“We are called as individuals and congregations to learn the disciplines and skills that help us define ourselves, engage each other in non-anxious interaction, and maintain emotional contact even when we disagree.”
― John Paul Lederach, Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians


A Peacemaking History of Conflict Transformation

1995 planning group for EMUs fledgling Conflict Transformation Program

Two years after Mennonite Central Committee created the Office on Crime and Justice (with Howard Zehr as its first director), MCC established the Mennonite Conciliation Service (MCS) in 1979 to provide resources for peacebuilding and conflict resolution. First director Ronald S. Kraybill provided trainings for congregations and stakeholders in international peacemaking. Kraybill’s workshops in Northern Ireland eventually led to the Northern Ireland Mediation Network.

John Paul Lederach took over MCS in 1989 when Kraybill moved on to South Africa. Lederach was a founding figure for the Conflict Transformation Program at Eastern Mennonite University. (In 1996, Howard Zehr would join EMUs faculty.) Lederach now works with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame.

Influenced by these MCC-sponsored organizations, the following Mennonite-related centers and organizations developed:

Ron Kraybill’s 1980 book

Read more about the history of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU, along with other centers influenced by CJP.     

A standard joke in the field:

Why did Ronald Kraybill and John Paul Lederach leave their peacemaking work in churches to do international peacemaking?

Answer: Because the latter was easier.

Back to Conflict Resolution for Church Communities

Fortunately, many people have built congregational peacemaking work on the foundations described above. One of Ronald Kraybill’s main contributions is the production of training materials. The first edition of Mediation and Facilitation Training Manual: Foundations and Skills for Constructive Conflict Transformation (1989) was later titled Conflict Transformation and Restorative Justice Manual: Foundations and Skills for Mediation and Facilitation (2008). 

Building off of the Thomas–Kilmann Conflict Mode instrument, Kraybill developed a Conflict Style Inventory model which helps people to identify their default responses to conflict.

Read more about this model from Kraybill’s website, Style Matters.

This is simply a more complex mapping of response styles in relation to the common binary framing of Fight or Flight.

The term “third way” can mean many different things. One reference is that a third way response to conflict involves being present to a problem, willing to communicate without choosing either of the first two options of fight or flight. This generally connotes a calm, non-anxious presence and a desire to help clashing narratives evolve toward a shared narrative.

If you want fewer divisive and church-splitting conflicts, encourage more everyday disagreements in congregational life. – Ron Kraybill (as quoted by J. P. Lederach in Journey Toward Reconciliation, 144)

Where Two or Three Gather

John Paul Lederach, in The Journey Toward Reconciliation (1999), points out how the frequently-quoted verse from Matthew 18, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them,” is NOT about God’s presence when just a handful of believers gather. The context of conflict resolution and forgiveness surrounds this verse so much that there is only one clear interpretation, namely that when two gather for mending conversation or, if necessary, a third joins to support the process, God’s healing presence is indeed richly present!

Lederach writes about the “social-psychological elements” in the Matthew 18 framework for resolving hurts and conflicts. These also have “spiritual dimensions” and thus can be viewed as “disciplines of the soul” (125).

    • prayerful vulnerability (re: our own issues)
    • responsible discernment (re: best timing for us and others)
    • interactive engagement (re: a meeting with others)


The ultimate spiritual discipline of the soul in this context is LISTENING. Listening is the bridge between the need to speak one’s truth and the need for someone to be heard. Lederach explains how ‘active listening’ through paraphrasing and echoing can be helpful, but a technique-approach can also be a stumbling block (152f). When listening is understood as a spiritual discipline, integrated with a prayerful pursuit of God, pursuit of self-knowledge, and pursuit of compassion toward others, it helps the listener to be in a being mode more than a doing mode. This aligns well with Mark Umbreit’s approach to mindfulness in peacemaking dialogue.

These communication disciplines, for Lederach, apply well to a 4-step process in Matthew 18 (which is about restoration of relationships more than exclusion, reinforced by the follow-up theme of forgiveness).

    1. Going directly to the other person
    2. Taking witnesses for support and accountability
    3. Telling it to the church community
    4. Eating together with ‘outsiders’

For larger church conflicts, Lederach draws wisdom from the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. Here we find a model resolution process that allowed two sides to co-exist with a mutual solution.  In his 10th chapter he maps out steps for transforming a divisive conflict.

    1. Recognize and define the problem
    2. Create the appropriate forum for processing matters
    3. Let divisive viewpoints be represented
    4. Document diversity (through deep listening)
    5. Use the gifts of the community
    6. Decide, then implement decisions

The whole assembly kept silence and listened. – Acts 15:12

View a webpage of reconciliation and conflict transformation quotes by John Paul Lederach

Excerpt from  “The Meeting” of Truth, Mercy, Justice and Peace (first published in The Journey Toward Reconciliation, 1999)  The document mistakenly references Psalm 84 rather than 85.

Review and Summary on mediate.com of Lederach’s early writings by Walter Wright

Training Congregational Peacemakers

As mentioned above, the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center, since 1983, created a mission to “help churches discover how conflict can be an arena for God’s revelation.” LMPC provides educational resources and trainings for church leaders with a special emphasis on family systems theory. Mediation and consultation services for churches and other organizations are also provided.

To learn more about how family system theory, read about Peter Steinke and his writings.

Since the mid-1990s, director and lead trainer Richard Blackburn has trained thousands of clergy and lay leaders in churches in conflict transformation skills. While escalated conflicts in churches often require the help of outside facilitators, Blackburn’s vision is that churches can promote healthy cultures of reconciliation which lean on trained facilitators within congregations to help resolve issues prior to escalation.

Are you called to the “sacred ministry of reconciliation”? Do you know of people in your church who are gifted with relational peacemaking skills?

LMPC’s Mediation Skills Training Institute for Church Leaders, along with several new webinars, are moving toward online formats for the rest of 2020. Learn more about registration on LMPC’s homepage.  Read some testimonials.

View a comprehensive Book list for conflict resolution in church settings, including a section on systems theory (on the LMPC website).


Promise and Peril: Understanding and Managing Change and Conflict in Congregations (2009) by  David Brubaker 

“Change need not cause conflict! This book helps us understand their dynamic relationship in congregations. Through the careful research and compelling examples David Brubaker offers, readers can relate to their own situation without being given a one-solution-fits-all technique. Read this book to discover the importance of decision-making structures and insightful leadership.”  – Norma Cook Everist, Professor of Church and Ministry, Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa

Let Laughter Save the World

Cartoons by Fletcher, printed in Christianity Today