Sunday, September 11, 2016

Seminary PL22: Causes of Conflict

This is the eighth post on church management in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this series, I first did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the twenty-first post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).

Last week I talked about hiring, recruiting, and firing in the church. This week begins some posts on conflict management.
1. In article he titles, "Understanding the Four Forces That Control Church Change," Bob Whitesel enumerates four key causes of change: 1) life cycle forces, 2) goal-oriented forces, 3) conflict-oriented forces, and 4) trend-oriented forces. [1] Today I want to look at these four forces of change as sources of potential conflict.

2. The first driver of change has to do with the life-cycle of a church or organization. David Moberg and others have talked about five stages in a stereotypical church's life. [2] The first is the initializing, birth stage. The second is an organizational phase of high vitality. A third is a kind of equilibrium or peak phase. Then there is often a decline phase, sometimes thought of as an "institutional" or "bureaucratic" phase. Finally there is death.

When a church starts, it usually has plenty of enthusiasm but perhaps not a lot of organization and it may not have many resources. There can be the kinds of conflicts that come from ambiguity, contrasting visions, even conflict from the physical, mental, and emotional stress that comes from what inevitably will require work that goes well beyond the norm.

As the church grows, there will probably be stress from the need to organize and create systems. People will need to let go of controlling things that they could control when the church was a smaller size. More staff will need to be hired. More people will mean more potential for conflict among the church leadership. [3]

There will be the fewest life-cycle conflicts in the peak or equilibrium phase. Things are going well. The church seems to be running smoothly.

But this stage often leads to a period of bureaucracy and institutionalization. The church or organization has begun to decline but not everyone realizes it. There may be a "hubris born of past success," an undisciplined expansion that assumes resources will always be there, a denial of risk or peril. [4] Those who see where things are going (and where they have been) may try to get things going but may face resistance by the status quo. Conflict is inevitable.

The disintegration/death phase may involve conflict over scarcity of resources. On the other hand, some are quite content to be in control of less and less until the end.

3. Goal-oriented conflict results when the leadership of a church, perhaps even significantly informed by the congregation, comes against others who do not like change or do not like the direction of the goals. Some may leave the church if they are disgruntled enough. Others may agree with the goal but be frustrated by the execution or movement toward the goal. Some may like the goal in theory but not realize the cost of getting there.

4. What Van den Ven and Poole call "dialectic" forces of change are tensions between different parties within the church or organization. They use the terms "thesis" and "antithesis," alluding to the philosopher Hegel's sense that our stories are often a series of conflicts between new ideas and their opposition. In a body, the significance of such conflict depends on its intensity, the level at which the conflict is taking place, and the percentage of the church involved.

So if two key leaders are feuding over ideas or direction, that conflict is going to have an immense affect on the rest of the church. If two members of the congregation are in series conflict but the conflict takes place outside the church, it may not have a great impact. But if their conflict spreads to others and begins to affect the worship and functioning of the church, then it becomes more and more significant.

5. Finally, there are what Whitesel calls "trend" and Van den Ven and Poole call "evolution" forces of change. These have to do with external pressures and forces on the church/organization. If the demographic of the church's neighborhood changes significantly, then it will begin to exert pressures on the church. Should the church change its goals and style to minister better to its changing environment? Should it consider changing locations?

City laws and codes can create tension and conflict. The government can impose laws that create stress on the church's finances to conform. These are sources of change a church has to deal with and thus potential sources of conflict.

Next Sunday: Pastor as Leader 23: The Third Mark of the Church

[1] Whitesel here is drawing on Andrew van de Ven and Marshall Poole, Handbook of Organizational Change and Innovation (Oxford: Oxford University, 2004). They give more technical names for these forces: 1) life-cycle, 2) evolution (environment), 3) dialectic (thesis-antithesis), and 4) teleology (7).

[2] For how to pull out of the cycle, see my good friend Charles Arn's book, How to Start a New Service (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997). See especially p. 34.

[3] Although I believe that petty conflicts among members of the congregation decrease as the church size increases--or at least those conflicts cease to have much impact on the church as a whole.

[4] See Jim Collins, How the Mighty Fall (2009).

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management

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