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Twelve Conciliation Responses
Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.
- How do you respond to conflict? How do others respond to conflict? Sometimes one can
never really tell. However, many have a preferred set of responses. These may be healthy
- A brochure from the Peacemaker Ministries entitled, The Peacemaker: Responding to
Conflict Biblically describes twelve conciliation responses in four different
classifications. The following discussion is an elaborate expansion and application of
these twelve conciliation categories.
- Healthy Conciliation Responses
- Healthy responses are those which invite and encourage reconciliation. Healthy responses
include the following.
- Type I: Personal "One-On-One" Approaches
- 1. Overlooking the unimportant and inconsequential.
- Some disputes can simply be avoided. Such disputes include those matters which are
inconsequential. Matters which are unimportant are those which do not affect the big
picture. They do not detract from the vision. Nor do they impede the work at hand nor do
they harm the relationship.
- When unhealthy, this response is a form of denial. When healthy, this response simply
recognizes that no one is perfect. It is based on the exhortation of Proverbs 19:11.
"A man's wisdom give him patience; it is to his glory to
overlook an offence."
- 2. Discussion
- The next level of conciliation is going directly to the "brother who sins against
you" (Matthew 18:15). Those items which cannot simply be overlooked without harboring
bitterness or without somehow detracting from the mission or relationship must be
addressed lovingly by those who "are spiritual" (Galatians 6:1). Conciliatory
discussion is best used for addressing personal wrongs.
- 3. Negotiation
- This conciliation approach is often best used with substantive issues. Issues related
to money, property, congregational decisions, rights of parties and individuals, means of
implementing decisions, and other important issues is best accomplished by encouraging
negotiation. Often most effective in lower levels of conflict (e.g. Lea's Level I-II),
this method of conciliation seeks to meet the interests of those involved in the dispute.
- Type II: Assisted Peacemaking Conciliatory Approaches
- At higher levels of conflict (e.g. Lea's Level II-IV), the following may be necessary
means of conciliation.
- 4. Mediation
- Following the directive of the Lord, mediation is the application of Matthew 18:16,
"If he will not listen, take one or two along." "If he will not
listen" is the Lord's recognition that the level of conflict in this form of
conciliation has increased.
- Mediators who have no vested interest in the conflict usually assist in this level of
conciliation. They do not, however, solve the problem. Instead, mediators help direct the
conciliation process and identify interests which can help highlight areas of possible
agreement. These areas of agreement, even though small, can be significant stepping stones
to achieve conciliation in larger areas of disagreement.
- Of course, as the level of conflict increases, so does the potential for fallout when
mediation is ineffective. Mediation tends not to be effective once the level IV conflict
level threshold has been passed.
- 5. Arbitration
- Generally used in levels of conflict at level IV, arbitration is the biblical
application of I Corinthians 6:1-9. "If you have disputes...appoint judges...."
At level IV, voluntary conciliation is generally impossible to realize. Thus arbitration
is used to decide significant substantive issues between opposing--and perhaps
- Arbitration often seeks to reduce the level of conflict to a lower level (e.g. Level
III) so that the parties can work out their own solutions at the mediation level. If such
is not possible, arbitration resolves conflict by means of imposing a binding decision for
all involved in the conflict.
- 6. Church Discipline
- Though church discipline in a broader sense is carried out on a daily basis in the
ministry of the church as part of the normal oversight of congregational life and
individual concern for members, conciliatory church discipline is the specific application
of Matthew 18:17. "If he refuses to listen... tell it to the church."
- Obviously conciliatory church discipline is the final, unfortunate result of
multitudinous failed attempts with lower levels of conciliation. Usually carried out
properly only as a last resort in high level conflict (Level IV or V), those exercising
church discipline must always "watch themselves lest they be tempted" (Galatians
- Moreover, those carrying out conciliatory church discipline must remember that
scriptural conciliatory church discipline always puts the ones doing the discipline in
"Prodigal Son" mode. That is, as the loving father patiently longed for and
celebrated the return of his rebellious son, so the church must long for and celebrate the
repentance of one who had been so severely disciplined for a respectively severe offense.
- Conciliatory church discipline is always a last resort and is exercised only in rare
circumstances with the consent of the church. Exercised prematurely, church discipline can
quickly ignite virtually irreconcilable conflicts and aggravate a lower level conflict to
a nearly uncontrollable level (e.g. Level IV or V).
- Generally the offense requiring conciliatory discipline are those which are obvious
public, moral sins which detract from the witness of the congregation and those of a
doctrinal nature. Unfortunately, relationships and alliances can make it difficult to
carry out except in the most blatantly in violation of Scripture.
