When ‘push comes to shove’ stifles mission

By The Rev. Dr. Robin D. Stoops

We all know that mission can suffer when churches fail to resolve conflicts involving members, between pastor and boards, even between churches and neighbors. But what do to about it?

American Baptist Churches of Nebraska (ABC/NE) has begun a process of training leaders to help their churches work through conflict according to principles from Matthew 5:23–24 (“leave your gift there before the altar…be reconciled”) and Matthew 18: 15–17 (“If another member of the church sins against you”).

The “Preferred Path” ministry in ABC/NE began in partnership with Dr. Karl Slaikeu, a psychologist from Texas with experience providing mediation and skills training to churches, large corporations and governmental organizations. I met Slaikeu at Adventures in Faith, an alumni event at Ottawa University in 2013, and a new relationship between Preferred Path and ABC/NE was born.

ABC/NE engaged Slaikeu to offer two introductory Core Course skills trainings and two advanced facilitator trainings over the past two years. Local churches can also offer the introductory program using the Preferred Path DVD training kit, with a website for churches and leaders to access tools for use following the courses. Slaikeu hosts a monthly phone call for facilitators to advance their skills in applying best practices to situations in daily life.

ABC/NE and some of our churches have integrated a Preferred Path covenant into our bylaws and policy statements. Churches are using the training materials in new member classes as well as discipleship classes.

The Preferred Path is a six-step process. Following the path is intended to help Christians “glorify God and enjoy him forever,” even when there is conflict in the relationship. It can be used unilaterally at home, work, school, church life, and with neighbors, friends and family, or as part of a bilateral covenant. Rooted in Scripture, Preferred Path tools are integrated with communication, negotiation and mediation tools from the behavioral sciences.

The six steps are as follows:

  • Step One: Pray and Prepare concerning the conflict. Seek guidance from Scripture and pray about your next steps.
  • Step Two: Act in Love, including living out the Golden Rule, no matter what the other side does.
  • Step Three: Communicate/Negotiate. Speak to the other person concerning the issue. Listen to understand, instead of primarily to formulate a response. Seek a solution that will be agreeable to everyone.
  • Step Four: Request Facilitation or Mediation. Sometimes we need outside help, patterned after Matthew 18 guidance. A facilitator or mediator might help the two parties resolve the issue. ABC/NE and Preferred Path provide a toll-free help line for assistance.
  • Step Five: Refer to a Higher Authority for a decision, such as a pastor or a church board.
  • Step Six: Take Other Action. Parties may be called to continue in prayer and sometimes remove themselves from the situation.

Our vision is for ABC/NE churches to bring their energy, time and talent for ministry to situations that have the potential to distract us. By using the Preferred Path, we open the door to transformation in relationships with one another and with our neighbors.