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It may come as a surprise for some yet Christian churches are not exempt from political problems and conflicts. Pastors, church workers, leaders, and other church members may become involved in bitter bickering and quarreling. Factions may be created, petty issues magnified, and problems blown out of proportion. As a result, the fellowship and the harmony in the Church, which is the Body of Christ, are replaced with discord, disunity, and recurring conflict. If conflict and quarrels go on unchecked, the overall health of the Church deteriorates and before long, it might simply self-destruct leading to split and broken relationships.
Firestorm: A Book on Church Conflict Ron Susek’s book “Firestorm: Preventing and Overcoming Church Conflicts” deals with this important issue. He takes a look at church problems and conflicts, and the dynamics that a church undergoes as it self-destructs. The author does not only present theory and principles, he presents real-life scenarios and conflicts. In doing so, he presents what he called the church firestorm. Susek does not cringe in presenting the true situation in churches. A lot of Christians and church members tend to have a high regard for the church.
In the sense that a church, since it is the Body of Christ, should have love and caring and not conflict or even any hint of discord and conflict. Yet, we are also aware that as humans, we do have our imperfections and we sin. Since the church is diverse and the people hold different opinions, if this scenario is coupled by sin, then the church may undergo a firestorm. Susek’s use of Firestorm as a metaphor is an apt description of church conflict left by itself without any attempt at healing and reconciliation. It devours with such force as a forest wildfire, which leaves a trail of ruin, loss, broken hearts and relationships.
Conflict is a part of human life, and since humans are essentially involved in the church, then it would be wise for us to manage conflict and prevent it from destroying the church completely. Negative Traits and Problems Discussed by Susek A number of negative traits and sources of problems were discussed by Susek. These problems are present in most churches. These sources of conflict may be categorized under cultural problems, factions and leadership problems. There might be crash of cultures within the church brought about by impatient and misplaced idealism. If individuals are used as means to an end, then conflict also ensues.
The church may also be wracked by factions and blind loyalties to various individuals in the church. This leads to an immature manner of handling differences in points of view and opinion. When people start pressing others to join their side, then conflict is magnified further. Some people inside the church may also think that their point of view is the only valid one and that all others are completely wrong. In these instances, the focus is no longer on spiritual behavior and brotherly love. Rather, it becomes one of politics, pride, and party. In this case, the interest of the church is compromised in favor of one’s own agenda.
The issue of church leadership may also be an important factor in church conflicts. The leadership of the church—the pastors, the lay leaders, deacons, and other members of the leadership team play an important role in the escalation or prevention of church conflict. If these leaders then have other ambitions and agenda, or if they use their position to get what they want, then conflict becomes inevitable. Stubbornness and insubordination, on the other hand, also contributes to the problem. Leaders should also display maturity by recognizing their weaknesses, otherwise, conflict becomes greater.
When some people in the church feels that things are no longer acceptable, then they may simply cry out and before long, a firestorm has ignited. Satan then exploits this situation to initiate the destruction of the church. Susek presented examples to bolster his arguments in the book. Some examples he cited are simply shocking and led to the bankruptcy and eventual closing of the church. Dealing with the Damage The Body of Christ is beloved by Christ, himself. As believers who love Christ, all means should be found out in order to prevent the complete destruction of the church.
In this regard, Susek presented a number of great ideas on how to manage conflict within the church. He also discussed solid suggestions on how to implement Matthew 18. He boldly gives advice to elders of the church who are dealing with difficult situations in the church. If the conflict is truly difficult to manage, then the church may consider getting an ad hoc or temporary leader. This way, the leader who may be perceived to have vested interest may inhibit himself from the conflict. Leaders tend to be at the center of church conflicts. So when an interim leader is brought in, he can help deal with the issues.
Since he also bring an outsider’s perspective, he may also be more objective. He also encourages congregation to deal with the problem and not dwell on who wins or loses. The minister can then use the pulpit in developing this kind of attitude among the members of the congregation. If conflict is still budding and about to explode, it would be wise for the leaders to start doing steps to mitigate the conflict. This way, greater damage would be prevented. Impact on a Minister’s Life Quite naturally, a minister would be at the forefront of some of the problems and conflicts inside the church.
Most of the time ministers are at a loss on how to deal with conflicts, especially if they perceive that their job and their very self is on the line. The rigors of ministry, the combative attitude of various leaders in the church, the problems in leadership and an escalating conflict could take away the morale of the minister. Susek’s book, however, is a veritable guide for ministers in dealing with church conflict. The practical suggestions that Susek presented including the dynamics of firestorm and the stages he outlined are all helpful information for ministers to monitor the situation of their churches.
When they see conflict escalating, then the minister can use the pulpit in preaching about the godly way of dealing with conflicts and avoid lambasting anyone. In cases of conflict, a minister’s family is also dragged into the process. When church conflicts escalate, the family, particularly the wife, tends to become the shock absorbers. In this regard, Susek’s book can also help a ministers’ family deal with the stress of the conflict and provide emotional support and encouragement.