This article is one of a series on Conflict Resolution in the Faith Community published by the Conflict Resolution Center International. For more information about conflict resolution contact:
Raise your hand if the following sound familiar:
One century-old Midwest congregation discovered that its dreary basement social hall was woefully inadequate when younger members suggested that a larger, brighter facility would better suit their needs. When the congregation's elders objected, saying that the price of expansion was too high, younger members pointed out that increased rentals would more than pay for the new hall. (For the resolution, please see the end of the article.)
When a Keystone State congregation hired a highly-touted youth director, he responded by creating more innovative programming, and bringing in more young people than the congregation had ever seen. The result was that the youth director was met with a firestorm of opposition from older congregants, who felt that an inordinate amount of time, space, and funds were being lavished on a segment of the population who were not able to contribute financially.
One lay-lead congregation had no minister; instead, it featured a collective approach to services and religious teaching. What worked in the 1960s, however, didn't in the 1990s; congregants had little timeor patience to do the work themselves. After intense lobbying for both a paid teacher and minister, the members split so badly no one would even run for president.
When a rural Pennsylvania congregation wanted to grow, they felt they should move from a part-time to a new, full-time minister. The new minister did attract many new families, but crossed a line when she nominated some new church members to the board. Infuriated, some congregants mounted a literal terror campaign, including anonymous phone calls, verbal abuse and threats to blow up the new parsonage they themselves had built.
When the bishop wanted to close a venerable river town church and replace it with a wholly new facility elsewhere, where newer, younger families were located, older, more traditional parishioners objectedto the point of filing suit in church and civil courts.
An Ohio Valley congregation recruited a family with a 19-year-old son to be youth director. Responding splendidly, the young man created many weekday events, including both worship and Bible study, as well as a strategy to develop teen leaders. Within six months the church was hosting 80 teenagers on a Saturday nightwhich is when the complaints began: the building wasn't kept clean, amplified music was not appropriate for the neighbors, too many children milled about on the sidewalk.
All of these intra-congregational intergenerational conflicts are the rule rather than the exception, and resolving them requires a specific set of skills. Unfortunately, because people become polarized, and ministers are generally not skilled mediators, conflicts can be become destructive schisms. Yet as the 204th Presbyterian General Assembly said, while "conflicts can be harmful and even destructive, [causing] individuals a great deal of pain and the community of faith immeasurable damage at the same time, conflicts can be an opportunity for new insights, learning and individual and corporate growth...The successful resolution of conflict can also bind people together in a powerful way."
How to bindand not destroy? How to take inevitable intergenerational conflicts and make a congregation greater? Here are 10 helpful tips for conflict resolution:
Admit you need each other.
Identify and articulate the conflict.
Remember what group you're addressing.
Be aware when you are emotionally involved.
8. Empower all parties in the conflict.
Search for common ground.
Don't be afraid to mediateor seek higher counsel.
In more hierarchical situations, such as the Catholic Church, parishioners have a number of options, including seeking the help of their pastor; or, if the pastor is the problem, going to the bishop, who can intervene if he so desires; or going to a tribunal, which will establish a due process panel to investigate and initiate conciliation. Often, such regimented procedures work well; sometimes, they don't. Comments church jurist Father Robert Ahlin, while by definition a final decision must bind all parties, "a lot of times, people just go away mad. In these cases," he adds, "more active collaboration is the direction it needs to go."
Consider your own congregation and its intergenerational conflict: how often how you tried these techniques? Could they have helped? How about in the following examples?
Keystone State congregation:
1999 Conflict Resolution Center International, Inc.