Original Research - Practical Theology

Conflict resolution and reconciliation within congregations

Derek L. Oppenshaw, Malan Nel, Liebie Louw
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 74, No 2 | a4641 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v74i2.4641 | © 2018 Derek L. Oppenshaw, Malan Nel, Liebie Louw | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 08 May 2017 | Published: 06 September 2018

About the author(s)

Derek L. Oppenshaw, Department of Practical Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, South Africa
Malan Nel, Department of Practical Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, South Africa
Liebie Louw, Department of Statistics, University of Pretoria, South Africa


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Abstract

‘Being church’ in today’s world is frought with challenges to traditional practice and contemporaneous opportunities. These challenges, differences, dilemmas and paradoxes, when not handled effectively, have the propensity to escalate into and along a conflict continuum. Conflict can arise at any time within a congregation and needs to be understood and handled theologically. This article addresses some areas within congregations that attract or incubate conflict and provides an overview of related theory of conflict. The research explores current perceptions, understandings and behavioural responses to conflict, personal and corporate experiences and observed outcomes of conflict within congregations. The exploratory study reveals certain disconnects between individual and corporate practice. Congregations in general are biased towards conflict avoidance, peacekeeping and reconciliatory measures – frequently at the expense of long-term resolution. Attaining both resolution and reconciliation appears to be a luxury and not the natural outcome one may expect within Christian fellowship. The perception, understanding and views of most congregants are not aligned to good theological principles and practice. The resultant behaviour mostly observed within congregations does not lead to reconciliation and to a lesser extent resolution. Despite the seemingly high presence of conflict within congregations, no specified education on the understanding, appreciation and handling of conflict in commonly used discipleship resources or dedicated programme was found. The article concludes with a view towards a future praxis of discipleship and leadership, which incorporates the theological understanding and handling of conflict. Broader means of assisting congregations in or post conflict to recovery are also presented.

Keywords

Resolution; Reconciliation; Perception; Behaviour; Outcome

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