leaders Can Break the Pattern of Historic Corporate Dysfunction
Related Ministry Resources
See Other Ministry Resources on Peacemaking in Church Conflict:
- Peacemaking in Church Conflict – Education
- Peacemaking in Church Conflict – Strategies
- Peacemaking in Church Conflict – Guides to Dialogue, Healthy Behavior and Forgiveness
- Peacemaking in Church Conflict – Leadership, Preaching and Worship in Conflict
- Peacemaking in Church Conflict – Handling Criticism, Difficult People and Difficult Conversations
- Peacemaking in Church Conflict – Strategies for Congregational Trauma, Ministerial Misconduct
- Peacemaking in Church Conflict – Strategies in Power Imbalanced Situations (Leadership in Subordinate Roles)
- Peacemaking in Church Conflict – Leadership Development Through Communication Competence
See Ministry Resources for Related Areas:
- Christian Leadership for Transition and Change in Church
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal
- Emotional Systems
- Leadership Development
- Ministry Burnout, Self-Care
- Ethics for Christian Ministry
- Church Staff, Ministry Teams
- Ministry Transitions, Interim
- Christian Counseling and Pastoral Care
See Resources on Over 100 Areas of Christian Ministry: