Conflict Resolution

We get a significant number of requests for help with cases of escalated conflict in the church, where Christians are struggling to work together. Sometimes we can offer the services of trained mediators or facilitators.

Group Reconciliation

If you contact Bridge Builders for assistance with a case of escalated conflict affecting a larger group, we will:

  • Try to get a clear picture of the situation
  • Assess, in a preliminary way, the sort of outside help that is appropriate
  • Possibly recommend group reconciliation if the conflict has drawn in a considerable number of people
  • Try to provide a lead facilitator, who will form a team of two to work on the case, working with someone from our Network with suitable training

Group reconciliation draws on a broader range of processes than interpersonal mediation (although the aims are broadly similar). This is because conflicts that involve a large number of people are invariably complex. Often there is considerable past history tangled up with the presenting issues.

We will not attempt group reconciliation when we judge that the conflict is intractable. On the other hand, there are often more grounds for hope than enquirers first suppose.

Group reconciliation is appropriate when a substantial majority of those who are significantly affected by a conflict are willing to try and resolve their disagreements, and mend broken relationships, yet do not feel able to do so without assistance. Depending on the circumstances, we may encourage everyone in the group to take an active part in the process. Whoever is involved, we will encourage each person to accept responsibility for their own contribution to the situation, and to express apology or regret where they appropriately can.

Examples:

  • A congregation is divided over an important issue
  • A large leadership group is unable to resolve disagreements
  • There is hostility between different church committees or worship centres

Group reconciliation is not appropriate in cases where there is no support for the idea from the church’s leadership group, or where the conflict is focused entirely on the minister’s performance.

  • The parties who are in dispute can express their views in a variety of ways
  • The facilitators lead the process but do not determine the outcome
  • Ground rules are agreed at the outset
  • It may take several weeks of gathering information before a structure for the process is firmed up
  • The facilitators do their best to act impartially
  • One aim is to engage with feelings and find agreements that address the concerns of all the parties
  • Another aim is to learn better ways of handling conflict in future, so that outside assistance will not be needed again

Interpersonal Mediation

If you contact Bridge Builders for assistance with a case of conflict between individuals, we will:

  • Try to get a clear picture of the situation
  • Assess, in a preliminary way, the sort of outside help that is appropriate
  • Possibly recommend interpersonal mediation if the conflict is focused on only a small number of people
  • Try to provide a team of two mediators – Christians who are familiar with the nature of conflicts in the church

We will not attempt mediation when we judge that the conflict is intractable. On the other hand, conflicts are sometimes more amenable to mediation than enquirers first suppose.

Mediation is appropriate when the parties who are in dispute are willing to try and resolve their disagreements, and mend broken relationships, yet do not feel able to do so without assistance. We ask that the parties take part voluntarily, mindful of the teaching of Jesus to his disciples to talk directly with those within the community who have offended us.

Interpersonal mediation is not appropriate in cases where there is no realistic chance of negotiation between the parties, or where the number of people involved would be too big for effective face-to-face dialogue. In practice, interpersonal mediation is most often conducted between two colleagues. Where the number is greater than about four to six people, we recommend exploring a process of group reconciliation instead.

  • The parties who are in dispute engage in face-to-face dialogue
  • The mediators lead the process but do not determine the outcome
  • The process has a definite structure
  • Ground rules are agreed at the outset
  • The mediators do their best to act impartially
  • The aim is to promote deeper listening and understanding, and to find ways forward that address the concerns of all the parties involved not possible for one of our staff members to take the lead on a case, then we can try to refer it to members of our Network.

Mediation FAQs

Structured mediation is an unfamiliar experience to many people. Here are some questions that you might want answered before you try such a process.

Suppose your relationship with someone else is strained, possibly near to breaking down. You are not succeeding in resolving disagreements, however much you try, and in spite of heartfelt prayer. It looks as if nothing will change without somebody else intervening. But rather than resort to calling in “big guns”, you are willing to try to sort things out, face to face. Mediation can open up a pathway for that dialogue to happen in a safer and more constructive way.

The two of you would get together with two mediators in a place that is as unthreatening as possible. You would agree in advance to follow a carefully-structured process. There would be some simple ground rules to make it possible to speak and negotiate without feeling pressurised.

A mediator provided by Bridge Builders would have specific training and would not be someone directly involved in the dispute. Usually both members of the mediation team are complete outsiders. Occasionally it is useful for one of them to be an insider who has a particular understanding of your situation – but it would have to be someone whom you can trust to act impartially.

Working as team with the two of you who are in dispute, the mediators would help you to:

  • Talk about what is causing you concern and what you are hoping for
  • Get a clearer picture of what the disagreements are about
  • Express your own feelings and describe your own experience of the conflict
  • Understand things from the other person’s point of view
  • Look at key problems, one at a time, and come up with ideas for solving them that seem realistic to both of you
  • Offer each other what you feel able, in the way of apology or regret for your own part

The mediators’ job is to keep the process on track, and to create a safer environment. Their role is not to decide who is right or wrong.

No. At the end, the mediators write up any agreements that have been reached by those involved through the process of discussion and negotiation. The mediators will not try to determine the outcomes of the process, unlike an arbitrator who is invited to settle the dispute.

After initial introductory elements, the mediators will give space for each person involved to express their main concerns. The mediators will then shape up an agenda of the main issues expressed, will check whether these cover the ground, and will then lead those involved in working through the agenda in an orderly way.

Mediators try to ensure that there is a fair taking of turns to speak, and that what is said steers clear of point-scoring and instead focusses on people’s underlying concerns, and how they feel about what has happened. So the process is designed to slow down the pace at which you would normally exchange views with someone else.

During a mediation session, you may often find yourself waiting to speak while a mediator sums up what the other person has just said. This gives you a second chance to try to listen and understand. Then, when you have spoken, the same happens for you. An atmosphere of thoughtful dialogue can gradually build up, as the mediators keep suggesting what things to talk about next, and making sure that feelings are expressed and understood, and that constructive ideas get picked up and worked with.

A typical mediation session lasts about three hours, sometimes a little longer, and would normally include at least one break. Sometimes only a single mediation session is needed. However, if a situation calls for a structured mediation process, then it is more typical that two or three sessions may be needed.

Several reasons:

  • One mediator can be listening or noting down ideas (often on a flip chart) while the other is engaged in conversation with those participating
  • There is less chance of bias creeping in
  • The mediators can support one another through what can be a tiring process, handing the baton back and forth
  • After the session, each mediator has someone to mull things over with, without breaking confidentiality

You get a chance to talk in private with a mediator beforehand, so that you can prepare for the mediation process. Talking about the way you see the situation gives you a “practice run” at putting difficult things into words, and the mediator can help you clarify what things matter most to you. You also get a chance to ask questions about the process that lies ahead, and some help with preparing for each mediation session (there’s usually more than one).

You can’t know that mediation will work – it is bound to be an exercise of faith because the process is not about forcing anyone to be different. However, you can make sure that, on your side, the whole process is tackled with a desire to build up and not tear down, to take responsibility for anything that you have contributed towards a breakdown of relationship, and to avoid blaming the other person. Bridge Builders’ experience is that mediation can help to create a shift in relationships which have got stuck, and can open up new ways forward – sometimes with a profound transformation for those involved. Expect to learn new things about yourself, about others, and about God’s love for us.