During leadership transitions conflict surfaces. Sometimes it's subtle; other times it's explosive. It can happen in an all-of-a-sudden explosion; or it can ooze out slowly after years of bubbling beneath the surface. Regardless of how it surfaces, it's important to know some of issues that can lead to congregational conflict. Here are some hot-button transitional tensions that Terry Foland addresses in his chapter entitled, 'Understanding Conflict and Power' in the book Temporary Shepherds.
- Church Identity
- Defining church values and identity impassion people. Who are we as a church? What's our place in the world? When there's disagreement in this area, expect people to push back. Fear of the church losing status in the community or concerns about the future identity and philosophy of ministry all add to rising tensions when there's disagreement.
- Who Is In Charge?
- This may be a struggle between clergy and laity or between formal and informal leaders in the church. Individuals may feel they have a 'right' to know inside information and have a voice in church governance issues. When things are healthy this could mean increased involvement and investment, but if trust is low then congregants could run interference in appropriate, orderly processes.
- What Do We Believe?
- The fight may be about how the Bible is interpreted, questionable doctrines, or the curriculum used with the children and youth. What one individual or group wants or needs may be at odds with what other individuals or groups feel they want or need in the church. When one person or group pushes their theological agenda beyond the norm then the church will experience conflict.
- How Do We Worship?
- Adopting new musical preferences in the congregation creates tension. That tension has a name: worship wars. The issue may be the type of instruments used or the kinds of songs the church sings--preferring either traditional or contemporary forms of worship. Any way this is sliced, it creates conflict.
- Role Expectation of Leaders
- How do clergy and staff spend their time in ministry? Should the pastor act as leader or manager? Where staff spend their time and resources and who determines their priorities are both possible areas where fights could emerge.
- Limited Resources
- When there is a reduction in resources (a reality in a church in transition) then conflict can arise about where the limited resources should be allocated. Expect people to fight to fund their priorities when resources are limited.
- Focus Inward or Focus Outward?
- Should the church focus primarily on nurturing and caring for their own members primarily or focus on serving and reaching out to their community? Any attempt to change this focus from what the church has been doing will result in tension.
- Malfeasance or Misconduct by Clergy
- If a pastor is accused of immoral, unethical, or illegal behaviour, some people will believe the accusations while others will deny them and defend the pastor. This can create significant tension and conflict in the congregation.
So, if your church is in a season of pastoral transition, you will likely be facing some or all of these tensions. The best way through the conflict is by hiring a trained transitional pastor. He or she will help your church address these issues without blowing it up.