- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (February 28, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1566993822
- ISBN-13: 978-1566993821
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,021,004 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Promise and Peril: Understanding and Managing Change and Conflict in Congregations Paperback – February 28, 2009
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"Maybe You Should Talk to Someone" by Lori Gottlieb
"This is a daring, delightful, and transformative book." ―Arianna Huffington, Founder, Huffington Post Learn more
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Church conflict hurts. Conflict can be mean-spirited and devastating. But it doesn't have to be. David Brubaker demonstrates that conflict can be redeemed and even bring positive growth. He gives insight into understanding the nature of conflict, explains how to manage it, and provides strategies for preventing it from becoming destructive. All church leaders should read this book! --Rick Lemberg, Pastor, Sierra Vista Presbyterian Church, Oakhurst, California
Does change lead to conflict in congregations? David Brubaker uses creative, original research to explore this question, and his answer is surprising: change matters, but not all kinds of change. Which kinds of change matter most? You will have to read Promise and Peril to find out, and those who want to better understand congregational conflict will be glad they did. --Mark Chaves, Professor of Sociology, Religion, and Divinity, Duke University, and author of Congregations in America
Change need not cause conflict! This book helps us understand their dynamic relationship in congregations. Through the careful research and compelling examples David Brubaker offers, readers can relate to their own situation without being given a one-solution-fits-all technique. Read this book to discover the importance of decision-making structures and insightful leadership. --Norma Cook Everist, Professor of Church and Ministry, Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa
About the Author
David Brubaker is Associate Professor of Organizational Studies in the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University and a consultant with Congregational Consulting (http://www.congregationalconsulting.org/). He has more than 25 years of experience in workplace mediation, training, and organizational and congregational consulting. David is the author of numerous articles and chapters on conflict transformation, as well as the book Promise and Peril: Understanding and Managing Change and Conflict in Congregations. He earned a BS in business administration from Messiah College, an MBA from Eastern University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona, where he specialized in religion and organizations.
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Draft Review by Darren Cronshaw (a version of which may appear soon in a journal)
Change in churches is essential for our 21st century context, but change often causes conflict so it is worth treading carefully. There are plenty of books around that trumpet the need for change, that suggest strategies for managing change or that tell the story of one church changing. What is unique about Promise and Peril is that its recommendations draw on David Brubaker's consulting experience and reflections on change but especially his research of conflict and change in 100 congregations in addition to.
Brubaker is an experienced mediator and congregational consultant and teaches as Associate Professor or Organizational Studies in the Centre for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. Promise and Peril is a very readable rewrite of his doctoral research. It is a model practical theology research project using quantitative methods. Brubaker draws helpfully on organizational sociology, systems theory, leadership and conflict management. The book is worth it just for its literature review value. But its best value is analysing what is actually happening with change and conflict. Brubaker found that not all change causes conflict, and the conflict from well-managed change is less destructive. That sounds like common sense, but his findings and related suggestions are most insightful. And they are important, as he estimates 10% of congregations are embroiled in significant conflict in any one year which is costly from many angles.
* The most conflict over change comes from changing worship (e.g. adding a service or changing music style) or decision-making (e.g. moving from committees to empowered teams). Most pastors would accept this from experience with "worship wars" and power struggles. These changes disrupt the rituals and culture of a congregation, and are central to how a church views itself, and so need to be undertaken very carefully. We need to understand the power and ritual issues that underlie most congregational conflicts (even those that are labelled about leadership, music, theology, personalities or money).
* Changes in fellowship patterns, such as adult education or small groups, were also likely to lead to conflict, but not as much as decision-making or worship changes.
* New buildings create less conflict, perhaps because they tend to be managed carefully with carefully planned process and rituals.
* Conflict is often connected to changes in pastoral staff, often leading to pastors leaving.
* Size transitions also did not significantly correlate with conflict, although significant growth and especially significant decline did correlate with conflict.
* Adding community projects rarely led to conflict, and in fact made conflict less likely! So a church seeking to "be church" for their community is less likely to experience conflict than churches tinkering with their internal dynamics. They are being more true to their mission but not having to fight about it.
* Churches that add a service, change fellowship patterns or initiate community projects are more likely to grow, so change can be worth the conflict.
* Friedman's family systems theory is more useful in small congregations. For example, look for an "identified patient" in whom a system's pathology surfaces. A leader may act badly, just as a teenager may rebel, as a symptom of a poor system as much as their own individual neurosis.
* Drawing on Friedman and Steinke, congregations are interconnected emotional systems and one of the best things the pastor as leader can do is to be calm yet courageous with change and conflict - and not to back away once the change has been initiated and initially there may be some decline. "The ability of leadership to stay nonanxious and connected to others in the system is the primary determinant of the system's ability to weather a restructuring crisis and emerge healthier" (p.47). Anxious and nondifferentiated pastors are a train-wreck looking to happen.
As mentioned, size transitions do not necessarily lead to conflict, but as churches change size they may need to change their decision-making approach, and this will cause conflict (but not changing will also cause conflict.)
Brubaker suggests these size categories:
* Family size, up to 75 active attendees, where the pastor functions as chaplain and decision-making rests with a matriarch or patriarch "church boss".
* Pastoral size, 76-200 attendees, where the pastor and board is at the centre.
* The transition is toughest growing to the program size church, 201-400 attendees, with two services and the pastor functioning as manager, with decisions made by board and staff. The accepted wisdom is that structure and culture need to change for growth beyond 200 to occur.
* The corporate size, 401-2000 atendees, has multiple congregations and the pastor functions centrally as CEO.
* The megasize, 2000+, and as for corporate size churches, decision-making often reverts to the lead pastor, albeit delegated to key staff and the board.
Smaller family-sized congregations were the least likely to be growing and the last likely to be conflicted, whereas corporate sized churches are most likely to be growing and conflicted.
Two things interested me about worship. Firstly, Brubaker cites Shane Hipps' analysis of the digital age and worship. Hipps says traditional worship suits linear, left-brain individualistic worship, but a postmodern digital age calls for more circular, right-brain and "tribalistic" approaches to worship. When worship moves in that direction, conflict is not just about style preferences but worldview clashes, but grappling with worldview changes is essential if churches are to connect with emerging generations. Secondly, Brubaker explains the current reality of congregational life in the West which is centred around worship services: "The claim that worship is the primary focus of congregations will find little debate" (p.56). However, part of the emerging missional church (EMC) conversation is about restructuring around mission rather than Sunday worship. Some churches are intentionally seeking to change from a Sunday gathered worship-centred "come to us" framework to a scattered mission-shaped "go to them" impulse. Their call for change is paradigmatic. EMCs often need to learn the sort of change principles Brubaker explores.
Brubaker urges pastors to develop skills as change agents and conflict managers, areas worth noting by theological colleges. Change and successful conflict-management is not all about leaders, but leadership is a key role. Part of leadership is developing a supportive coalition of change agents. Brubaker concludes, "Congregational leaders who want to change their congregations all by themselves will find to their surprise that congregational culture is far stronger than are they" (p.126).
Helpfully, the book reminded me that good leaders are self-aware, know their context and invite disagreement, nether being too authoritarian nor too hesitant to share convictions; "Healthy leaders communicate their own preferences; they also invite other congregational members to share theirs" (p.87). Healthy groups realise they can disagree and still move forward, and are transparent about where power is held and seek to distribute it as widely as possible.
If you only read one chapter of Promise and Peril, chapter 5 is the best. It summarises the change literature which suggests that churches need:
* Perception of an urgent, life-threatening need to change (such as connecting with our postmodern, multicultural world)
* Not just one person but a broad supporting coalition
* Communication and participation in shaping proposed changes
Brubaker summarises levels of conflict, and suggests that the prospect of change and the fear that this will lead to conflict is also part of what confronts change efforts and sparks conflict. And he starts to develop more of a theology of change. He interacts, for example, with Richard McCorry's Dancing with Change and his use of Scripture, ritual and tradition as resources for change. In communion or at Easter we celebrate the transformation that is at the heart of Christianity "Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again", a transition shared by churches that change. They must recognise the old is dying, something new is taking place, but in the meantime there is a dark and difficult transition zone where we need to work through our anxiety and resistance.
Brubaker goes beyond the rhetoric of "we need to change" as in books that inspire us about the urgency of action, and instead goes deeper into wisdom of how to act with good process and theological resources. He does not back away from the need to change, but argues forcefully that the costs need to be considered and when conflict is likely the change processes need to be undertaken very carefully; "major change is too costly, too anxiety producing, and too destabilizing to undergo unless it is truly necessary" (p.91). But ultimately he welcomes conflict. It is not something to avoid at all costs, but a necessary part of change, and may be "a time when we hear God's voice as we never had before" (p.109). The summary lesson for me as a pastor is "Don't change unthoughtfully, neither retreat from change too quickly and use the traditions and rituals of the church to foster change."
There are two significant directions needed for further research, to which Brubaker alludes. Firstly, similar studies analysing the links between conflict and change in other denominations and regions using Brubaker's tools for the sake of comparison, but perhaps talking to more than in informant - perhaps a pastor and a lay-leader, would be fruitful and check Brubaker's findings. I was thinking as I read it that a study of my denominational tribe the Baptist Union of Victorian churches would form a fascinating comparison.
Secondly, Brubaker's study offers some interesting snapshots but I would have loved to have been able to delve more into their details and dynamics. Brubaker suggests that qualitative research is needed especially for the nature of leadership skills required and implications for ministerial training and formation. But I also want to ask what can we learn about change and conflict from in-depth case studies? This reveals my bias for qualitative research, and prompts me to read for comparison what is a kind of qualitative equivalent to Brubaker's work - Jeffrey Pugh's, Fantasyland Faith- The Redemptive Role of Ethical Leaders within Neurotic Church Systems (VDM, 2007).
As a broad study of conflict and change based on actual church experiences, Promise and Paradox is a valuable resource for pastors and lay-leaders, church consultants and mediators, and theological lecturers and students.
(Rev Dr) Darren Cronshaw is an Australian Baptist pastor and teacher who serves as Coordinator of Leadership Training for the Baptist Union of Victoria and pastor at Auburn Baptist. His doctoral research at Whitley College into mission and innovation in emerging churches deals with the rhetoric and reality of change efforts, published as The Shaping of Things Now (VDM 2009).