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Upcoming Conference Table tackles conflict resolution

Upcoming Conference Table tackles conflict resolution

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Upcoming Conference Table tackles conflict resolution

Jan. 6, 2006  News media contact: Tita Parham*  
800-282-8011   Orlando {0424}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — Conflict is something many people avoid in personal, business and even religious settings, but an upcoming Conference Table of the Florida Conference aims to shed some light on the sensitive subject of conflict within the church.

Held Feb. 1 at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, the session will feature discussion between participants and a panel of clergy and lay professionals. Panel members will help define issues related to conflict in the church and identify possible steps to begin healing and healthy conflict resolution. They will also gather input from participants about the ability of local churches to effectively manage conflict and the role the conference can play in helping churches meet that challenge.

Listening to participants will be an important part of the day, according to the Rev. Wayne Curry, superintendent of the Gulf Coast District and a member of the Conference Table task force.

"The initial question is, 'How do we define the problem? What's the X?' " he said. "Emphasis will be given to the listening process, asking, 'Where does it hurt?' and 'Why?' "

Small group discussions will focus on building community, consensus making, behavioral covenants and active listening skills.

The Rev. Paul Butler, chancellor of the Florida Conference and a member of the task force, said church members and leaders must address conflict.

"Lest we think that all conflict is bad and something to be avoided, I like to point out that Patrick Lencione, in his best seller "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team," postulates that 'the absence of conflict' is one of the five dysfunctions that teams often face," he said. "His point is that conflict, when handled correctly, is creative and propels a team, a group, and I would say a congregation, to the next level."

"Conflict, per se, is not bad," Butler added. "It's how conflict is handled that determines whether it is a positive or a negative influence."

Curry said the topic is an important one because conflict within the church is a reality, and many churches do not handle it well.

"This is true on both the lay and clergy side," he said. "We need to come together to talk openly, listen, share and learn from each other."

The Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, an ordained elder on voluntary leave from the conference and a member of the planning team, agrees.

"Conflict is a piece of life," she said. "It's like breathing. Many of us don't do it well, either at home or church. Some people in the church believe in a 'covenant of niceness' and find it more difficult to have hard conversations."

Butler says his sense is most congregations choose to avoid addressing conflict and only a few use recognized techniques to deal with it, such as using a facilitator or a process like mediation.

"What type of resolution methodology is employed depends more on the nature of the conflict than on the congregation involved," he said. "For example, if the issue is one of 'worship wars' — traditional versus contemporary — then one method of resolution might be appropriate, as opposed to the situation where the need is to work with a group of folks who don't seem to get along with the pastor."

Butler says mediation and conflict resolution can make a church better, but adds the outcome of any process depends in large part on the extent to which a person or group of people really want to work out the differences that divide them. 

"Unfortunately, we all know there are some folks who seem to be motivated more by pointing out distinctions as opposed to working toward a unity that enriches the Kingdom," he said.  

Fogle-Miller emphasizes conflict does not have to be hostile or hurtful. It can be helpful, healthy and a good indicator a church is moving and doing things differently.

When handled appropriately and biblically, Curry said conflict becomes a catalyst for honest community building in a church, a goal that can't be accomplished when members don't deal with problems.

"Churches slow down when that happens," Fogle-Miller said. "Then we are not being a good witness for the gospel. And visitors know when there is unresolved conflict; they may not know what it's about, but they know it's there."

Fogle-Miller said the Conference Table will strive to help people learn from past difficulties and strategies to deal with future struggles.

"We want to give folks encouragement, hope, and (let them) know they are not alone," she said. "We want people to start where they can with this issue."

The session is from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and open to all clergy and laity. Individuals are asked to register at Lunch is provided at a cost of $7 per person.

The gathering will also be webcast live for those who are not able to attend. To enter the Web cast on the day of the event visit the conference Web site at


This article relates to Conflict/Conference Table Gatherings.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.