3 Things I Learned in Mediation Training

I had the opportunity this past week to be trained as a “Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 Mediator.” You might ask, why would a church communications minister want to be trained as a court mediator? The short answer: the church needs conflict mediation.

I’ve recently considered the need for more specific attention and a strategic approach to conflict management in the church, so I began investigating what’s out there. Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker is certainly a popular and thorough approach to conflict resolution in the church, and I intend to do more follow up with the resources available through Peacemaker Ministries. But I came across the option for a 40-hour training course in mediation offered locally that I thought would be a good entree to the discipline.

Rule 31 mediators (which I’m now qualified to be) are those whom the courts of Tennessee call on to mediate cases before the various judges in the state in an attempt to prevent them from going to trial. It’s a growing trend, and the courts are realizing they can greatly reduce the number of cases on their dockets while at the same time save litigants a lot of time and money by resolving their conflicts through professional mediation.

For the sake of this post, I’ll share just three take-aways on how mediation can perhaps be helpful to the church:

1. Church leaders need to learn to be neutral.

The most basic element of being a mediator is neutrality. Every church conflict has two sides. Church leaders are often unable to put aside their own biases and look at a conflict objectively. In professional mediation, the mediator is taught that the issues in the case don’t matter and that the outcome really doesn’t matter either. The goal is to reach a resolution that is agreeable to both parties. Of course we care about outcomes in the church; but if we focus more on the people involved than on the issues, perhaps conflicts would find resolution in less time and with less pain.

2. Let people have their say.

In professional mediation, the first step once the mediation begins is “storytelling.” The role of the mediator at that point is simply to listen. People want to be heard. In many cases, conflict has arisen because the individuals feel that their position has not been heard. Often we try to shut down anyone who complains. Mediation is the forum for them to “get it all out.” For the mediator, the solution to the conflict is often found in the very words of those involved in the complaint. We just need to listen, and, in many cases, the one complaining will become more pliable in his willingness to compromise once he feels he’s been heard.

3. Most people want resolution.

Sure, there are those out there who insist on having their “day in court.” And some are just born to be antagonistic. But in most cases, those with a complaint want it to be over as much as everyone else. The pain and the agony of the conflict can be mitigated if everyone involved is willing to come together, perhaps in a structured and intentional setting, and do the hard work of allowing the process of conflict resolution to do its thing.

Conclusion

If the church is dealing with a conflict that may have legal implications, then getting legal counsel is certainly in order. The professional mediation process should only be employed under circumstances that are advised by an attorney and agreed by both parties. Doing so may help avoid a lawsuit, and a binding contract or agreement would be the result. But these principles can perhaps help when dealing with more common and informal conflicts that arise often in the church.

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