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There had been a small problem a few months back in a small group of church friends. It seemed to have worked its way out when a faithful member calls to ask if he and his wife could meet with me, their pastor. Of course I am more than happy to meet with them. After all, they have been faithful members for more than fifteen years, served on various committees and ministries through the years. They both now serve in a leadership position. We meet and have small talk and soon we get around to the reason they wanted to meet. They have decided they need to step down from the positions they are presently serving in our church. The reason they give is both of them have more pressure at work and need to give more time to their jobs. As I ask questions as to why this sudden change, they assure me everything is fine and they are not upset with anyone or anything. I can predict this family is probably on their way out of our local church. The following Sunday there are two new families that are visiting our church from another local church. When I contact them on a visit I learn they have been members at their local church for several years but are probably not going back. Churches and pastors are very familiar with these types of stories that are taking place more frequent than we would like to admit. The startling realization about this is that some of these people are what many would consider to be mature believers. They have been saved and baptized for years. They have actively proven their faith by their devotion through their church. They have been faithful in church attendance, bible study and serving in ministries. These are not baby, newborn Christians, but rather seasoned saints who have a good knowledge of the scriptures. Instead of following the biblical principles laid out in the scriptures, they have decided it is easier to just leave or just never go to church again.  

Although it is not easy to develop a working definition of conflict, it can be described as an open clash between two opposing individuals or groups that end up frustrating someone else’s purpose or opinion. Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers”, but disagreements and conflicts continue to this day. Conflict in the modern world is everywhere, politics, business, families and yes, even within churches. Therefore, it seems to be impossible to get over its negative influence in our lives. It is not easy to avoid conflict in our lives. However, as Christians we have the bible, the Holy Spirit and church to help us resolve conflict.

When a person becomes a Christian and joins a church conflict will not automatically end, conflict is inevitable for Christians.  Conflict is a normal part of our life for all people including Christians. According to Edmiston (1997), there are three reasons as to why conflict is inevitable. These three reasons include: our knowledge as human beings is imperfect and incomplete, that is, we tend to view things differently through our knowledge and perspectives; Christians are led to conflict by Satan engineers; and Christians initiate conflict whenever they proclaim the word of God and teach against anti-God activities to a world that does not want to hear this. Hence, Christians and everyone else will always face conflict in one way or another. We should therefore learn how to manage it.

This research will be generally based on the prevalence of conflicts in our churches, as a result of failure to apply biblical principles to resolve interpersonal and private conflicts. These issues will be explored in detail, and the main topics to be included are conflict in our churches, conflict management through biblical principles and pastor-church conflict. The prevalence of conflict within the church is an increasingly negative effect on society as Churches are splitting and declining while pastors are discouraged and many leaving the pastoral ministry.

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There is much research given to support the data that there is a problem within the church because of conflict. Churches are splitting and declining while pastors are discouraged and many leaving the pastoral ministry. There is very good research that exist as to why this is happening and ways to address conflict. I would like to research and raise the question, since we know conflict has become a paralyzing issue within churches, why do mature Christian members within a local body of believers fail to apply biblical principles to resolve interpersonal conflicts?

The name of Jesus Christ is being mocked as a result of unresolved church conflict which is destroying churches and pastors. Therefore, church conflict is turning away unbelievers from Christ and the church. Conflict is destroying the church some Christians have already stopped attending church. As Christians we should understand that conflict will always come and the Bible provides ways of dealing with it. Throughout church history, conflict has taken place in churches including the first church and all churches of the New Testament.

Churches will never be free from conflicts and pastors, lay leaders and mature members should be aware of this and be armed with conflict management tools so that they can lead their church to be a place of healing and reconciliation.  In their book, Church Fights, Lea’s and Kittlaus, remind us that it is because people care that they enter into conflict. “If one doesn’t care about the other person or what he is doing, one will not be motivated to fight with him” (Leas and Kittlaus 1973, 43).Conflict is a function of caring. The church is a place where people care very deeply. Today’s pastor finds himself in a leadership position that has changed greatly from just twenty years ago. Authority which was bestowed on pastors has changed completely and they are being challenge by members of the church more frequently creating pastor/Members conflict.  Pastors need to know is that this is happening in every institution including our schools and families. Hence, conflict is inevitable despite the institution you are in and no one can avoid it.

In fact, we should not try to avoid conflict rather we should learn how to deal with it as part of the spiritual growth process. “The problem is that there is a big assumption inscribed in the folklore of the church that anger, hostile feelings, conflict, and differences of opinion are sighs of sickness, selfishness, and failure in a church. This assumption dictates hiding, suppressing, avoiding and /or denying even the slightest twinge of dissatisfaction that one may have, because if he reveals it, he will disclose the fact that the church is not the strong superchurch it has been trying to make itself believe it is.” (Leas and Kittlaus 1973, 48). It takes love, work, longsuffering and practice to learn how to deal with conflict. You will also be required to take some risk when dealing with conflict. The Bible is clear that God’s principles are the right way to handle conflict to bring about true healing and restoration. The Bible contains a lot of information that is required to guide us in resolving conflict. Biblical principles of managing conflict empower and energize individuals while dealing with conflicts.

