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Managing Conflict in Religious Organizations


Leaders of religious communities, whether clergy or laity, have a special responsibility to those who look to them for leadership.

Unlike leaders of business organizations, who often have the authority to insist, religious leaders must rely upon their ability to help disputing members of their community reconcile their differences voluntarily — they must mediate.

Religious leaders will benefit by choosing the Train-the-Professional (Track 3) option. You'll receive the Coaching Video and many other resources (see links below) to help you help others engage in constructive, problem-solving dialogue.

Religious leaders are often accomplished public speakers. Those who wish to become Certified Trainers of Managing Workplace Conflict are invited to register for Track 1 (Train-the-Trainer).

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Edited by Melissa Zarda. See other bibliographies.
Contributors: Nick Soumelidis, Carla Demers, Suresh Dhandapani, Tara C. Washington, Jamie Halliwell

Copyright restriction: The contents of this bibliography may not be placed on other websites, but links from other websites may be directed to this page. Hardcopies of this page may be printed for academic purposes.

  • Alger, C. F. (2002). Religion as a peace tool.

This article describes how religion can be used as a peace tool as compared to using religion as a tool of war.

  • Barnes, Rebecca. (2004). Church conflict: a good, clean fight.

Churches can be torn apart by unresolved conflict. In one case, the pastor of the church resigned and several families also left the church. The church has since realized the importance of being proactive in managing conflict and has formed a peacemaking committee that has successfully dealt with several conflicts over the past year. The bottom line is that conflict is the norm and not the exception; therefore churches must be prepared to handle them.

  • Bock, J. G. (2001) Sharpening conflict management: religious leadership and the double-edged sword. Westport: Praeger

In this book the author analyzes ethnoreligious violence, predominantly using examples from South Asia and the Middle East. He argues that religious leaders have a unique role to play in confronting those who exploit fundamentalist interpretations of sacred passages and manipulate holy symbols to bait people into violence.

  • Brady, Kathleen A. (2004). Religious organizations and free exercise: The surprising lessons of Smith.

This article explores the relationship between church and state and the conflicts that may arise.

  • Canine, S. L. & Gangel, K. O. (2002) Communication and conflict management: in churches and christian organizations. Eugene: Wipf and Stock

Communication and Conflict Management provides a comprehensive look at the dynamics of a unique culture-the Christian organization. The book shows how to maintain high ideals, goals and expectations through clear communication and team management.

  • Christerson, Brad. (2003). The costs of diversity in religious organizations: an in-depth case study.

The majority of American religious congregations are comprised of one racial group. Choosing to belong to a religious organization is a voluntary means of satisfying ones basic needs of meaning and belonging, in which shared identity, values, symbols and practices are necessary. For this reason, there are additional costs associated with multi-ethnic religious organizations. These costs include increased complexity, demands, needs and efforts to create group identity, thus a greater potential for internal conflict.

  • Coffey, J. I. (2002) Religion, Law, and the Role of Force: A Study of Their Influence on Conflict and on Conflict Resolution. Ardsley: Transnational Publishers

This important volume debates an issue that mankind has always found troubling. Scholars from the three Abrahamic traditions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism have contributed their views on a reality that is evident in conflicts endangering the world today. They have been joined by others asking to what extent the rule of law has superseded or modified religious tenets and imposed more stringent restrictions on the resort to arms and whether there is, in doctrine on the use of force, parallel thinking about self-imposed restraints.

  • Dojar, Martin. (2001). The religious freedom and legal status of churches, religious organizations, and new religious movements in the Slovak Republic.

This article discusses the division between church and state in the Slovic Republic and the religious freedoms that are endured.

  • Edmiston, John. (2006). The management of stress, burnout, threat, conflict and misunderstandings in the ministry.

Doing too much, the perception of threat, major values that conflict with the church and the inability to handle "difficult conversations" are the four main sources of stress in the ministry. The article discusses the levels of stress and an alternative to the fight or flight reflex to conflict, termed mastery. Mastering the mind is the key to coping with difficult situations.

  • Edmiston, John. (1997). A Christian approach to conflict resolution.

Conflict in the lives of Christians is inevitable because every persons knowledge is incomplete and imperfect, therefore different people will see things differently through their own knowledge and perspectives. Satan engineers conflict whenever possible, especially amongst believers. Christians knowingly and willingly enter conflict whenever they proclaim the gospel of Christ. The article offers twelve steps for the Christian to handle conflict, beginning with first going to God and getting his perspective on the conflict.

  • Evans, John H. (1997). Multi-organizational fields and social movement organization frame content: The religious pro-choice movement. Retrieved from the Web August 20, 2006. Princeton, NJ.

This article explores the changes that were created through the religious pro-choice movement.

