My dad recently published a book called When Church Conflict Happens. I have been planning on writing a detailed review, and since Sunday was Father’s Day, I figured it was fitting to do it now. Whereas many of us would like to pretend like church conflict does not happen (at least not in our church), this book demonstrates how to identify different types of conflict, get to the root of it, and deal with it in a biblical and godly way.
Keep in mind, the author is my dad, so this is probably not a completely unbiased review, but I have tried to portray the content well.
About the author
As I mentioned, Michael Hare is my dad. For all of my childhood my dad was a pastor, though certainly not only a pastor. Pastoring did not always provide for our financial needs, so my dad worked as a framer, insurance salesman, and newspaper delivery man (I’m sure there were many other jobs). I have known my father as a hard-working man who has been faithful to his family and has endured in ministry. But there is something else unique about Michael Hare, not only has he not shrunk back from conflict in the church, he has always been willing to face it head-on.
This led my father in a number of different directions. First, he often took on churches that were small and divided. I have seen my father bring a unifying vision to churches that were not far from dying off. Second, he became a part of an organization called Living Stones, working as a church conflict consultant. In this role, he has travelled to many churches acting as a mediator and arbitrator and helping churches deal with their conflict. And finally, it led him to pursue a PhD in conflict resolution. His dissertation surveyed conflict in many churches and offered a biblically guided method for dealing with that conflict. That dissertation has led to a book, which puts this method into an easy to access format.
The idea behind the book
I found one quote in the book particularly helpful when considering the reason behind his writing:
‘The secret is to not being overwhelmed when faced with complex organization a conflict is to break down the elements into understandable bite-size pieces that can be addressed one at a time.’ (71)
I think that for most of us, when we encounter conflict we do not know where to begin. We feel hurt, betrayed, frustrated, and confused. In such an emotional state, it is very difficult to deal with conflict without making it worse. One of the greatest benefits of the method presented in When Church Conflict Happens is that it provides a model that gets to the root of the problem. It allows us to get past our emotions and deal with what is causing the conflict in order to resolve it.
A book that recognizes its own weaknesses
Unlike my dad I have not read many books about conflict resolution. However, I have read LOTS of books about raising children. And I find myself discouraged at times because the material is presented as the final solution to all of my problems. If I just do [name that thing] my kids will respond in a godly manner and it will all be fine. What I appreciate about When Church Conflict Happens is that it recognizes its own weaknesses. Here is one quote that demonstrates this:
“Although this book is intended to provide a workable model for resolving personal and systemic conflict, is a mistake to think that mere mechanical methods in organizational processes are sufficient to bring about Christ honoring solutions in the fullest sense.” (89)
The reality of conflict is that there is much that is out of our hands. This book presents a method to systematically analyze and deal with conflict, but it also recognizes that we battle not against flesh and blood. I appreciate a very prayerful tone in the book and and acknowledgement that spiritual issues need to be dealt with spiritually. Hare talks all throughout the book about a need for confession, repentance, and forgiveness. And we cannot control how others will respond to the facts of the conflict. Elsewhere in the book he writes,
“Reconciliation is wonderful, but it’s not always possible, because it depends on a godly response from both parties. Forgiveness however depends only on us. We can forgive even if the offending party is on responsive.” (113)
I know my father has had the opportunity to help many churches deal with their conflict, but at times there are parties unwilling to respond in a godly fashion. I find it refreshing and encouraging to acknowledge that even if we deal with it well, conflict will at times still remain.
Who should read this
This book is targeted at those who could use its methods to help their church. While this will often be pastors or other church leaders, I would recommend this book for clergy and laymen alike. Conflict is not something we like to talk about, and because of that I think many of us just don’t know what to do with it. When Church Conflict Happens is an excellent resource for all of us who deal with conflict, and especially with other Christians. The world is always watching and always eager to see the Church struggle and fail. I believe this book is a great resource for God’s people to use to show the world what love looks like in the midst of familial conflict.
A final note to missionaries. Conflicts often look very different on the field than they look in America. There are many examples in this book that come from the American church. However, I believe that the underlying issues are often the same. Further, studies have shown that most missionaries leave the field because of conflict with other missionaries. If this is true, something needs to change.
At one point in the book Hare says,
“Scripture teaches that whether we are the offending party or the party feeling offended, we have the mandate to initiate forgiveness and reconciliation.” (113)
I believe that he is right. We have a biblical obligation to deal with conflict and not to just ignore it. Not only that, we have the mandate to initiate. Whether you are a pastor, church leader, layman, or missionary you have this responsibility. My question to you is: do you feel prepared to do that? Do you feel like you could handle whatever conflicts that come up in your church or ministry in a godly way? If not, let me recommend the book When Church Conflict Happens. It is a tool, a resource, meant to help us to succeed in this area. I appreciate it, and I think you will too.