In introducing the subject of “Preaching About Conflict in the Local Church” William Willimon quotes Speed Leas & Paul Kittlaus to identify three ways in which conflict is experienced:
- Intrapersonal conflict: the contest that one has when different parts of the self compete with one another. I want to be a beloved pastor, but I also want to be a preacher who speaks the truth.
- Interpersonal conflict: personality differences between people that are not related primarily to issues. I like to think of myself as a strong, independent person but my administrative board chairperson treats me like an incompetent who must be told what to do.
- Substantive conflict: disputes over facts, values, goals, and beliefs. I think we ought to put a new roof on the church but the social concerns committee wants to open a clothes closet for the poor. (p. 10-11)
Willimon notes that it is important to identify which type of conflict confronts us “because different methods are appropriate for solving different kinds of conflict. Intrapersonal and interpersonal conflict, because they tend to be deeply personal and individual, can best be handled in counseling, therapy, personal confrontation or other individualized and personal means rather than through the more public forum of the pulpit.” (p. 11)
As I am reading this book today, it is helpful because simply the issue of whether or not and WHEN an issue creating conflict should be addressed from the pulpit is an extremely nuanced one. Avoidance is not helpful, but neither is attacking it with a sledge hammer. Even the right sermon can be wrong if it is at the wrong time.
For me, this is not an academic exercise. It takes (and will take) much prayer and introspection.