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Healing Conflict in Congregations: Four Times When Denominational Headquarters Can’t Help

When congregations are having problems they often turn to denominational headquarters for assistance. Often this is very helpful.

“Behind the Red Door” by L. Allen Brewer courtesy of Flicker Creative Commons

Sometimes unintentionally, denominational headquarters get in the way rather than helping to alleviate the problems. Here are some situations when an outside perspective might be helpful:

  1.  Conflict with the denominational office (diocese, presbytery, district etc.) is perceived as part of the problem or when a segment of the congregation views denominational headquarters as the enemy. It need not actually be true, but this perception can make denominational assistance ineffective.
  2. A key denominational official previously served the congregation that is in need of assistance. It is not possible to stay neutral when one formerly served the congregation. It doesn’t matter how well-meaning or how much the official vows to remain neutral.
  3.  A clergyperson’s role is part of the issue at hand and the denomination has power over a clergyperson’s employment or advancement. Denominational involvement can be tricky.
  4.  There is a conflict of interest involved. For example, someone in the denominational offices will benefit personally if the process is directed a certain way, or someone in the congregation has a personal relationship with one of the denominational consultants.


one or more of these situations applies


your congregation is experiencing one of following:

  • serious conflict between groups or leaders
  • tensions surrounding leadership transitions
  • strong negative energy
  • trauma such as sexual abuse by a leader, the sudden death  of a clergy person or a tragedy in the congregation


it is probably time to call in a consultant or counselor who is not part of the denominational headquarters.

It helps to understand the limits of the institutions that support congregations.

If you are a congregational leader, knowing who to call helps you to appreciate the services you do receive.

If you are a denominational support person, acknowledging limits allows you to focus on what you do best.

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