Transforming Congregational Conflict: An Integrated Framework for Understanding and Addressing conflict in Christian Faith Communities
Churches have traditionally turned to conflict resolution measures, such as mediation, arbitration, and litigation, rather than conflict transformation approaches, when addressing congregational discord. In so doing, they miss the opportunity for constructive change that conflict presents and set themselves up for cycles of conflict to recur in the future. At the same time they diminish their self-claimed identity as followers of Jesus Christ, whose recorded teaching gives striking priority to peacemaking and reconciliation. Chapter one introduces the context for this thesis. Much work has already been done to explore biblical understandings of conflict, forgiveness and reconciliation, on the one hand, and to apply current conflict resolution practices to congregational settings on the other. However, little has been done to develop a conceptual framework that seeks to integrate biblical understandings with the insights of modern conflict analysis in a practically useful way. Chapter two of this thesis focuses on Jesus' teaching in Matthew 18 and shows why this passage is a key biblical resource for understanding and addressing congregational conflict. Chapter three examines conflict resolution theory and practice and shows why a transformational approach is the most appropriate one for addressing congregational conflict. The fourth chapter brings Jesus' teaching in Matthew 18 into a dialogue with current conflict transformation theory and practice. This conversation integrates theology and practice and clarifies the ways in which Jesus' teaching and transformative approaches to conflict both complement and enrich each other in the quest for lasting answers to the problem of congregational conflict. This thesis concludes by proposing a framework in which the many resources available might be understood and utilised in an integrated way by congregations that seek not only to enhance their capacity to respond to conflict in healthier ways, but also to embody the teachings of Christ in their midst.