  • Fitzpatrick McDonough, Ruth. (1998). Ordaining women: culture and conflict in religious organizations.

In the Christian community there is a struggle for gender equality around the decision to ordain women. Despite the modern day feminist movements, there is still a glass ceiling in several Christian denominations. The pressures on churches to ordain women comes mainly from external sources, such as the women's liberation movement and other independent women's organizations. Even though women are increasingly becoming ordained, they are still finding it difficult to become pastors of large urban churches.

  • Hall, Eddy. (2006). Why your church needs conflict.

Not all conflict is bad or a result of sin. Some conflict gives one the opportunity to grow, learn and develop. Avoiding conflict or doing nothing, leads to paralysis. As the culture changes, the church must be willing to change with it. Failure to do so will cause a failure to flourish. Disagreements can be healthy if people learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. Sometimes conflict must be introduced in order to reduce complacency.

  • Hall, John R., (2001). Religion and violence: Social process in comparative perspective.

This article describes the link between religion and violence and how in most religions that link is not hard to follow. In almost any circumstance, violence can be justified by religion.

  • Halverstadt, H. F. (1991) Managing church conflict. Louisville: Westminster.

This book addresses the complex dynamics of congregational conflict. The author's vision for peaceful churches is based on God's shalom, and he integrates this theology with insights from family systems theory and organizational development. The book is organized according to an in-depth Flow Chart for Managing Church Conflict that presents almost every conceivable conflict scenario and suggests detailed procedures.

  • Haugk, K. C. (1988) Antagonists in the church: how to identify and deal with destructive conflict. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers

In this book the author shows how congregational leaders can prevent or reduce much of the pain and suffering caused by antagonism; tell the difference between constructive, healthy conflict and destructive antagonism; and cope with antagonism when it arises.

  • Johnston, K., Camelino, G., & Rizzo, R. (2005). A return to 'traditional' dispute resolution: An examination of religious dispute resolution systems. Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (2000). Ualberta, CA: Canadian Forum on Civil Justice.

This paper provides an overview of the religious and cultural products that have taken a more sensitive method to dispute resolution. The paper analyzes the Jewish Dispute Resolution System, the Ismali Dispute Resolutions System, and the United Church of Canada Dispute Resolution Policy. It further reveals the international-based system that incorporates traditional religious practices as part of the conflict resolution process.

  • Khadiagala, Gilbert M. (2001). The role of the Acholi religious leaders peace initiative [ARPLPI] in peace building in Northern Uganda.
    This article describes the war in Northern Uganda and the role the Holy Spirit Movement played in peace talks.

Krejcir, Richard. (2001). Preventing conflict.

Most conflict is a result of selfish desires. People rely on God for Salvation but not to resolve their problems. One of the ways to prevent conflict within a church is to develop and execute a written contract with its members stating that each individual will act in love, refuse to gossip, support the leadership and concentrate on the things, which make for harmony and the growth of the fellowship.

  • Krejcir, Richard. (2001). Church staff conflict.

The fruits of the spirit will become rotten if the field becomes tainted with distrust, blame, anger and bitterness, due to a lack of planning on how to deal with and prevent conflict in the upper management of the church. There are some simple steps that can prevent such occurrences. Senior staff persons should be aware of the signs of potential conflict and be prepared to quickly deal with it.

  • Lott, D. B. (2001) Conflict management in congregation. Herndon: Alban Institute.

This book is divided into three sections that explore the dynamics of conflict, conflict management techniques, and dealing with conflict in specific contexts, this book serves as a comprehensive primer that no pastor or congregational leader will want to be without.

  • McKinney, L. (2005) Getting to amen: 8 strategies for managing conflict in the african american church. Valley Forge: Judson Press

This important resource provides a set of practical tools, based on Christian principles, psychological theory, and research on African American religious culture that will help churches move beyond disputes and disagreements to harmony and heartfelt AMENs!

  • Nash, R. H. (1992) Worldviews in Conflict. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

In this book the author outlines the Christian way of looking at God, self, and the world. The author holds that worldview up against the tests of reason, logic and experience. The author uses his experience to show how Christians throughout the world should deal with conflict.

  • Ndegwa, Stephen. (2001). National dialogue in Kenya: Religious organizations and constitutional reform, 1999-2000.

This article describes a study that describes the role that religious organizations played in the management of conflict over the Kenyan reform.

  • Newberger, Kenneth C. (2006). The escalating stages of unresolved church conflict.

It is important that churches not wait until conflict has broken out to begin developing an in-house communication and peace-making system. In the stages of unresolved conflict, leadership is normally unaware of serious internal problems. Even when learning of these problems, corrective action is not taken. After the period for timely resolution has passed, destructive actions and reactions begin to emerge. The church enters into crisis mode, paralyzing the ministry. Normally a major realignment is required.

