Although the church is often regarded as the one place free of conflicts, all churches – beginning in Antioch – experience conflict. It is my belief, in accord with my certification by the Institute for Peacemaking and Reconciliation, that conflict is an opportunity to show what we really think about God and His promises.
Christians are admonished in 1 Corintians 6:1-11 to keep their disputes out of court. Similarly, courts are extremely reluctant to hear church-related disputes. Serbian E. Orthodox Diocese v. Milivojevich, 426 U.S. 696, 709 (1976) (courts must not “become entangled in essentially religious controversies or intervene on behalf of groups espousing particular doctrinal beliefs.”) At the same time, pastors and those formally involved in the church polity, often have personal reasons to recuse themselves from involvement, such as a conflict of interest. Finally, parties involved in a conflict at church may prefer to confide in an outside, third person.
Church mediation is designed to keep conflict between Christians private, away from the courthouse as much as practicable, and to reconcile the relationships using Scripture in much the same way secular mediation uses government laws, rules and regulations.
A church or ‘congregational’ mediator does not make decisions. Making decisions for the parties is the role of a trained arbitrator. A mediator is neutral, and everything said during mediation is confidential. Although I do not act as anyone’s attorney or give legal advice in a church mediation, my legal knowledge adds strength to confidentiality and the personal understanding of legal issues involved, if any. A mediator listens until everyone is understood. Everyone may be asked to account for any part in the conflict. Finally, and most important, the mediator returns all issues to Biblical principles. The goal of mediation is to bring believers in conflict together by their own accord, through their own decisions, and in their own, agreed and personally prayerful way.
An attorney trained in conflict resolution can bring Biblical order to the process. If one party has dominant power over another, the presence of an attorney can level the field. A neutral, third party’s involvement can avoid gossip, lift burdens, hold down tempers, be a reminder of church membership vows, and encourage accountability. A Christian attorney can also ensure confidentiality, help parties agree to rules of fundamental fairness, help them see their blind spots, and even assist the parties in drafting a written resolution.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18 A church mediator facilitates exploration of those possibilities.