“Um–George, we have a problem.” Pastor Felix passed his hand across his sweaty forehead, searching for words. How could he tell this nationally acclaimed speaker that his church’s heavily touted, international conference must be cancelled? Accused of sexual harassment by his secretary–Pastor Felix was fighting for his family, his career, and his church. Would any of them survive the scandal?
Church crises put more than personal reputations on the line. By their nature, churches invite deep trust and vulnerability. When misconduct or misunderstanding breach that trust and harm the vulnerable, the resulting conflict impacts those involved on multiple layers. The damage spreads as the church’s mission and message get lost in rumor and controversy.
Trying to limit the damage, church leaders often close ranks, squelch communication, and inadvertently harm people in the effort to protect reputation. The most common result? The innocent and not-so-innocent alike suffer permanent damage while the church either splits or dies. Beyond the harm to the individual group of believers, the credibility of the global church suffers.
A different result is possible.
Conciliation offers a process to resolve the legal issues of the crisis, to minister to those directly involved, and to heal the congregation.
- a forum for all those directly impacted to tell their story honestly and openly–without judgment
- exploration of options to address issues in conflict fully and fairly–promoting new patterns that honor all involved
- a process for communicating with the larger church community so members’ concerns and questions are addressed while protecting the privacy of those most directly impacted
Layers of complexity surround crises created by breaches of trust within the church. Conciliation brings trained professionals into the thick of the conflict with the skills to assess the significant elements, to create options for bringing healing to all, and to enable parties to come to agreements that resolve the issues while restoring relationships both within the congregation and between the church and the community.
As Conciliators worked with Pastor Felix, his secretary, members of both families, and the elders–each was able to express their concerns, fears, and hurts in a way that allowed an understanding of the events and their impact. People began owning their responsibilities for the situation–and releasing responsibility for elements beyond their control. Most importantly, breached trust was acknowledged and the delicate process of forgiveness begun. As the key players developed a plan for healing and restoration, a carefully crafted plan for communication with the larger church unfolded. The church body became part of of the solution rather than resigned to the sidelines. Healing became a community endeavor.
Crisis doesn’t have to mean the end for a church. Through Conciliation–a church’s crisis can actually become an opportunity for Christ to save it from destructive patterns that must be changed and to move into new ways of relating that honor God and all those within the church community.