  • Nordas, Raghild. (2005). Religious diversity and state strategies: Impacts on development and conflict.

This article explores the relationship between region and diversity in terms of economic conditions.

  • Peques, D. S. (1997) Managing conflict god's way. New Kensington: Whitaker House.

This is a book with practical insight as to how to resolve a conflict diplomatically, tactfully, and without offending the offender. The author also balances her writing, and admonishes the reader to look into what she/he has done to contribute to the conflict before confronting the offending party.

  • Peters, D. (1997) Surviving church conflict. Scottdale: Herald Press.

This book helps church leaders find a formula to follow for resolving conflict. The author talks the spiritual health of peacemakers in tense and chaotic situations. They need to be spiritually fit, with a holy lifestyle, at peace with God.

  • Pettit, Steve. (2006). Managing church conflict, or how to have a holy fight!

Church conflict must be managed from a biblical standpoint, which if often very different from our initial reactions. According to the bible, one must let mercy lead, let the truth direct, believe the battle is the Lord's, rely on the mind of Christ, remember that the struggle is not against flesh and blood, stop using weapons of the flesh and start using weapons of the spirit. Each of these areas includes reference to biblical scripture.

  • Portaro, S. (2003) Conflict and a christian life. Toronto: Cowley Publication.

From the earliest days of recorded history, conflict has been an integral part of human life. Although conflict and crisis are painful, they are visible and vital signs of the perpetual work of the church and society. Viewed in this light, they become sources of growth and gifts to be pressed into service.

  • Said, A. A. (2001) Peace and Conflict Resolution in Islam: Precept and Practice. Washington D.C.: University Press of America.

Peace and Conflict Resolution in Islam steps beyond the limitations of the traditional scholarly framework used to evaluate the politics of Islamic societies, and assembles a selection from the best available English-language writings on a matter of central importance in Islamic precepts: peace (salam) and conflict resolution.

  • Salmi, R. H. (1998) Islam and conflict resolution. Washington D.C.: University Press of America.

Islam and Conflict Resolution investigates and analyzes those aspects of Islam that deal with international law and peaceful resolution of conflict in an attempt to bridge the gap between the Western and Islamic worlds. The authors seek to expose the common ground that exists between the beliefs of Islam and those of the Judeo-Christian religions that influence action in the modern world. Most importantly, they seek to clarify the Muslim belief that conflict is not permanent or unavoidable; pointing out that Islam offers many recommendations for reducing conflict at various levels of personal and interstate relations.

  • Sande, K. (1997) The peacemaker: a biblical guide to resolving personal conflict. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

In this book, the author presents practical biblical guidance for conflict resolution that takes you beyond resolving conflicts to true, life-changing reconciliation with family, coworkers, and fellow believers.

  • Sanders Bryan H. (2005). Church conflict: good or evil?

Church conflict is any matter that terminates, limits, or prohibits Christians from acting or interacting with one another in a spiritually compelling way and, therefore, affects their ability to serve the Lord according to scripture. Most pastors and churches don't like to discuss conflict because they believe that all conflict is negative, when in fact conflict can be the ability and opportunity to create action.

  • Seymour, J. (Summer 2003). Holding Onto Hope: Addressing Theortical Conflict Through Christian Religious Education. Religious Education.

Today deep theological differences threaten to divide Protestant denominations. In turn, these differences often mute church education and block mission. This article seeks to offer glimpses for addressing that theological controversy. It is an exercise in historical retrieval examining a generative period in the history of Christian religious education, that is, the theological conflict between the liberal religious education movement and neo-orthodoxy in the 1930s through 1950s. As Christian educators moved through this earlier conflict, underlying theological commitments and theological practices emerged that offered a faithful politics of hope calling the church to mission.

  • Shelly, M. (1997) Leading your church through conflict and reconciliation: 30 strategies to transform your ministry. Minneapolis: Bethany House

This book of stories is designed to help pastors and lay leaders understand, prevent, and redeem conflict. Its authors who have survived and thrived in church conflict tell their stories and explain the principles that help them lead through the storms of congregational life.

  • Simpson, John. (2006). The subtle signs of impending conflict.

It should not be a surprise when conflict occurs within a church because there are always warning signs. It begins with the early signs of trouble, such as the pastor and leaders becoming less aware of the overall vision of the church. This is usually followed be the congregation getting involved, then leading to more serious signs of conflict. Fragmentation and polarization settles in, finally leading to the most distressing outcomes.

  • Smith, Norris. (2004). Ministers as conflict managers..

