Guiding Principles

The Preferred Path Ministry acknowledges the following guiding principles for communicating, building consensus, and resolving conflict in Christian communities:

  1. Conflict Exists: Whether in the form of a minor disagreement between two people or a major dispute between groups, conflict is predictably present in churches, homes, work, and community settings.
  2. Multiple Causes: In any given situation, a conflict can have multiple causes (e.g., communication breakdown, fear, lack of negotiation skill, etc.).
  3. Danger and Opportunity: Like crisis, any conflict has the potential for good or bad outcomes (broken relationships or growth); more precisely, how conflicts are addressed can spell the difference in whether parties achieve a sense justice, peace, and healing, or not.
  4. Four Ways to Resolve Conflict: See Figure 1 below.
  5. The Preferred Path: Matthew 18:15-17 and behavioral science best practice suggests that in order to preserve relationships and encourage growth of individuals and organizations, “collaborative” methods (direct conversation and/or facilitated/mediated conversation) should precede “higher authority” methods (see Tables 1, 2, and 3 below).
  6. Standard Solutions: Experience suggests that parties in conflict desire one or more of the following standard solutions, delivered to them by a perceived opponent, or offered by them to another person or group, in order to achieve healing, a sense that justice has been served, and reconciliation with former opponents/enemies: acknowledgment/ apology/repentance; restitution; plan for the future [corrective action]; and forgiveness.
  7. The Role of Attorneys: When parties are represented by trial attorneys, collaborative options on the Preferred Path sometimes become subservient to prevailing before a judge, jury, or administrative hearing officer.  Furthermore, the judicial nature of the proceedings mean that acknowledgement/apology, forgiveness, and voluntary corrective action (three of the Standard Solutions) receive less attention than the higher authority decision on right or wrong according to a point of law. Accordingly, the Preferred Path Ministry endorses the Two-Track method of attorney representation, whereby, if parties need attorneys, they engage Track 1 attorneys to begin the case (hired exclusively to resolve the matter through negotiation and mediation), preserving the option for resolution by different attorneys for Track 1 (arbitration and litigation if necessary, whether inside denominational higher authorities bodies or in the secular courts). (See www.twotracklawyers.com.)
  8. Help Along the Way: In the heat of the moment or “when push comes to shove,” parties are often filled with anxiety and do not know which way to turn to begin resolving the conflict. Accordingly, the Preferred Path Ministry makes use of “help along the way” options: convening/help line services, courses, and covenants to integrate the Preferred Path into family, church and work life.
  9. “Systems” are Important: The Preferred Path Ministry grew from decades of experience in partnering with internal teams to design custom systems for the early resolution of conflict in businesses, churches, and governmental organizations. Based on lessons learned in these settings, a critical guiding principle for this ministry is that all Christian communities—from the smallest house church to the largest denomination, and including international missions, educational institutions and faith based partnerships—need systems for resolving issues and conflicts that integrate guidance from Scripture with other denominational and/or cultural requirements.

Figure 1

Four Ways to Resolve Conflict

1
Avoidance

2
Collaboration

3
Higher Authority

4
Power Plays

Take No Action

  • Individual Initiative
  • Negotiation
  • Mediation
  • Chain of Command
  • Arbitration
  • Litigation
  • Strikes
  • Violence
  • Verbal/Written/Physical Combat

 

Table 1

Scriptural References

A Brother Who Sins Against You  Matthew 18:15-17
Lawsuits Among Believers  I Corinthians 6:1-6
The Greatest Commandment  Matthew 22:37-40
Look Not Only to Your Own Interests  Philippians 2:4
Prayer  Ephesians 6:18,
James 5:16

 

Table 2

Sample Relationship to Local Church Mission, Vision and Values:
Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church (Austin, TX)

WHPC Mission, Vision and Values

Link to Conflict Resolution

The Mission of Our ChurchTo invite people into God’s larger story as we follow Christ together.  God’s larger story frequently involves people in conflict with themselves, with God, and with other people.

  • How have we as Christians dealt with these matters in the past?
  • What role does conflict resolution play in our Christian experience today?
Vision StatementTransformed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, WHPC will be a Christ-centered community of faith that intentionally nurtures relationships with God, one another, our neighbors and the world.
  • As a Christ-centered community, do we follow the teachings of Jesus in forgiving and loving others, even those who oppose us?
  • Do we see respectful and loving conflict resolution is an integral part of nurturing relationships with one another, our neighbors and the world?

The Values of Our Church

Biblically Faithful
We are biblically faithful and theologically responsible.
  • Are we as WHPC members aware of scripture as a resource for conflict resolution?
Spiritually Attentive
We are attentive to the present action of the Holy Spirit in us and through us.
  • How are we at WHPC attentive to the work of the Holy Spirit in conflict resolution?
Courageously Caring
We are vibrant in faith and generous in love; creating environments of caring community in all that we do.
  • Do we at WHPC show love and caring even to opponents/ enemies?
Missionally Motivated
We are committed to Kingdom Impact, both local and global.
  • What is our church’s witness to neighbors through how we address conflicts?
Intentionally Releasing
We build and release the leadership of God’s people for the sake of the Kingdom, expecting transformation of our lives, our relationships and our communities.
  • What is the state of leadership, relationships, and transformation at WHPC?


Table 3

Sample Link to Church Governance:

Key References in the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order
Regarding the Resolution of Church Conflict

 The Church’s Calling  G-3.0300
 Mediation Provisions  G-9.0600
 Mediation Participation  G-9.0602
 Committee on Ministry’s Responsibilities  G-11.0502
 Constitutional Questions to Officers  W-4.4003
 Questions to Congregation  W-4.4004 (a.(2))
 Reconciliation: Justice and Peace  W-7-4000
 Relating to Each Other and the World  W-2-6000
 Principles of Church Discipline  D-1.0000
 Conciliate and Mediate  D-1.0103
 Judicial Process  D-2.1000
 Alternative Forms of Resolution  D-2.0103
 Disciplinary Cases  D-10.0000