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The purpose of this paper is to study a small sampling of mature members within a local church and seek to find out what their beliefs, attitudes, experiences, perceptions and ideas are toward conflict management. For instance, we hope to discover if their attitudes toward conflict is positive or negative? What Bible knowledge do they have about conflict management? What perceptions do they have about conflict in the church? It is our hope that the research for this paper will reflect what is destroying pastors and churches, and will play a key role in identifying Biblical solutions to conflicts in the church. Just like Nehemiah built walls of Jerusalem to protect people, a wall needs to be built to protect both churches and pastors from being destroyed.

Previous research in this area has identified that there is a problem within the church as a result of conflict. The consequences of conflict in the church, as well as ways of addressing conflict have also been identified.

It is sad that mature Christians are running away from their churches due conflicts instead of resolving these conflicts through the use of Biblical principles. Conflict is inevitable and that is why the Bible teaches us on how to handle it. If we do not handle conflict in God’s way, churches will continue splitting as well as declining. Therefore, it is advisable to resolve conflicts rather running away since it will encourage good interpersonal relationships and church splitting will be a thing of the past. The main goal of this study is to address why mature Christians are not following Biblical principle to resolve conflicts. In this context, it will focus on mature Christian’s perceptions, knowledge and experiences with conflict.

This research will serve as an overview of the problem and solution for conflict in the church. Several books, papers, and theses have been written about conflict in the church, but they have not researched why mature Christians fail to utilize biblical principles to resolve and manage interpersonal conflicts. This is an area in which new books, research papers, and theses could be written. Given the scope of the study, a number of limitations need to be articulated.

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First, it is not possible to present all of the research performed on this subject. Second, most of the mature Christians consider conflict as a sin; therefore, it might not be easy to share their experiences because they do not want to be associated with sins. Third, each church has a unique way of handling and resolving conflict issues, irrespective of biblical guidelines. Fourth, most of the mature Christians are not likely to admit that they are experiencing a conflict situation that requires Biblical intervention. Lastly, this research will not involve surveying a huge number of mature Christians for their opinions, but will be primarily based on books, articles, and interview with few mature Christians of different churches.

My substantive assumption is that pastors, other church leaders and members of the church, are aware of the conflict situation in churches. It is also my assumption that they understand the importance of biblical principles to resolve and manage conflict, although they rarely use them. I also assume that any mature Christian that I will approach will be willing to share with me any information I may require concerning church conflict and their failure to use biblical principles in resolving conflict. My philosophical assumption is that conflict is inevitable no matter how we try to ignore it. My theological assumption is that church conflict is real and mature Christians are aware of this.

 This section will present an overview of previously done work that provides the required background for the purpose of this research. It will concentrate on various conflict topics and Biblical principles that can be used by mature Christians to resolve conflict as well as benefits of using these principles.  The section will begin with a thorough coverage of church conflict topics, which will assist in setting the context of this research.

The Bible directs Christians to deal with conflict by providing biblical solution. Church leaders and mature Christians have a responsibility of identifying the conflict, as well as providing a biblical solution. Therefore, the responsibility of mature Christians is not to find fault and correct it, but rather identify the problematic issue and provide a biblical solution. A good Biblical example of how a mature Christian in sin should be confronted is provided in Galatians 6:1; a good Biblical guidance for Christian discipline is also provided in Mathew 18:15-17. 

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The Church, Pastors and mature Christians prefer to ignore conflict, yet they have to face it, like it or not. Barthel and Edling in their book provided a good example of how unresolved conflict can create devastating effects in our churches. Their account was crucial to this topic, since they talked about the reality of what is happening in churches due to unresolved conflicts. However, their book provides hope to mature Christian because it is about redemption. Several case studies have been analyzed by Barthel and Edling providing a good balance to their advice and theology. According to the two authors, pastors and mature Christians are particularly prone to avoiding conflict issues, unless they face them. In conflicts, there are issues that are hard to face in reality, such as feeling guilty about causing conflicts, but it is easier to change this state through the use of biblical principles to resolve conflicts. Using Biblical principles to resolve conflicts provides an opportunity for redemptive work of the Gospel. Conflicts are experienced in every church, and the way in which a church resolves these inevitable conflicts shapes its future as well as its member’s spiritual health. If conflicts are approached in the right manner, they can be used to build spiritual growth.

 In one way or another, mature Christians will require a better idea of how to resolve conflicts they face, as well as resolve conflicts within the Church. They need to understand how to use biblical principles to manage and resolve church conflict. Halverstadt in his book, Managing Church Conflict, has observed that mature Christians like to run away from church conflict instead of finding ways to resolve their conflicts. Many Christians consider conflict to be destructive or wrong, but this should not be necessarily the case. As human beings we experience some differences due to God-given diversity.

Managing conflict in the right manner can result in significant benefits. It can lead to personal growth, discovery of new methods, approaches, and ideas, encourage a health re-examination of preconceptions and assumptions, as well as arouse productive dialogue. However, this does not mean conflict is beneficial or neutral. If conflict is not managed properly, it can result in splitting the church, failed businesses, broken friendships and families, physical illness, defensiveness, humiliation, pain, anger, and alienation. With the help of Biblical principles of resolving conflict, it is possible for mature Christians to change their approach to conflicts and turn disruptive conflict into constructive conflict, thus benefiting everyone involved.

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