Background: The Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality Report includes a recommendation to “encourage the churches to make use of the curriculum prepared by Pastor Church Resources (PCR), in conjunction with members of the committee, to help small groups study and discuss aspects of the committee’s report which may be controversial.”
Learn more about how your church could use this curriculum to host a group at crcna.org/pcr/conversations
Stuck in Conflict
When conflict emerges in a group (like a council or congregation), it is easy to get stuck. Some groups see the conflict coming and respond by avoiding talking about the real issues. Other groups approach the conflict like an opportunity to debate: one side makes their arguments, the other side makes theirs. Months pass, many words are exchanged (or not), and most groups are no closer to resolution. In fact, bitterness and resentment increasingly pollute the group’s time together.
At PCR, we have been consulting with conflicted pastors and churches for decades. Over the course of those hundreds of consultations, we’ve made a few observations about what kinds of processes help move things forward. We’ve incorporated this wisdom into the Challenging Conversations Toolkit.
1. A Good Process is Rarely Fast.
In PCR’s consultations with conflicted pastors and churches, those who avoid the conversation and rush to separate from each other almost always bring significant underlying dysfunction into their relationships with future pastors and future churches.
Quick separations make it too easy for conflicted parties to scapegoat each other. We become experts at everything they are doing wrong. At best, we might concede that “our side” could do better while at the same time litigating thousands of carefully dissected specifics of how they could do better. To paraphrase Jesus, “I become an expert at pointing out all the specks in your eyes, but fail to see the plank sticking out of my own.”
The invitation that PCR often extends to conflicted pastors and churches, then, is to slow down, to trust that God brought them into this moment for a reason, and to pay attention to what God might want to teach them at this time—even through the people with whom they so profoundly disagree. To do this well requires we release some of our anxiety. Good process helps people engage conversations with less anxiety.
To help anxious pastors and churches, PCR often recommends practices of listening and speaking similar to those embedded in the Challenging Conversations Toolkit. These practices never replace difficult decision-making. Rather, they provide an important foundation and context to make better and more God-glorifying decisions.
2. A good process is always deliberate.
The toolkit’s practices help a group deliberately do three things: First, they help everyone name the issues clearly and listen to one another deeply. In listening, we become open to hear what God might be doing to sanctify us through this. What “plank” might God be inviting me to remove from my own eye?
Second, these practices keep the conversation moving. Just as some challenging conversations move too fast, many other challenging conversations can go too slowly. Some groups and churches, fearful of disagreement or the painful consequences of a decision, resist taking action and remain paralyzed.
Third, good practices make sure the right people are included in the conversation. It may be tempting for a pastor to think, “We’ve been having this conversation for years! What good has come from it? Let’s just decide already and move on!” But while it may be true that many pastors and some individuals have been having regular, robust conversations around these issues, there are likely many in your community who have not had such an opportunity but who would benefit greatly from it.
3. A good process is consistently oriented to Christ.
Just about the only congregations we read about in the New Testament are conflicted congregations. In fact, much of what we know about what it means to be a Christian disciple in the New Testament originated as pastoral instruction from Paul to conflicted congregations. In other words, conflict is not a distraction, preventing us from our more important work of following Christ. Conflict is the setting and often the means through which we practice our faith and become more like Christ. For that reason, each of these sessions is meant to reorient us continually to Christ, in whom all things hold together (Col. 1:17).
To learn more about the Challenging Conversations Toolkit, a five- to seven-session small group resource to help your church engage the Human Sexuality Study Report, visit crcna.org/pcr/conversations