The book of James 4: 1 dealt directly with the root cause of disagreement, misunderstanding, crisis, and war. They all come from one source which is the self-centered nature residing in our hearts. When a leader, be it a Pastor or Deacon is always particular about himself he will likely run into conflict with other people, our principle and practice should be “others first, self last”.
1. Factors Responsible for Conflict
Factors responsible for conflict are multifarious. For this lecture, we will limit ourselves to the following major factors.
- Superiority Complex: Pastors/Deacons should not think that they are the wisest (Rom. 12: 16). They should be tolerant of other people’s views. A person who thinks he is the custodian of knowledge and that his views should prevail all the time is bound to come into conflict with other people.
- Intolerance of Attitudes of Others: It is an indisputable fact that the attitude of a Deacon cannot please the Pastor every time. In the same manner, the Pastor cannot please the Deacon every time. This calls for tolerance. Where there is no tolerance, there will be conflict.
- Ignorance of the Christian Concept of Leadership: Christ’s leadership style as exemplified in servanthood is the model for the exercise of authority in a Christian setting. A situation where a Pastor/Deacon over-perceives his/her position and becomes autocratic will bring conflict. Paul’s warning in Rom. 12: 3 is important.
- Distrust: A case where the Pastor has no confidence in the Deacon thereby giving the duties of Deacons to other people will bring crisis. The same thing is true of a Deacon not trusting the Pastor will lead to a crisis of confidence.
- Power Struggle: A situation where the Pastor and Deacon struggle for power to control the church will not augur well for peace. It will lead to chaos and factions. It is crystal clear that Pastor is the spiritual head of the church while the Deacon is to assist him in daily administration. They are both accountable to God.
- Unbiblical Method of Selecting Deacons: Selections and ordinances of Deacons in the New Testament are the prerogatives of a local church.
- Unclarified Job Descriptions: Conflict may arise when there is no clear-cut job description for a Deacon vis-à-vis that of a Pastor. A situation where a Deacon competes with a Pastor to control the pulpit will bring crisis.
- Unhealthy Comparison: A church where the congregation sings the praises of a Deacon more than that of a Pastor as regards teaching, preaching, and deliverance gifts will bring jealousy, rivalry, and finally conflict. The case of David and Saul’s victory at war is a good reference (1 Sam. 18: 6-8).
- Similar Individual Peculiarity: A situation where a Pastor is bad-tempered and the Deacon is also hot-tempered will not allow peace to prevail. Conflict will be recurrent.
- Abuse of Rotational Deaconship Policy: Conflict may arise in a situation where the Pastor decided to rotate out Deacons that are critical of his administrative incompetence and leave other Deacons. To allow peace to prevail, Deacons should not criticize Pastors openly. Any criticism should be constructive and on camera.
- Egocentrism: A situation where a Pastor or Deacon is particular about himself alone expecting all benefits to come to himself will be detrimental to a harmonious relationship
- Arrogance: Pride is a bad trait in any leader and it always leads to a fall. (Prov. 16: 18) Open display of arrogance by either the Pastor or Deacon will not be conducive to peaceful co-existence. It will lead to rivalry and unnecessary competition and finally crisis and conflict.
- Ignorance of Baptist Distinctive/Doctrine and Practices: A leader that is ignorant of Baptist doctrine may be acting contrary to what makes Baptist believers distinct from other denominations and may generate a reaction from other church members and can lead to crisis.
2. Conflict Resolution
A completely conflict-free harmonious society is almost impossible. In any human organization, conflict is inevitable; Pastors and Deacons are no exceptions. To experience conflict is not a crime but what is undesirable is not being able to resolve it. There are four approaches to conflict resolution and it is as follows:
- Systematic Approaches: This requires establishing steps to follow and a specific goal of resolution in mind. Establishing a clear-cut path to follow to lead to resolution. This system ensures that everyone concerned and their interest is identified.
- Third-Party Resolution: This approach brings in a neutral thirty party. Having an unbiased thirty party to negotiate is effective to an extent in interpersonal conflict.
- Advocacy Method: This is a system where you advocate for your position on a particular issue. Under here we have self and peer advocacy.
- Biblical Approach: Matt. 18: 15-17 is a good example as Christ set the step necessary for a successful conflict resolution. The approach embraces systematic and third-party approaches. It can be likened to the almighty formula for settling disputes. A note of warning should be sounded here that if we handle conflict the Christ Way, peace, concord, and sanctity will be the result. But if we handle conflict in our way, we should expect chaos, crisis, and warfare.
3. Strategies for Peaceful Conflict Resolution Process
- When angry, separate yourself from the situation
- Attack the problem, not the person.
- Communicate your feelings assertively not aggressively.
- Accept and respect that individual opinions may differ, don’t force compliance, and work towards a common agreement
- Don’t see the issue as a competition where one has to win and the other has to lose.
- Work towards a solution where both parties will have some of their needs met.
- Focus on areas of common interest and not areas of disagreement.
- Never jump to conclusions or assume the feeling of others. Listen without interruption.
- Remember when only one person’s need is satisfied in a conflict, it is not resolved.
- Forget the past and stay in the present.
4. Criteria for Effective and Successful Conflict Resolution
- Conflict should be addressed with utmost urgency without procrastination. (Eph. 4: 26)
- We should pray for Divine intervention and directive of the Holy Spirit.
- Resolution should be based on the injunction of the word of God.
- We should be committed to restoring relationships with the grace and commitment one loves. (Gal. 6: 1)
- Examine yourself and make sure you did not offend and if so be open, honest, and seek forgiveness.
- Resolution of conflict should be based on absolute truth devoid of sentiment and favoritism.
- Crisis/Conflict Manager should be a neutral entity with spiritual and intellectual maturity.
- Taking legal action should be avoided. (1 Cor. 6: 5-7) Instead, Association, Conference, or Convention may be brought in.
- Offenders should admit guilt and the offended ready to forgive.
Conflict cannot be eliminated in human relationships. When conflict arises, we must remember who we are and the fact the Holy Spirit is available to guide us in our decision and resolution of our conflict. In times of conflict, let us earnestly seek God’s face and promptly take action to resolve the issue. (Eph. 4: 26). Let us accept our guilt and seek forgiveness. Care should be exercised so that Pastor/Deacon relationship will not serve as a hindrance to church growth and rob us of eternity. Let us serve the Lord in peace and holiness, work together as s body of Christ, and as coworkers in His Vineyard.
This lecture was delivered by Dn Dr. S. A. Akinade at Ibadan Baptist Conference Pastors/Deacons Retreat in Ibadan 2017