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Why Do So Many Christians Remain Silent During Church Conflicts?

Charles H. Chandler, D. Min., Executive Director

At a recent Healthy Transitions Wellness Retreat for Ministers and Spouses, a minister pointed out that during the conflict leading up to his forced resignation, he and his wife were surrounded by church families who loved them and encouraged them. During committee meetings and church meetings, however, these supporters were strangely silent. He confessed that he had more anger toward those that encouraged him and then remained silent during the decision-making time than he did toward those who were vocal in their opposition to him. He concluded by asking, "Why do so many Christians remain silent during church conflicts?"

That's a good question. Some people simply cannot deal with conflict. They spend their lives running from conflict. Many will work hard at not having to "take a stand." Dr. D. Ross Campbell, psychiatrist from Chattanooga, Tennessee, suggests that people respond to authority in one of two ways. They lean toward being pro-authority or anti-authority. They are born that way. The pro-group makes up about 25 percent of the population and the anti-group makes up about 75 percent. Each group has its own bell curve and is distributed among mild, moderate, and extreme responses. Though this attitude toward authority can be slightly modified by a child's upbringing and environment, the basic trait remains dominant. This trait is not to be confused with personality types.

Twenty-five percenters are born with a need to be under authority. They are outer directed and they need someone to tell them what to do and to structure their time. They have a deep desire to please people. They must be taught to think for themselves, to stand up for themselves, and not depend so much on others.

Since twenty-five percenters are so eager to please, they are easily crushed. They take everything personally and seriously. They are afraid they will disappoint or hurt someone. They tend to be perfectionists and want to do everything exactly right. Criticism can crush their egos and cause them to feel so guilty that they cannot develop into their own persons. They are natural followers.

Seventy-five percenters are born with a strong drive to think for themselves. That gives them a natural talent for leadership. They are inner directed and they tend to be more global and general in their thinking than their more cautious siblings. Twenty-five percenters are more prone to focus on specific details. This means that the two types reach conclusions in different ways.

It is easy for a seventy-five percenter to become calloused, uncaring, selfish, and even develop sociopathic tendencies. They are, however, our natural leaders and we need for them to care about their fellow citizens with understanding and good conscience. Though there are three times as many seventy-five percenters than twenty-five percenters, a disproportion of parishioners are twenty-five percenters - people pleasers.
They do not take a stand during church conflicts because it runs counter to their nature.
Though they may care deeply for the minister, they often cannot bring themselves to risk not pleasing those who are leading the opposition.

Dr. Campbell points out that churches need twenty-five percenters who have learned to think for themselves. They make great leaders. Churches also need seventy-five percenters who have developed caring spirits. Their natural leadership ability enables them to be a foundation of stability. He also points out that when a few seventy-five percenters determine to force a minister out, neither the minister nor a majority of twenty-five percenters are a match for them. However, it only takes a few seventy-five percenters with good consciences and caring spirits to make a difference when conflict emerges. These persons can confront the opposition successfully. And the mass of twenty-five percenters will follow them.

Every church needs some leaders who will risk standing up and demanding fairness. Such action will often motivate the "silent majority" to also take a stand. This could make a significant difference in the life of the church and the life of the minister.

*For a full treatment of this subject, see D. Ross Campbell's book, Kids in Danger: Disarming the Destructive Power of Anger In Your Child (Cook Communications Ministers International, 1999). He is a member of the MTM Board of Trustees.