As I sift through the proverbial ashes after a church "fire" I find evidence that "friction between combustibles" is another major causal contributor. What I mean by it is: a lack of ability to have healthy, open conversation when expectations and actions don't match up. Instead, the friction between the parties keeps rubbing everyone wrong and the heat increases. Unchecked, that leads to fire.
It will help to understand this if you have first read the Grating Expectations post.
This phenomenon comes into play when there is a growing sense in a congregation that previously unnamed expectations are being implemented without communal agreement or when expectations that have never been named are not being met. Examples from each would be: a new pastor being far more enthusiastic (and successful) in outreach efforts than the majority of the congregation expected or is comfortable with; and, older people in the congregation not being visited as frequently as "has always been done before." These two are all the more dangerous if they occur in combination, which seems to frequently be the case.
When that dissonance begins to smolder, it becomes hard to generate the kind of helpful conversation and dialogue with the involved parties that will extinguish the concerns and take combustible fuel away. Today, cooling things down requires what is called Emotional Intelligence (EI) or Relational Intelligence (RI) or, defined more broadly, Cultural Intelligence (CI). In the Bible I think it was called wisdom. What it comes down to is that we do not collectively have enough of the skills, tools, maturity and wisdom to "work it out" in a healthy manner once irritating friction is noticed. I will state it more directly: We do not have enough emotional or relational maturity in our congregations and in our leadership. So irritations are not coated into pearls, but irritations rub and rub and rub until there is smoke and eventually full heated conflict.
We need to learn to monitor our own emotions and when we feel the first sign of friction, start with identifying our personal attachments, expectations and agendas, and humbly weigh and self-evaluate them. And we need training and practice and guidance in how to have healing conversations in which feelings are acknowledged, while ideas are exchanged more openly. I am no expert in these things, but I see the need.
I am most familiar with the Canadian Christian Reformed Church. I have a theory, which I've found support for in academia and biographical material, which I think explains some of the conflict we have been having in the church since the second wave of immigration. My theory goes like this:
The combination of a cerebrally (knowledge) oriented faith, the suspicion of all 'emotion' and feelings (experience) that seems to have come packaged with that, and the traumas of a World War or even two, have created a largely wounded immigrant population that established our churches. I call it my "Unresolved Trauma" theory and might write more about it at another time. But when I examine some of the more common approaches to church conflict in my years as a person in the pew, a Deacon, and a Pastor, I see a root problem being that by no choice on their part, our founding generations had a lot of unresolved emotional trauma shaping how they related to each other, especially when it seemed to them 'big' issues were at stake. And these means of reliving trauma or drastically avoiding it are now part of the cultural DNA of our congregations.
When I have had the opportunity, I've seen that many times odd flare ups of conflict in the church could be traced back to previous trauma.
What do you think causes friction between combustibles?