It has been said that conflict is an inevitable part of life, and this can also be seen in the Church. In fact, an examination of Scriptures makes it crystal clear that conflict is a normal part of even church life (Matthew 23:1ff; Acts 15:36-40). As a matter of fact, the Bible could be seen as a record of conflict between good and evil, which is called the Great Controversy. This great controversy will intensify as we near the end of time. So, everyone who is a true follower of Christ will encounter conflicting circumstances where their Christian experience will be tested. It is therefore vital that church leaders be fully equipped with the tools that are needed to deal with the daily conflicts that arise in the church. These tools will aid in stabilizing many of our churches that are now in turmoil. As we travel far and wide teaching and preaching the gospel of Christ, we have seen residues of unresolved conflicts or ineffective mediation. We have also watched local leaders and elders grapple with the “How to?” of mediation. It is therefore essential that a proper understanding of mediation be expressed in an effort to provide those leading out in our local churches with practical guideline[s] on how to function as effective mediators in the remnant church.
Mediation from a biblical perspective is the resolution of a conflict or dispute based on biblical principles, where a person not only settles substantive issues, but also reconciles relationships, all for the purpose of glorifying God. Biblical Mediation is also known as “Christian conciliation.”1 Throughout Scripture one can find countless examples of conflicting situations where mediation was necessary; which when implemented was found to be effective. God called upon Moses to be a mediator between Pharaoh and the children of Israel (Exodus 6:28-12:32). His task was to negotiate the terms of a peace treaty between hostile parties. Joab was also called upon to mediate between David and Absalom, who were at odds with each other (2 Samuel 14:1-24).
The classic example of how to effectively mediate a problem is expressed in Matthew 18:15-17. In this passage Christ offers clear instructions regarding persons involved in conflicts. He posits:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
This passage presents some simple, yet vital steps that will be valuable in mediating conflicts in our churches. (1) Inform the person, (2) Do it privately and confidentially, (3) Seek to reconcile differences, (4) Take a mediator or two with you, (5) Tell the church, and (6) If no workable agreement let the person be as a heathen.
The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews introduces us to the greatest mediator that has ever lived. The author introduces us to Jesus the Supreme Mediator of a better covenant established upon better promises (8:6, 9:15, 12:24). The writer argues that while Moses was seen as a great mediator, Jesus’ mediatorial work, while accomplishing all that Moses did was more effective and superior to that of the faithful patriarch. These examples by no means exhaust the numerous accounts of biblical mediation. Additionally, much has been written on the subject of mediation in the scholarly world and from these we can glean vital guidelines that reinforce that which Scripture teaches and is quite helpful for elders and leaders of our local churches.
MEDIATION IN TODAY’S WORLD
From careful examination of pertinent sources, it is apparent that mediation is not a new or ineffective concept. In fact, it is used quite effectively in legal circles to bring resolution to difficult matters, and over 85% of all mediation results in settlement.2 According to Allan Stitt, “mediation is, simply, facilitated negotiation. A mediator attempts to help people negotiate more effectively and efficiently than they could do on their own.”3 In doing this, they employ several steps in an effort to reach a satisfactory resolution of an issue: (1) Agree to mediate; (2) Gather points of views; (3) Focus on interests; (4) Create win-win options; (5) Evaluate options; (6) Create an agreement.4
Step 1: Agree to mediate: It has been said in conflict resolution that a great beginning will guarantee a fantastic ending, so in agreeing to mediate, parties need to be properly introduced, and a clear definition of mediation is given. The role of the mediator (to help disputants arrive at their own solutions to their problems) is clearly stated. The mediator remains neutral and must not take sides, and thus he/she takes turns talking and listening, and helps the parties cooperate in solving the problem in a private environment.
Step 2: Gather points of views: At this stage an explanation of the nature and extent of the problem is given by each disputant. The mediator, to ensure clarity and accuracy, summarizes the points of views of each disputant. While this is being done, the feelings and concerns of each disputant are validated by the mediator, which builds trust and aids in constructive dialogue about the problem.
Step 3: Focus on interests: In this very important step, the mediator guides the disputants in identifying their underlying interests. They are later asked what they want and why they want it in an effort to ascertain their position and interests. Shared interests and compatibilities are recognized, which aids in fashioning feasible resolutions.
Step 4: Create win-win options: This step involves brainstorming and inventing options upon which both sides can build and choose the next-step of the process. The interests of both parties in the dispute are addressed; no at tempt is made to come up with one solution. Instead, the disputants come up with as many ideas as possible, including unusual ones and just about anything that comes to mind. The mediator will assist by asking relevant questions such as, “What other possibilities can you think of? In the future, what could you do differently?”5 Disputants are encouraged to write down their ideas in an effort to stimulate other ideas and aid in the resolution process.
Step 5: Evaluate options: At this point disputants are asked to choose the best option from their list that they assume are fair and workable for the parties involved. The aim is to help disputants cooperatively work at evaluating and improving the options circled. The mediator’s role at this stage is to find out whether the disputants believe the options are fair, doable, workable, whether they address the needs of all affected parties and what would be the consequences of deciding on those chosen.
Step 6: Create an agreement: This stage can be seen as the action stage as each disputant is asked to come up with a plan of action and to check that it is balanced, specific, realistic, lasting, and fair. Once this is done, the mediator seeks clarifications of the plan (who, what, when, where and how questions are asked) and finalizes the commitment, which could be a handshake, a written agreement, or both. Congratulations are then given to the disputants and the mediator encourages them to return if further mediation is necessary.
While conflicts are an inevitable part of church life, we can learn to resolve differences in a Christ-like and civil manner. When we are educated about conflicts and how to effectively mediate, we will be able to prevent many of the bitterness and resentment that result from unresolved conflicts, and thus rescue a soul from the way that leads to death. Elders and leaders of the local church will be more effective in ministering in their varied capacities if they are instructed on simple mediation techniques. Understanding conflict resolution and the importance of mediation from a biblical and contemporary perspective will help church leaders be better mediators when settling differences in the church.
Desmond C. Haye (M.Div., Andrews University) is an itinerant speaker, writer and Health Educator. Stacey-Ann Haye is a MSW candidate at Andrews University. Desmond and Stacey-Ann reside in Berrien Springs, Michigan, U.S.A.
1 Keith Tracy, Biblical Mediation [online], Available from http://www. keithtracy.com/biblicalmediation, December 14, 2010.
2 Michael Roberts, Why Mediation Works [online], Available from http://mediate.com/pfriendly.cfm?id=294, December 19, 2010.
3 Allan Stitt, Mediation: A Practical Guide (Oregon: Cavendish Publishing Ltd., 2004), 1.
4 Fred Schrumpf, Donna K. Crawford, and Richard J. Bodine, Peer Mediation: Conflict Resolution in Schools: Program Guide (Illinois: Research Press, 1997), 50.
5 Ibid., 52.