Many years ago when I was in my second church as an associate pastor I observed a very wise older senior pastor (Dr. M. R. Siemens) deal with conflict issues. Very lovingly he approached the parties individually; received their perspective on the issue and then after prayer brought them together with the Bible open in front of him. He explained the situation as he saw it and applied the teaching of Scripture (It is good for brothers to dwell together in peace, etc.)
Dr. Siemens was an unusual man who, like a good shepherd, was constantly circulating among the flock looking for symptoms of lameness, distemper (pardon the allusion) or other difficulty. His years of experience made him sensitive to conflict. He told me that being with the people and truly loving them made dealing with devisive issues much easier.
What About Classes for Conflict Development?
I am not sure that having “classes” that deal with conflict will be the answer unless experienced, well-seasoned pastors are themselves the instructors. Even then, something is lacking – on the job training.
Let me explain! When I first felt called to the ministry my pastor began to take me with him on calls and spoke to me about the ministry. He spent time with me, a first year Bible College student, and I observed him in action.
What About Learning From Experience?
Move forward thirty years. My wife was on staff of a major medical school and faculty clinic. On several occasions I followed doctors with a string of medical students through the halls and noted their interaction.
Perhaps more emphasis on “following the experienced doctors around” is key to our being able to deal with conflicts. Maybe seminaries should require such a residency as part of the training process for pastors. I know many seminaries have internships, but often the intern is really supplementing the senior pastor’s ministry or filling gaps in administrative ministry. The internship exposes them to many different aspects of ministry. This may be helpful to a degree, but is not what the intern needs when faced with conflicts among the flock.
The Apostle Paul’s example is like that of the doctors I observed. Young church leaders like Timothy, Titus and others were with him in the trenches. Real learning and lessons in dealing with conflict were taking place in a personal way.