Identifying Contextual Factors – Emotional Climate

Managing Church Conflict by Hugh Halverstadt P. 67

Step Two, Task One: Identifying Contextual Factors
Observing the emotional climate between parties in a church system is a particularly revealing way to measure the system’s level of constructiveness or destructiveness.

Church systems that do not reach closure when pastors leave evidence the kind of enmeshed and therefore controlling ways of relating to leaders that discourage healthy conflict. Rather than building professional relationships as partnerships between autonomous parties, enmeshed church systems tend to seek emotional fusion between themselves and their leaders. Moreover, pastors who come from enmeshed families of origin tend to find congregations that have expectations of enmeshed relationships with pastors. When conflicts arise, all parties tend to become emotionally reactive and controlling of each other. Healthy disagreements are neither envisioned nor realized. Rather than resolving their differences, principals tend to either appease one another or abandon one another.

The structure of a church system consists of such things as organizational lines of communication and accountability; communal ways of planning, making decisions, and evaluating performances; and communal procedures for securing, partnering with, and terminating professional staff. These aspects of the structure of a church system often occasion or support either constructive or destructive conflicts. The ways committees are appointed and made accountable to governing bodies can generate collaborative or competitive intergroup relationships. A lack of explicit, realistic job descriptions for employees or role expectations for volunteers can generate negative feelings and stress for parties. These are examples of the ways organizational structure and procedures influence parties to conflicts.

A major institutional source of conflicts is overlapping responsibilities between parties. A pastor and a church secretary may conflict because they both function as communication switchboards for the whole system. A committee chair and a treasurer may conflict because they have overlapping responsibilities in programming. A church school superintendent and a weekday kindergarten director may conflict because they do their jobs in the same physical space. A middle governing body executive and a national program staff person may conflict because they depend on each other’s resources. A head of staff and an associate may conflict because their professional activities affect each other. Unclear or overlapping role descriptions put parties in conflict, regardless of their personal traits. When parties personalize these conflicts, their interactions become destructive.

Identifying Changes in Communal Environment
Just as the human body requires oxygen, water, and food from its environment to survive, so a church body requires people, values, time, and energy to survive.