Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Conflict: Part 2 - Definitions


Exactly what is conflict? According to Oxford Dictionary, conflict is a serious disagreement or argument, a prolonged armed struggle, or an incompatibility between opinions, principles, et cetera.[1] The noun is via Latin conflictus meaning a contest.[2] Dictionary definitions are fine as a starting point but often do not provide the insight necessary to explain what different people groups mean when they use the term.

Secular Definition

Conflict occurs whenever disagreements exist in a social situation over substantive issues or when emotional antagonisms create friction between individuals or groups.[3] This definition is good but perhaps overly broad. Another definition states that conflict is a process that begins when one party perceives that another party has negatively affected, or is about to negatively affect, something that the first party cares about.[4] Both definitions are broad yet encompass the wide range of conflicts experienced in organizations such as incompatibility of goals, differences over interpretations of facts and disagreements based on behavioral expectations. Such definitions are flexible enough to cover the wide range of conflict levels from acts of violence to more subtle disagreements.[5] Both are better referred to as descriptions than definitions.

Church Definition

Conflict is a struggle over values and ideas, or perhaps power and resources.[6] Other definitions of conflict include a problem that interferes with the accomplishment of purposes and the active striving for one’s own preferred outcome which, if attained, precludes the attainment by others of their own preferred outcome, thereby producing hostility.[7]

In reviewing the way the world defines conflict and the way the church does, there does not seem to be much difference save the fact that definitions from secular sources abound while those from Christian sources are notably scarcer. It is fortunate that the definitions and descriptions from the secular world appear to be applicable to church world as well. If conflict is more or less defined in the same way, perhaps the types of conflict are different. One thing that is clear about conflict; two or more people are necessary to have a conflict.

[1] Soanes, Catherine, and Angus Stevenson. Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Schermerhorn, Jr., John R., James G. Hunt, and Richard N. Osborn. Organizational Behavior, 8th Ed. (Danvers, MA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003), 378.

[4] Robbins, Stephen P. Organizational Behavior 9th Ed. (Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001), 383-84.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Gangel, Kenneth O. Team Leadership in Christian Ministry. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1970, 1974, 1981, 1997), 186-87.

[7] Goodall, Wayde I. Conflict Management for Church Leaders. (Springfield, MO: Global University, 2006), 17.

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