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Transforming Church Conflict: Compassionate Leadership in Action Paperback – April 12, 2013
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About the Author
Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger is the Charlotte W. Newcombe Professor of Pastoral Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. An ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), she is the author or editor of several books, including Pray without Ceasing: Revitalizing Pastoral Care.
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1) From Criticisms to Opportunities for Greater Understanding;
2) From Disengagement to Dialogue;
3) From Hurting to Healing;
4) From Dismissive to Meaningful Expressing of Oneself;
5) From Nonchalance to Compassion for People;
6) From Anger to Healthy Application of Such Emotions;
7) From a Distant Observer to a Mediating Brother;
8) From Indifference to Authenticity.
The core approach in the entire book is based on the NVC model: Observation; Feeling; Need; Request. These four need to be cognitively understood and internalized. Approach conflict with a desire to learn about others and ourselves. Address meaningless violence with meaningful reconciliation. Through honesty and compassion, boldness and creative communications, we can experience more hope and joy as conflicts are transformed into opportunities for growing in greater understanding. The three broad strokes of the book can be summarized as: 1) Identifying feelings in "concrete, practical, and accessible terms"; 2) Understanding the underlying needs in various parties; 3) Developing effective communications.
I am amazed by the depth of coverage with regards to understanding emotions. The NVC cycle is indeed a powerful tool that looks simple at first, but challenging in practice. Challenging not because of the theoretical concepts, but in terms of the willingness of individuals and groups to adopt it. Theory is one thing. Practice is another. Thus, the authors place special emphasis on making sure that the concepts are well supported by practical tips and steps. I appreciate the way the authors have structured the book, beginning with listening, progressing toward feelings, connecting feelings with needs, and eventually self-expression. A curious thing is the title which is only covered explicitly in the final chapter. Readers may wonder why. I believe the authors have intentionally delayed their prescription for "Transforming Church Conflict" by addressing individuals first. That is a very profound understanding of what Church means. Church is about the "Ekklesia" the called out people of God. The people of God are made of individuals. Christ loved and died for individuals. Each of us needs to establish that relationship with Christ first, and from that relationship, build that on the Church, the people of God, the body of Christ. By spending considerable time on helping individuals discover themselves, and to relate to one another, the groundwork for reconciliation and restoration would have been done. Readers will realize that after reading nine chapters into the book, they will be so familiar with the terminology and concepts of the NVC compassionate communications, that they will not be distracted by the details of the conflicts, but to listen to the underlying feelings and needs.
Let me give three reasons why you should read this book.
First, conflict is way too common to avoid or ignore. We need more solutions rather than merely identifying problems. Thus, any resource that contributes more solutions than problems are to be welcomed. This book provides the NVC resource to help churches deal with any conflict, mainly because all conflicts are relational.
Second, conflicts are more often a relational problem rather than a material problem. Many disagreements arise not out of the disagreement per se, but a lack of attentive listening to one another. Without accurate connections of feelings to needs, one cannot resolve anything. Worse, if one has unmet needs and is unable to recognize their own needs in the first place, the problem only increases exponentially.
Thirdly, knowing conflicts will happen only in a matter of time, what better way than to show the world that believers can strongly disagree but still beat as one united body. Didn't Christ say that if we love one another, all people will know that we are his disciples? It is one thing to disagree. It is yet another to disagree and speak the truth in love, knowing that the disagreement is not going to change the love. It is only an opportunity to learn more about each other.
I highly recommend this resource for all leaders and people interested in the well-being of self, people, and their communities. As I read the book learning about how churches and people can transform conflicts into meaningful connections, I find myself being challenged to be a better listener, to learn to connect feelings to needs, and to remember that God's love compels me to be an agent of transformation, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Rating: 5 stars of 5.
This book is provided to me free by Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
Deborah Van Deusen Hunsinger and Theresa F. Latini address an important issue in their book Transforming Church Conflict. They look at what it means to work with people and to deal with the predictable conflict that comes about on a daily basis. This book has a great number of useful points that readers should consider. For instance, church leaders should always attempt to transform conflict into something useful rather than transfer it onto someone else. Additionally, I agree with their position that we should try to understand another person’s position before attempting to correct the problem. They explain how to do this all with great sensitivity and compassion. That said, I think that this would be an excellent book for leaders of a women’s group, provided they weren’t operating in a church.
The book seems to rely heavily on modern psychotherapy principles (not to be confused with true psychological principles). There then seems to be a smattering of spiritualism, Eastern philosophy, and emerging church approaches that make this book suspect at best. While there is certainly the occasional verse thrown in giving the book a Christian feel, most of these references seem to be more thematic than illustrative in nature. Additionally, some of the examples seem to be, if not out of context, slanted to prove the point the authors are trying to make in that section of the book.
In the end, the book comes across as well-meaning and gentle-spirited, but its theology, and therefore its basis, seems either convoluted or manipulated. The writers are clearly literate and well-educated women that have an honest and heart-felt concern for the women around them, but this book needs a little less C.G. Jung and Siddhartha and a lot more C.S. Lewis and Saul of Tarsus. In a world where the popular theory is to just "coexist", this book is a solid example of social "tolerance" and compromise; but then again, we saw what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego thought about compromise.
Trent Nicholson, Ph.D., D.Min.
Desert Bible Institute, President
Dr. Nicholson reviews academic, Christian living, and fiction books for a variety of publishers in an array of formats. He is never paid for any of his reviews. He writes these strictly as a courtesy to his students at Desert Bible Institute and for any other readers that might find his insights valuable. For more reviews or information, visit Dr. Nicholson’s blog at drtnicholson.wordpress.com.