- Conciliatory church discipline, even when carried out in the most compassionate
Christian manner possible, almost always has a price tag of members, money, or leadership
credibility. However, failure to carry it out when necessary may have the same price tag.
- There is no choice as to whether a price will be paid at this level. There will be
losses. Leaders considering this form of discipline must, therefore, select which losses
they will incur and move forward patiently, prayerfully, deliberately, and
- Unhealthy Conciliation Responses
- Unhealthy responses are those which result from unsuccessful attempts at healthy
negotiation or neglecting the use of them. Sometimes what had been initiated as a healthy
means of conciliation becomes the proverbial octopus on roller skates. Having lost its
healthy and constructive direction, momentum and control, unhealthy responses result.
- There is a very slippery slope between healthy and unhealthy means of conciliation. The
potential for breakdown is virtually always present. Emotions such as fear, anger, hatred,
distrust, impatience, etc. can sabotage healthy conciliation at nearly every moment
healthy conciliation occurs.
- Knowing the unhealthy excesses toward which unhealthy conciliation can lead may assist
the prudent reconciler by providing necessary insight to keep things "on track."
- Type III: Escape Responses
- Escape responses curtail attempts for reconciliation. They resist appropriate closure
and defy normal healthy means and mechanisms for healthy conciliation. Often those who
utilize escape responses do so as part of a recurring pattern in their personal and public
- Escape responses are often driven by merited or unmerited feelings of fear and distrust.
Authority figures are frequent foci of escapists. The unwillingness of escapists to deal
directly with the issues and interests at hand can cause untold frustration for pastors,
leaders and congregations.
- The one thing escapists always leave behind, however, is a vacuum of confusion,
bewilderment and amazement which gives way to various manifestations of guilt-giving and
guilt-taking. On a spiritual level it is their unwillingness to access the grace of Jesus
Christ which causes the greatest grief for conscientious Christian leaders.
- Often the greater the concern a leader has shown to the escaping party, the greater the
leader's level of unwarranted guilt. Recovery from these projected guilt feelings can be
slow, painful and heart-wrenching. Indeed, it often results in the tears of ministry and
the heart-wrenching feeling of betrayal.
- 7. Denial
- Denial is simply pretending a problem does not exist. Individuals in denial may appear
uneasy, strangely distant or somehow "different" or uncomfortable in situations
in which they were formerly much at ease.
- Even when gently and care-fully confronted, those in denial will not respond to
invitations to share their feelings. "There's nothing wrong," "I'm
OK," "quickly changing the topic at hand," or other responses of shallow
agreement are often used. However, such indirectness is simply intended to prevent further
efforts at conciliation.
- One of the most powerfully disconcerting things about all escapist responses is that
they prevent normal, healthy closure. Loss of significant relationships and expectations
are always difficult. They are made more difficult when the grief involves an lack of
- The suddenness of the unexpected abandonment may exponentially escalate
"normal" levels of grief responses. Resultantly, those who have been abandoned
experience often experience unparalleled and extreme levels of anger, guilt, shock,
bewilderment, and abandonment. These feelings are escalated when allies, friends,
supporters and associates of those who have escaped take up the cause of the escaper and
engage in attack responses.
- Attempts to "break through" the barrier of denial are often fruitless.
Sometimes the best approach is simply to "be available" and patiently wait for
weeks or longer for a time when those in denial are willing to talk. Sometimes such
opportunities never come. This can be most troubling when trusted leaders engage in denial
with other leaders. For further insight see Ministry
Health's helpful article entitled, When Trusted Leaders Become Troubled.
- 8. Flight
- In substantive issues of greater significance flight is a common escape response. Escape
is painful for the abandoned party because it is used to suddenly and inexplicably
terminate especially significant and meaningful relationships, alliances, memberships,
- Flight is most commonly used to avoid a proper solution to the situation(s) at
hand. Mottoes of "flighters" include "Don't talk, don't trust, don't feel,"
"I regret my words more than my silences," "I can't bring myself to say I'm
sorry," "I'm afraid of meeting face-to-face," "What good will it
- Those accustomed to utilizing flight responses do so for numerous reasons.
- * First, they choose this response because they are unable or unwilling to face the
difficulties of working through the intense feelings of caring, concern, guilt and
- * Second, they flee because they are overwhelmed by fear. Lacking the necessary
confidence and self-esteem to engage in a conciliatory process, their fear of rejection,
failure, ridicule and/or lack of control moves them to exercise the flight option.
