Focus of attention in a complex system

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complex_network.jpg We would like to be able to address and resolve all of the conflicts which arise for us. Sometimes a conflict appears to be too complex or confusing and we can't figure out what to do. This may be because we have focused our attention on the part of the system which is most troublesome and are ignoring the part of the system where we have the biggest opportunities for transformation.

At a recent presentation on Creative Conflict Resolution I invited participants to name current conflicts in their lives which we could use as case examples to display the concepts we considered in the workshop. There were two women who came to the presentation specifically because of an issue arising for them in the context of their work for a large non-profit institution in their role as managers of a cadre of volunteers for the non-profit.

Recommendation from Columbia UCC

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July 30, 2009

To Whom It May Concern:

Rev. Mark Robinson worked with Columbia UCC congregants in 2008, at the recommendation of Rev. Dale Parson, Western Association Conference Minister.

Mark came to us at an incredibly fragile time in our congregation. Our pastor of two years had abruptly resigned and there were many conflicts arising.

I found Mark to be incredibly personal as I corresponded with him. He was also very prompt to answer any e-mail or phone call that I made. He gave me the reassurance I needed as Council President to carry on and lead the congregation towards healing.

Mark also provided pulpit supply for us in September prior to his consultation work with CUCC. His sermon was simply outstanding. He had not worshipped with us at all, but he seemed to intuitively know what the congregation needed to hear to move towards spiritual healing. I made copies of his sermon, and circulated those amongst my Council and other members who I felt would benefit from his message.

Following that powerful sermon, Mark led us through several workshops that helped us, as congregants, learn how to positively manage conflict as it naturally arises in the life of CUCC.

Finally, I want to offer our heartiest thanks to Mark for a job well done with Columbia UCC. He was the hope we had been waiting for, and helped begin the healing process for a wounded congregation.


Judi Privitt

CUCC 2008 Church Council President

Creative Conflict Resolution for Faith Communities

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The principles of Creative Conflict Resolution are applicable to relationships of all types and sizes. We generally teach the principles in the context of a primary intimate relationship like a marriage for two reasons.

  1. Because the concepts appear simpler in a dyad, and
  2. That is the context of greatest concern to most of the folks who elect to learn about Creative Conflict Resolution.

But the concepts apply to all kinds of relationships. They are just more complicated when it comes to groups.

Take for example the relationship between a pastor and a congregation. In many ways, this relationship is like a marriage. There are issues around making clear agreements and keeping confidences and remaining faithful. But while a spouse is only negotiating with a single other, the pastor has to work this out with each member of the congregation and with the help or hindrance of various groups, boards and committees. And there are ways that the relationship is very different from a marriage. We don't expect a pastorate to last "'til death do us part."

There are many types and intensities of relationships within any community of faith. And the nature of the mission of the community suggests that it should be unified in attitude and action. Thus, we tend to think that there shouldn't be conflicts. This isn't a reasonable or prudent assumption.


· We all experience conflicts in our lives. No one is conflict free though some are in a state of denial about conflict.

· Our biggest most meaningful conflicts tend to be in the relationships we have with those we are closest to. The more intimate the relationship, the more compelling the conflicts.

· When we are able to name, address, and resolve conflicts we find that we have strengthened the relationship in which the conflict appeared. Resolving conflict builds stronger relationships.

Thus it is to be expected that in the intimacy of a faith community compelling conflicts will appear. Faithfulness is to be measured not in the absence of conflict but in the presence of conflict well resolved.