Any human institution is liable to find itself in conflict. Yet some institutions respond better to conflict than do others. On the one hand, in some institutions conflict almost immediately turns vicious and nasty. On the other hand, in some institutions conflict doesn’t get nasty, and in fact can wind up being a source of energy that moves the institution forward. So why is it that some institutions recover very quickly from conflicts, and others don’t?

As it happens, this question has been central to my church career — I’ve spent a good part of my career helping churches move beyond conflicts. Churches are like any other human institution, and they periodically erupt into conflict. Over fourteen years of working in local churches, I’ve seen some pretty nasty conflicts up close and personal, and I’ve seen how some churches recover from conflict more quickly than others. There’s no one simple reason why this is so, but generally speaking I have found that well-managed churches are the ones most likely to recover from conflict quickly. Under the heading “good management,” I would include the following (at a minimum): transparent and open decision-making processes; a working mission statement and strategic plan; a well-maintained building that is safe, clean, and uncluttered; a motivated membership committed to the church’s mission and willing to donate time and energy and money; a contented staff who are fairly and adequately compensated and committed to the church’s mission; sound and transparent accounting practices; attention paid both to improving revenue stream and to controlling expenses.

Most of these basic principles apply beyond churches, of course. My sense is that when an institution has good management practices in place, the institution as a whole can respond to conflict productively instead of destructively. For example, when you have good decision-making processes in place (e.g., a mission statement and strategic plan), then there are institutional structures in place to channel the energy that comes with conflict. If safety and trust are built into the institution (e.g., with a safe physical plant and trustworthy accounting practices), then you have enough safety and trust to go around so that again you can harness the energy that comes with conflicts, without having that energy turn into an emotionally destructive force.

Management guru Peter Drucker believed that good management was the answer to many of the world’s problems. I have become convinced that good management is one of the taproots that allows peacemaking to flower. What do you think? Is good management necessary (but not sufficient) to peacemaking efforts? If so, what does that imply about how we should be organizing for peacemaking locally, nationally, and globally?

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