- * Pain avoidance is a third reason this option is utilized. Some individuals will do
anything possible to avoid, circumvent or shut-off pain. Since the immediate pain of
fleeing is perceived less than the pain of conciliation, the flight option is exercised.
- Flight can serve to mask various secrets or personal issues. "Flighters" may
turn to addictive behaviors to mask the pain. Regardless of the means used to mask the
pain, avoiding short-term pain increases the agony of long-term pain. Repression or
projection of these pain feelings are major characteristics of Adult Children of
- * A fourth reason is that they are unable to see the broad "gray" areas of
healthy conciliation. "Either/Or" supercedes the possibility of
"both/and." Driven by a "shame base" they flee to the only options
they can know and deal with: the "black or white" option.
- Antagonists and passive-aggressive may use this unhealthy flight response in precisely
measured portions resulting in an "attack-withdrawal" phenomenon. Also described
as a "hit and run" strategy, individuals using the flight response can, in their
flight, leave all kinds of confusion in behind in the form of gossip, misrepresentations,
lies, hurtful letters, misinformed groups who may continue their attack in absentia
against the "enemy," etc. Though gone, they can be sure that their presence will
be felt for a long, long time.
- The flight response can also happen when members "back off" and "recede
into the background." Though they have not physically and officially removed
themselves from the organization, their activity levels, demeanor and interactions with
others are all dominated by flight response-related behaviors. Indirectness,
avoidance, friendly facades, and creating distance or space between themselves and others
can continue indefinitely. Sometimes it is lifelong.
- Attempts made even after years of focusing on preparing a readiness for conciliation are
often unfruitful. Attempts to invite them to conciliation are often met with being
shut-out, turn-off, ignored, patronized, or even kicked out.
- Once flight responses have been used, the likelihood of genuine conciliative processes
occurring are generally quite low. Despite their responses, the Christian leader must
continue to minister out of strength of character in love, compassion and readiness to
minister to them as they may have need.
- One further word regarding flight responses is appropriate. Not all flight is unhealthy.
Flight in the case of self-defense or other extreme circumstances is the best response
- 9. Suicide
- The ultimate escape response is suicide. It is ultimate because it projects the greatest
guilt on the survivors, a guilt that can last the rest of their lives. It is ultimate
because it totally prevents any possibility of conciliation. It is ultimate because it is
- Suicide is ultimate because suicide is the most destructive of the escape responses. It
is ultimate because it marks the end of every hope of resolving conflict. It is ultimate
because it has no hope for the future, no hope for exchange of forgiveness, no hope for
initiating a mutual process of growth and renewal after conciliation has been achieved.
- Thankfully, suicide is a relatively rare escape response in ecclesiastical politics. It
is, nonetheless, not to be underestimated. However, a not-so-rare phenomenon is career
suicide. Career suicide is a means of escape by which individuals intentionally shipwreck
their ministries, their credibility, and their leadership.
- Seeking a way to justify their desire to leave their ministries, they will response by
committing actions which have inescapable career consequences. Career suicide has been
committed by pastors and Christian leaders of every denomination, of every level of
giftedness, and in virtually every ministry of the church. Their cry for help unheeded,
they deal with conflict in this most unhealthy manner.
- Type IV: Attack Responses
- Whereas Type III Escape responses are largely passive responses to conflict, Type IV
Attack responses are both active and aggressive. Type IV responses are driven to a greater
interest in winning, overcoming, and defeating rather than achieving resolution.
- Attack responses are driven by the same degree and intensity that escape responses
demonstrate. Instead of using that energy to escape from conflict, attack responses direct
that energy toward annihilation of the conflict by sheer force. Note that in this respect
Escape responses and Attack responses are similar. They both have as their final goal the
elimination and avoidance of conflict.
- 10. Litigation
- Litigation is characteristic means of conciliation in higher levels of conflict (e.g.
Level IV-V). Described in Romans 13:1-5, litigation often happens after relationships have
been destroyed and large-scale damage has been incurred. Jesus' admonition to settle
things out of court (Matthew 5:25-26) is, among other things, an injunction to settle
things before they escalate and get out of hand. If a court has to coerce a settlement, it
is highly unlikely that genuine conciliation and forgiveness can be exchanged in a
- 11. Assault
- Physical violence is a key characteristic of Level V conflict. However, other forms of
assault can occur at lower levels of conflict. Such forms might include slander, libel,
verbal attacks, harming the professional reputation of others, damaging another
financially, etc. The intent of assault is to overcome the opposition by intimidation,
coercion, or attack. The attacks are vicious and often cause things to become unbearable
for the target of the attacks.
