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Church Conflict Resolution Essays

Working only with a whistle: What a high school soccer referee can teach the Church about dealing with conflict. 

Friday night was a doozy. Not because of a church fight, but because of that evening’s high school soccer match.

From the sidelines, I had the opportunity to watch a senior referee react, respond, and manage a conflict. A fight broke out. In less skilled hands it could have ended the game. Conflict may be inevitable, but how one reacts, responds, and manages it can be the essential difference in either fostering restoration or having to abandon the field. There is much the local church might learn from his example.

Last Friday night the varsity team from Houston County, Georgia took on their rival from Columbus, Georgia. Out of the gate the boys played hard. There were hard challenges, shoulder charges, and tackles. Each had a clear agenda: to win.

The main concern for the referee is safety of the players. There is also the need for the referee to be aware of the “artistic craft” of fouls. People want things to go their way. This is also true in a church, absent the physical contact. Both, after all, involve people at play in the fields of the Lord. The higher the skill, the more nuanced watching for fouls becomes. Two players go up for a header and the one behind gives a subtle shove to take the other off the ball. Away from the referee, a player grabs his opponent’s wrist or shorts or shirt (or worse) to slow the other down. It is a tricky environment to maintain - each side wanting justice even when unwilling to see their own part in the unfolding drama. While the referee is given the ultimate authority on the field, meaning that he or she has the power to card a player, eject a fan or all the fans, and even cancel the game outright, the goal is to not have to utilize such powers in the attempt to manage the flow of the game.

As time progressed Friday night, so did the emotional climate. In the 61st minute the game boiled over. A Houston County player and a Columbus player each went in on a tough challenge for the ball. It began with words. It quickly escalated to pushing and within seconds players from each bench and amazingly, two from the stands were ready to throw down. A melee was about to ensue. The referee was smaller than most of the players yet he had to act. Not an easy place to be if you only have a whistle.

What happened next was a testament to both the referee knowing his role and being a “non-anxious presence” Having a non-anxious presence means knowing your own boundaries. It means keeping your cool when other people are losing theirs. It means paying attention to the cues offered and noticing who is speaking to whom as the temperature rises.

To begin to restore order the referee first gave a hard and long blast from the whistle to let the players know clearly that their current choices were in direct opposition to the goal of the game. He emphasized his intent by running at the players in conflict as he blew the whistle. A quick response ended the fight, but the center referee was still a long way from restoring the game.

It takes skill and experience to manage the scene in order to commence the game again. For the next ten minutes, I watched the center referee consult his sideline refs, consult with the coaches, and record the facts. During that time he intentionally moved between teams, coaches, and sideline refs creating alignment and clearly articulating next steps. Only then did he first speak to the offending players. Only after that did he show them the red cards, signaling their removal them from the game. No one was happy but they all bought in. Shuttle diplomacy had created an environment where suddenly, amazingly, to players, coaches, and fans alike, it was now okay to card three players and begin the game again. He did not shy away from making a decision and issuing a consequence. He restored order first by building bridges through his own investment. Once there, he had earned permission to live out his role. And, when the two teams began again, in order to maintain the flow of the game, he stayed close to the action and called things tight so that all players understood that they would not again be fighting.

One striking difference between this scenario and life in our churches is role definition. On the field, the referee is distinct from all others. He or she has a defined role, understood by coaches and players. In a church we may struggle with role definition, as The Episcopal Church calls for shared leadership between clergy and laity. In some congregations, the roles may not be clear. In others, perhaps the balance in and between those roles is skewed. And, there’s always the very human tendency to attribute conflict to personalities (i.e. blame) rather than to view conflict as a failure to reach alignment. When a congregation’s leaders embrace a team approach to leadership, careful definition of roles and responsibilities as well as finding a workable balance between roles is essential.

