When a local church finds itself hosting a conflict transformation session, congregants might find themselves embarrassed. Some might even question what it says about the nature of their congregation. I might answer these doubts by saying that hosting conflict transformation ministers is among the most faithfully “Methodist” things a church might do.
Richey, Campbell, and Lawrence argue in Marks of Methodism: Theology in Ecclesial Practice that one of the four marks of Methodism is its connectional nature. For those unfamiliar with Methodism, connectionalism is “a vital web of interactive relationships (¶132) that includes the agencies of the Church… with the purpose of equipping local churches for ministry and by providing a connection for ministry throughout the world, all to the glory of God” (BoD ¶701, p.507). “Connection” might refer to the different conferences or agencies throughout the United Methodist Church. Connectionalism also refers to the polity that binds different levels of Methodist structures together. Every church body plays a role in the connection, from the legislative power of General Conference to the local charge conference’s place of spirituality and community.
What is it about Conflict Transformation Ministries (CTM) that exemplifies the connectional system? It is not merely because CTM is an agency of the NC Conference or that it has a NCCUMC web address. It is because a church lives into its connectional identity by entrusting their story to the conflict ministers. Reflexively, the CTM office acts in connection by accepting the responsibility and privilege to assist local churches in their mission to make disciples in the world. Our connectional system is as much about power and trust as it is about polity. We must trust that God has gone before the Church to prepare a way for us to live and worship together. The harder step is to trust in each other as we see God’s will manifested corporately by congregations, conferences, and agencies. Just as churches entrust the district to provide them a pastor and clergy entrust the District Superintendents, Cabinet, and Bishop to appoint them, churches entrust conflict transformation ministers with the power to come and minister to the hurt of their situation.
For some churches, this view means a reorientation. Conflict Transformation (CT) Ministers are not a punitive measure, nor a type of church “big government.” CT Ministers are invited to a church most often by the congregation at the urging of the congregants, pastor, or the District Superintendent. At every point in the conflict transformation process, churches have the freedom to choose their path forward. As we enter into a season of natural conflict with the approach of General Conference and the US Presidential election, we must be mindful to view conflict as a place of opportunity. CT Ministers are a gift of conference to bring guidance and facilitation to churches of all shapes, sizes, and styles of worship.
John Wesley said, “there is no such thing as a solitary Christian.” It stands to reason that there is no such thing as an isolated conflict, or an obstacle that does not deny unity to the whole body of Christ. Therefore, when faced with a conflict, interpersonal or church wide, do not be ashamed to rely on the strength offered by the connection, the backbone of United Methodism. The Conflict Transformation Ministers of the North Carolina Conference are dedicated clergy and lay people who have been trained to assist churches in conflict to grow into places of disciple making. Let us be about the mission of the Church together, and move forward through conflict to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the world!