Clergy are often called upon by their parishioners for a variety of reasons. They request help in resolving personal and interpersonal relationships, including family and work. They may have ethical or theological dilemmas, or they may need assistance transitioning during life-changing events such as marriage, birth, baptism and end of life issues. Most often, these calls for assistance are resolved through one- on-one counseling. If these issues involve another person, then like a mediator, the clergyperson must listen carefully to both sides and remain neutral, even if one side seems more favorably disposed than the other.
Clergy differ from mediators in that the dimension of Biblical perspective is added. New Testament teaching informs us to resolve conflicts through certain actions: go directly to the person, or people with whom we disagree, or who we feel has wronged us; avoid behind the back criticism; listen carefully and seek as much to understand as to be understood; be slow to judge and be willing to negotiate by working through the disagreements constructively.
Working through disagreements constructively is essentially a mediation process with the addition of prayer. Prayer can be calming and comforting, but even more important, it invokes God’s help in finding a solution to conflict. Following a prayer, each person is given the opportunity to present his/her side of the story.
Issues are identified by the pastor listening carefully to each person involved while remaining neutral. All participants can then share various options/ideas they believe may help to solve the problem. Rarely is a solution found quickly. Thus participants must also be willing to keep trying various options that will meet the needs/interests of both parties.
Communication, cooperation, collaboration and compromise are all necessary to reach a desired outcome that is satisfying to each individual. Ultimately, both sides gain, grow and win.
Clergy also need to be aware of their own limitations and must have a strong grasp on available community resources. Depending on the problem presented, clergy might best serve the parishioner by referring him or her to another professional.
For those facing conflict within the church community, it may be helpful to check out these crucial passages from the Bible that offer guidance in resolving disputes: Matthew 18: 15-20, James 1:19, and Galatians 5: 22-26. Many of the ideas in this article can be found at the following website: “Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love” http://peace.mennolink.org/agree.html
If you would like more information about Conflict Coaching or Mediation, please contact Mediation Services of Adams County by phone at 717-334-7312, by e-mail at email@example.com or check out our website: http://www.mediateadams.org
Brenda R. Walter is a MSAC Board Member and Pastor of Fairfield Mennonite Church.