Use these 5 tips to create a church culture that handles conflict in a God-honoring way.
By David Dummitt
Churches are made up of broken, messy people. That statement won’t shock anyone reading this. Problems in churches are inevitable. Conflict can lead to division. Planning ahead for how to navigate through conflict is important to protecting the unity of our churches.
Whether you’re planting a church or have been leading one for years, it is never too early (or late) to create a road map for dealing with conflict within your church in a way that honors God. Here are five tips for creating a church culture that handles conflict well.
1. Define Values
Take the time to define the core values—the ethos—of your church culture. Our stated values serve as the guiding beliefs and convictions of our church. You can refer to this ethos repeatedly, and it will help you stay the course when handling conflict. Having predefined values in place for how to manage people problems provides a strategy for how to deal with them when they arise.
Jesus provided a road map for this in Matthew 18, and our conflict resolution strategy should be built around this Scripture. A few important principles to handling conflict well are:
- Have zero tolerance for gossip, including criticizing or expressing “concerns” about people who are not present or to whom you have not already spoken.
- Deal with conflict privately first.
- Restoring the relationship should always be the goal.
2. Align Attitudes and Actions
Culture isn’t created by what we say we value, but by aligning our attitudes and actions with our stated values. As leaders, culture begins with our own individual attitudes and behaviors. If we say we value Matthew 18 as a road map for conflict resolution but then entertain gossip, we are misaligned and fanning the flame of disunity and brokenness within our church.
As leaders, we must model our church values through how we handle conflict and complaints. Cultural congruence happens when our stated values, our speech, and our behaviors all line up.
3. Have Clear Leadership Expectations
Leadership expectations should be clear and mutually agreed upon, whether for staff, small-group leaders, high-level volunteers, or others. As we lead our staff, we are responsible to set and communicate clear expectations for how to handle interpersonal issues when they come up.
Establishing the right culture and properly handling conflict as it comes up must be a priority. We reach cultural congruence when we set the value, model the value, and talk about it often. This creates a culture with clear expectations. Whether it’s a regular topic during all-staff meetings or a part of leadership and volunteer training, we must equip our people with the biblical knowledge and skills to live out our value of healthy conflict resolution.
4. Have Crucial Conversations
When stakes are high, emotions are strong, and opinions vary, we must engage in crucial conversations. This is what Jesus spoke about in Matthew 18. These can be uncomfortable conversations about difficult issues, but they need to be addressed. By creating a culture in which these conversations occur regularly, we protect unity and keep issues in check to prevent them from growing like cancer.
Crucial conversations can include defining the relationship, challenging an employee to grow in a weak area, addressing sin issues when they come up, and handling staff transitions strategically. We need to have crucial conversations along the way that address issues privately, clearly, and with the goal of developing people.
5. Prioritize People
We must focus on the long game in order to create the proper culture and handle conflict resolution well. We are all playing to win, and we want to win together. Fighting for the unity of our church means we are fighting for our individual team members. Whether we are having crucial conversations, helping someone transition well, or dealing with any other difficult situation, our goal should always be to value and love people. Our aim must always be to develop and restore.
People problems are a part of what we do. Hard conversations, confrontation, sin issues, division, and more come up far more often than any of us like (we don’t ever like it). But by creating and modeling a plan for healthy conflict resolution, we can protect our churches from division and disunity when difficulties do arise.
David Dummitt is the lead pastor and planter of 2|42 Community Church, one of the largest and fastest-growing churches in the country. He is also on the lead team of NewThing, a catalyst for reproducing churches worldwide.