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Practical Leadership

Types of Conflict

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
There are three main categories of conflict, Interpersonal Conflict, Intrapersonal Conflict and Substantive Conflict.

There are three main categories of conflict, Interpersonal Conflict, Intrapersonal Conflict and Substantive Conflict.

Proverbs 16:18; Mark 3:25; Galatians 6:1-5

I recently saw a cartoon in a Christian magazine that depicted a mom telling her young son the reason he did not have a father, "you never knew your father-he was killed at a conflict resolution seminar." (Christianity Today May 1999) This first struck me as very humorous, but also sad that this subject is a mockery for some people. That, as humans, we cannot get past ourselves and see others as Christ sees them and taught us to see others.

There are three main categories of conflict:

First there is Interpersonal Conflict. These are the conflicts on personal grounds, such as between church members, staff and leadership. 'Interpersonal' conflict is the typical disagreement between two or more people. I would venture to say that over 90% of all conflicts are in this category. These can be disagreements on who is going to sing in the choir or lead a study when there is one spot and more than one person desiring it. The interpersonal conflict may then escalate into a negative confrontation that will require intervention. You will find a whole host of various forms for this category, such as gossip, slander, legalism, power controls, false teaching, and the list can go on and on. If the church has a good system to deal with it, then little conflict would escalate to the point of confrontation. We Christians can be like little kids seeking what we can get away with until the parent figure comes back. This is just our human nature.

The second type of conflict is Intrapersonal Conflict, which is conflict with self-desires versus what God desires of us. This is the personality and desires of an individual seeking to change and to grow that is in conflict with the sinful nature or other beliefs and ways. The new life in Christ verses the old ways of sin. And this is not limited to new Christians, in fact this type of conflict is caused by older 'church grown' people more than any one else in my experience. This struggle becomes like a group of politicians all campaigning for dominance and the office they seek. This is where our spiritual crisis comes into play. And when the wrong dominance takes over the will of the Christian, then the self is in conflict with the church, and the self is fighting God's character which produces the moodiness and power plays we to often see. Virtually all 'passive' conflict is the result from these struggles in some form, and where a lot of our church fights and even family struggles derive from.

This is where the famous adage, "for evil to happen all that needs to be done is for good men to do nothing," affects the church and family. Such as I desire to be a good parent, but I do not want to yell at my kids. I want my kids to be happy at dinner so I will give them what they want, even though this might cause heath problems when they grow up. Mr. Ed always has to teach the 6th graders, but they do not like him, and Mr. Ed is mean and uncaring to his students. But we do not want to try to recruit someone new or offend Mr. Ed, so we do nothing. These are the conflicts we deal with personally, but can creep into the "Interpersonal" category, such as my spouse insists the kids eat vegetables, but I do not. This is different from bipolar disorders where the person is schizophrenic (multiple personalities in conflict for dominance and control); here it is just being human to desire to seek our way in the easiest means possible. Thus, the struggle to try to prevent or side step conflict in fact escalates it.

This category also can also mean personality conflicts such as, I just do not like "so and so's" personality. I do not like people who are loud, so, since Mrs. Sims is loud, I will prevent her from being elected for the position of Deacon. Thus, there is no logic or cause for the conflict, just the fact we do not like someone or something based on our experience and perceptions. Or, I do not like praise music in church so I will do all that I can to prevent it being introduced in our worship. Feelings in the most cases override listening and logical Scriptural study. It is about my whims regardless of anyone else's. This is the category where we will twist Scripture around out of its context to make or points, to conform the Bible to our reasoning. And when the strong willed person with their whims firmly planted in the ground meets the leader or church member who carefully studied the matter that is in disagreement-BANG! Conflict breaks out! Or it can be just two groups who did carefully study a problem but came to two different conclusions. Because we will do anything to back up our reasoning, as humans we do not like to be in the wrong.

The third category is Substantive Conflict. These are the conflicts of moral grounds. This is the area that theological disputes come from. The conflict over vision or goals, color of the hymnal's, or it can be values such as abortion. The issue is not personality or people, but a cause. This can quickly escalate into Interpersonal and Intrapersonal conflict, and the reason why a lot of churches split.

The Problem of Conflict: Proverbs 3:5-6; 20:30; Job 23:10; 36:5; Matthew 5:13-16; Romans 5:3-5; 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 1:9; Ephesians 4:1-6; Philippians 1:27-30; 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; James 1:5-8; 1 Peter 1:6-7

Principle Scripter to How to Understand, Solve, and Prevent Conflict: Genesis 4; Psalm 37:4; Proverbs 3:4-6; 18:13; Matthew 5:9; 7:5; 15:18-20; 18: 15-20; Luke 6:27-36; 19:1-9; Romans 8:28-29; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8; 10:31-11:1; 13; Galatians 5; Ephesians 4:22-32; 5:1; Philippians 2:3-6; 4:2-9; Colossians 1:17-20; 3:12-17 James 4:1-3; 1 John 14:15

© 1989, 1998, 2007 R. J. Krejcir Ph.D., Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development

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