Learning how to manage conflict is not an option for ministers, but a requirement of their calling. Although some people are naturals, learning how to resolve conflict is an art that must be learned. Ministers must be prepared by first knowing themselves and their management styles, be insightful about the church and the ministry, be diagnostic, be biblical in applying conflict management techniques prescribed in the bible and be wise by asking God for wisdom.

  • Steinke, P. L. (1993) How your church family works: understanding congregations as emotional systems. Herndon: Alban Institute.

The author shows how to recognize and deal with the emotional roots of such issues as church conflict, leadership roles, congregational change, irresponsible behavior, and the effects of family of origin on current relationships. Discover why working relationships may be "stuck" in certain behaviors. Psychologically sound, theologically grounded, and practically illustrated with case studies.

  • Susek, R. (1999) Firestorm: preventing and overcoming church conflicts. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Firestorm describes the six successive phases through which conflicts generally pass. In each phase, Susek identifies the tensions that tend to develop, explains how they are compounded if left unresolved, and offers practical, spiritual guidance for pastors and congregational leaders.

  • Thompson, G. B. (2002) Challenging the church monster: from conflict to community. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press

This book is especially for you if you ever have left a church meeting wondering if anything was accomplished; had two weeks to go before the Sunday -school year began and needed six more teachers; wondered why a certain, apathetic church member agreed to serve on the church council ;assumed that it is the pastors job to make sure that everything in the church gets done; awakened in the middle of the night worrying about your committee being prepared for its next big project ; spent two months getting a new-church initiative ready only to have it voted down; thought that you church was putting the cart before the horse; or tried to inspire others at church but ended up just as discouraged as they were.

  • Thompson, Tad. (2006). Managing conflict.

There are several levels of conflict, with the most devastating, "fighting", having a goal not to change or persuade, but to eliminate. Different leadership styles contribute to the different levels of conflict. Conflict arises for a variety of reasons. Churches must have a clear outlined conflict management plan and must be strategic about leadership placement within the organization.

  • U.S. Agency for International Development. Youth and conflict.

This article explores violence in youth and the ability of local governments to help aid the stop of violence.

  • Van Auken, Phil & Johnson, Sharon. (1985). Church management: combining the spiritual and the organizational.

A conflict arises when there is a mismatch between the requirements of the spiritual attributes of churches and its organizational attributes. Churches must be both godly (spiritual) and human (managerial). They are required spiritually to win souls in a lost world, while managing the operations of the church to perform its duties. The conflict arises when the church attempts to resolve spiritual challenges with managerial techniques and managerial challenges in spiritual ways.

  • Van Yperen, J. (2002) Making peace: A guide to overcoming church conflict. Chicago: Moody Publishing

Conflict abounds in the church of Jesus Christ. Reconciliation within the body, however, will not happen with the right "method" or "set of principles." In Making Peace, readers are challenged to place their church and all of its dissension under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

  • Vendley, W. (Spring 2005). The Power of Inter-Religious Cooperation To Transform Conflict. Cross Currents.

This article states how religious networks are also working to eliminate terror, prevent and mediate violent conflicts, and aid the world's most vulnerable populations. Secular societies are undergoing a fundamental shift in their attitudes toward religion and beginning to tap the vast social, moral and spiritual resources of religious communities to tackle the most critical global problems. The World Conference of Religions for Peace, the largest coalition of the world's religions committed to common action, is playing a key role in this transformation.

  • Wallace, R. (Winter 1999). Ordaining Women: Culture and Conflict in Religious Organizations

The focus of this book is on formal denominational policy regarding women's ordination in the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries. Informed by institutionalist theory, Mark Chaves argues that the formal rules about women's ordination are generated in large part by external pressures on denominations and that these rules are often only loosely connected to congregational practices at the grass roots level.

  • Webb, Craig. (2006). Top 10 predictable times for conflict in the church.

The top 10 predictable times for conflict in the church are during the Easter season, during a stewardship campaign or budget preparation, adding a new staff, when basic leadership style changes, during the pastors absence, when there is a change in the pastors family, when there is a significant generational focus change, upon the completion of a new building, during rapid loss or rapid increase of church membership and during the times between pastors.

  • Willimon, W. H. (1987) Preaching about conflict in the local church. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press

After examining the nature of conflict within human groups, Willimon discusses how to prepare sermons on controversial subjects, suggesting ways to use the biblical text to examine divisive issues. He comments on the importance of style and delivery tone when dealing with conflict.

  • Young, Cathy. (2005). God or mammon: when religious groups get caught between their principles and their subsidies.

Christian organizations have been faced with conflicts between their belief systems and the requirements of government. Recent legislation requires religious organizations to provide benefits for services or groups of people who go against their principles. The conflict is that if the organizations do not comply with legislation, they will lose governmental funding, however if they do comply, they run the risk of losing the support and donations of millions of conservative Christians.