When conflict arises in a congregation, any member of a church has the ability to react, respond, and help manage it. The referee’s steps offer a guide. First, call out the trouble when you see it. It is difficult to move beyond a conflict until order is restored. That means identifying all the parties involved. Second, rather than withdraw, move closer (even to the people you don’t like). Resist sending that email. Call and set a time for a face-to-face conversation. As you do so, keep your cool (your “non-anxious presence-ness”) and invite others to keep theirs. Third, ask questions about the facts. Fourth, speak only for yourself (“Getting through this conflict is important to me because…”). Express continually that the goal is to get back to playing together again in the fields of the Lord. Lastly, and this is primarily for leadership - lay, clergy, and bishop - let the “advice” from the stands go by. It is easy to comment about one's feelings from the church parking lot, as fans do so often from the stands, but unless you’re close to the play and get the facts as they are understood from the people making the decisions, such commentary is best left by the wayside.

For the scope of this essay, it does not matter who won the game that Friday night. For the referee and for the church, our goal in conflict is not winning or losing. It is supporting the flow of the game and when conflict emerges, as it will, it is about identifying the challenge, managing it, and getting beyond it so that once again the body gathered might be restored to play again in the fields of the Lord.

Try This   

When conflict erupts our immediate actions can shape what happens next. In this article, Scott identifies five steps leaders can take in response to conflict that are designed to direct participants towards a healthier approach to resolution.

  1. Call out trouble when you see it. Speak out. Restore order.
  2. Move closer to the person(s) initiating the conflict. Avoid emails or ‘parking lot’ conversations and counsel others to do the same. Schedule a face-to-face conversation to talk honestly and openly about what’s going on.
  3. Ask questions about the facts.
  4. Speak only for yourself (“Getting through this conflict is important to me because…”). Remind everyone involved of the bigger goal: responding faithfully to what God is calling you to do.
  5. Base decision and actions on your facts and observations. Avoid the temptation of getting caught up in speculation.

Scott Petersenis a priest, a soccer player, and a high school soccer referee. He is still learning. Scott is glad to be at play in the fields of the Lord at All Saints Episcopal Church in Warner Robins, Georgia. A member on the National Board of the Network of Episcopal Clergy Association (NECA), he has written before about conflict in the church. To explore his and others essays on conflictand to also see a collection of resources relating to finding ones way through conflict please visit the Caring for Clergy in Difficult Calls Writing Project.  


  • “Tone Matters” by Scott Gunn, ECF Vital Practices’ Vestry Papers  

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This article is part of the March 2016 Vestry Papers issue on Conflict

Team Dynamics - Conflict Resolution Strategies Essay example

1195 Words5 Pages

Team Dynamics - Conflict Resolution Strategies

People work in groups or teams everyday whether in their career, education, political organization, church, or any other social setting. Conflict while working in teams or groups is inevitable. When taking people of different backgrounds, personalities, moral, and ethical beliefs and putting them together in a group, conflict will arise. The key to achieving your team goals is to construct and conquer your goals with keeping the greater good of the team in mind. Conflict as it arises should be combated and abated through swift and thorough resolution techniques. When dealt with properly conflict resolution can give rise to a cohesive and productive team.

What Is Conflict?…show more content…

Conflict arises from various sources in the team setting (Capozzoli, 1995). The most common causes of conflict are values, attitudes, needs, expectations, perceptions, resources, and personalities. As we are all raised with different values, morals come into play when the team issue deals directly or indirectly with ones values, morals, or ethics. Conflicting attitudes can bring about problems as two or more team members prove to have differing goals in mind. Individual needs can cause rifts within a team when they are not satisfied. The expectations of team members are not the same on how the goal will be met. We all have different perceptions of life situation and interpret them differently. The lack of resources needed to complete a task can cause conflict. Differing personalities play a major role in team conflict.

Types of Conflict
There are many types of conflict; some are beneficial while others are detrimental. All types of conflict fall into three major categories (Engleberg, Wynn, and Schuttler, 2003; Stewart, Manz, and Sims, 1999). Relationship-oriented conflict, also known as affective conflict, is brought about when team members experience interpersonal incompatibilities. Relationship conflict is usually detrimental as team members have different perceptions of communication and social skills. Whereas Task-oriented conflict, also referred to as cognitive conflict or procedural conflict, occurs when team members disagree about

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