Divorce Mediation Versus Church Mediation

People often ask me how I can stand to do divorce mediation. Actually, I find divorce mediation easier than church mediation. In divorce mediation, the parties tend to focus on two things: money and kids. Both parties have to have money to live on and both usually want what is best for the kids, though they may have different ideas as to what that is. But at least one can expect both parties to care about the kids and care about having enough money to live on.

Church Mediation is different. People fight about a zillion things and they may fight long and hard but may not realize what they’re fighting about. So when mediating in churches it takes a lot more time to “unpack” the reasons behind the dispute. People may fight about the color of the sanctuary but not know why it is so important. You can dig and dig to find out that someone’s mother told them she liked blue sanctuaries and that all sanctuaries should be blue.

Like the above example, often times these reasons are from childhood and are near or at the core of their being. They may have never even examined WHY they believe what they believe, even though they believe it very strongly. A stray remark in childhood a parent makes about marriage, or gays or even “fat” people can be the makings of a severe conflict decades later. It may make the fight seem trivial to an outsider or to the mediator but for the participants in the fight it is anything but trivial. That makes searching for the real reason and real dispute in church mediation tough and hence church mediation much harder than that of divorce mediation.


When Is Conflict Real?

Conflict can occur any time in a church or a family. But often times conflict can be a symptom of some other emotion or issue. We are all familiar with the “kick the dog syndrome.” A man takes out his frustration from work on his pet, or his family. A teen about to graduate lets loose on his family because a) the family will take it and b) he doesn’t know how to separate well from his family after being so close. A church member starts a conflict in the church over some little thing because she has time and she’s frustrated now that she lost her job.

The point of this is that often a conflict may really be caused by an unrelated issue. A good indicator is when a person is not able to articulate well why or how he or she is upset. Another indicator is that when a problem is solved another different issue pops right up. The conflict is real: people are fighting. It’s just that the issues are really something else. It could be the real issue is “what does Jane do with her anger?” or “how does Joe learn to leave home without causing a rift that lasts for a year?”

Don’t often take a conflict at face value. Often the conflict is a much deeper issue and may even be a conflict WITHIN one of the people involved