How many churches are equipped to respond well in a crisis? In this article, aimed at ordinary church members, Colin Patterson, Assistant Director of Bridge Builders, looks at the way Christians typically respond.
Just suppose that your church were to hit a crisis. Imagine that some storm blows up over an important issue and you have a significant conflict on your hands. Perhaps it threatens to split the fellowship.
What would you do?
Here are 6 possible options (there are probably more):
A. Pray that God will sort things out
B. Tell the leader(s) to get a grip on things
C. Leave before things get even more painful
D. Call for others to resign or leave
E. Do what you can to calm things down
F. Suggest getting help from an impartial outsider
Answers A-D are all common responses to church conflict. But each of them has its problems.
Prayer is really important – but not the sort of prayer that abdicates responsibility: “Lord, just make everybody be nice” or “Lord, show Them the error of their ways.” Prayer needs to be a way of preparing ourselves to act in God’s strength, rather than a sanctified passing of the buck.
Placing all the responsibility on a leader (or a group of leaders) can also be a cop out. Certainly it’s important to have good leadership in a time of crisis. Leaders need the right combination of firmness, compassion and thick skin. But that’s hard, and it’s made tougher when others act as if it’s only leaders who can do anything to resolve a crisis. Usually, many can play a part.
Leaving is very occasionally the right thing to do – but not until you’ve asked yourself some hard questions. Would it be a case of simply running away from the conflict? Parting of the ways might help you to cope, but it won’t help the church to deal with any underlying problems. You might be missing an important opportunity to learn new things about yourself, about others, and about God’s power and grace.
Calling for resignations is probably the least helpful intervention you could make. The situation is nearly always more complex than it looks at a first glance, so you need to beware of jumping to the “obvious” conclusion: “It’s X and Y who are The Problem.” Typically, many people have contributed to the difficulties and a variety of measures should be taken to help sort things out.
That brings us to E and F: perhaps less common responses. How would it be to take positive initiatives yourself?
You might be surprised at how much influence you could have by being an active peace-maker. Imagine: when others seem to be winding things up, instead of following suit, you might talk more quietly, think before you act, and pray “Make me a channel of your peace”. If you work hard at listening to people when they are het up, they will often calm down and be readier to listen to others.
Generally people are very reluctant to try the last option: suggesting that an outsider could help. What an admission of failure that would be! Really? Surely it’s wiser to admit that you’re out of your depth than to plunge on into the sea. The impartial person who can see things from all sides could be just what a church needs when it’s foundering. Maybe it’s a well-kept secret, but a number of church support organisations can provide that sort of help, and it’s not unknown for regional church bodies to have a small team of people who can be called on as mediators or consultants.
That was all “What if …” stuff. But …. better to have thought about it before it ever happens.