- 12. Murder
- In the most desperate situations, individuals may resort to murder. Though physical
murder is rarely heard of among churches, the murderous hateful words are plenteous. These
murderous words help perpetuate the conflict. Indeed, as long as the feelings of hatred,
spite, anger, jealousy, etc persist, the individual harboring such feelings will not be
able to engage in fruitful conciliation efforts.
- What Can You Do?
- Recognition of the twelve possible responses--six healthy and six unhealthy--can help
clarify how people respond to conflicts. Conflict theorist note that everyone has a
preferred style of conflict resolution which is generally set at age sixteen. Without
training and further insights, individuals will persist in the use of this specific
pattern for the rest of their lives. This means that pastors and church leaders must
consider several things.
- 1) First, they must know their own preferred conciliation styles. Are your styles
healthy or unhealthy? Do you tend to avoid conflict or crush it? Or are you able to engage
and direct conflict toward a constructive, peaceable resolution?
- 2) Second, pastors and church leaders must be aware of other's styles, too. Since people
tend to be consistent watching how individuals deal with conflicts in other areas of their
life may give valuable insights and hints as to their preferred response under pressure.
- 3) Third, pastors and church leaders must respect the role of stress responses in their
and other's conflict responses. What one sees in time of equilibrium may not be anything
like what one will get during anxious, stressful situations.
- 4) Whatever response is received--healthy or unhealthy--insofar as it is possible and
depends on them (cf. Romans 12:25), pastors and church leaders must continually direct
efforts toward healthy conciliation. The results may be frustrating. However, to
"give up" is unbefitting of the character of a Christian leader who must seek
every reasonable opportunity for conciliation.
- 5) Unhealthy conciliation responses are most frustrating precisely because they are
unhealthy and dysfunctional. Those at the receiving end of such responses will undoubtedly
experience the pain of the un-health first-hand. It can traumatize the recipient. The
process of working through these responses can be painfully intense. Resist the urge to
shut off the feelings. Feel the pain. Work through it. Let's God's grace restore and renew
your soul. If you don't, you risk assimilating the same types of unhealthy conciliation
responses those who hurt you used against you.
- 6) Given at least twelve different conciliation responses, given that half of them are
unhealthy, and given that we live in a dysfunctional world plagued by original sin, it
follows that conciliation will not always be successful. Inevitable conflicts will almost
inevitably disrupt, pain, anger and hurt us and others.
- 7) Since so many of these dynamics are out of your control, you must not take these
situations more personally than they merit. It's not all your fault. It's not all in your
control. Learn to let these things go. Repent of what you must, learn what you need, and
boldly move forward in the gracious and totally renewing forgiveness of Christ.
- 8) Remember, there are always two-sides to conflict. On the one hand is pain and the
potential for damage and destruction. On the other hand, conflict is opportunity. During
conflict always pray without ceasing that God, whose wisdom is beyond all knowing and His
paths beyond tracing out, is in control. Trust Him to accomplish through the conflict what
you can't see, can't imagine, can't understand, can't conceive of, and can't visualize.
- 9) Hang in there. Giving up at the wrong time is just another unhealthy escape
mechanism. Congregational health cannot be humanly achieved if we respond to the
opportunities which God can create through the pain of conflict with unhealthy responses
which proliferate the conflict. Your response to the conflict can help shape the future of
the congregation--will it continue to proliferate unhealthy conflict or will it begin
utilizing healthy, scriptural means of conciliation.
- Finally, Remember St. Paul's Word
- Paul's words to the Romans in chapter twelve are always helpful for dealing
"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace
with everyone." (Romans 12:18 NIV).
- Note that Paul teaches the Romans that sometimes conciliation is not possible no matter
how hard one tries. Conflict resolution is not totally dependent on you. Others will
engage in unhealthy responses. That, however, does not mitigate that fact that you are to
live at peace with everyone...including the offending and the irreconcilable. Don't take
revenge. Leave that to God.
"On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is
thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his
head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21 NIV).
- Conflict can be a healthy experience. It can result in the most memorable and rewarding
experiences of your ministry. Study and learn the various conflict responses. Recognize
opportunities to use these opportunities for the betterment of the Kingdom. Finally, ;et
God make it such by "living at peace with everyone...overcoming evil with good."
- Thomas F. Fischer
* For copies of the outstanding "The Peacemaker"
brochure referred to above or for further information or for a catalog of related
materials contact Peacemaker Ministries via email at firstname.lastname@example.org , by mail at 1537 Avenue D., Ste. 352,
USA 59102, or by phone: 1-406-256-1583 (Fax: 1-406-256-0001)
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:02:35 PM