“Firestorm: Preventing and Overcoming Church Conflicts”
Author: Ron Susek.
The church environment can sometimes belie the problems that lay within. Potential areas of conflict can lay below the surface for years. Then, suddenly, they can rise to the surface in a way harmful or even devastating to the church. In his book Firestorm: Preventing and Overcoming Church Conflicts, author Ron Susek examines the root causes of such conflicts, along with the forms they may take when they emerge. A “Firestorm” describes the rapidity of events that lead to total destruction.
The serenity of the church can be obliterated with lightning speed.
Susek’s book is written as a warning to church leaders not to be complacent. Most ministers feel the constant push and pull of divergent forces within the church. To Susek, those who don’t sense these conflicts may be in even more danger. Being aware, not only of problems but of potential problems is key to maintaining a healthy church.
He offers suggestions on how to take a proactive approach to contentious situations that may arise.
Thesis and style
Firestorm is 256 pages long. It draws upon real-life events and experiences of the author and biblical scripture. It illustrates problems, and culminates by offering practical solutions. The book begins with a foreword and an introduction. There are twenty-four relatively short chapters divided in to four main sections. There is an appendix with a plan of action guide, followed by reference notes and a list of recommenced resources.
The central point of Susek’s book is that conflict can happen in any church. If it is not dealt with effectively, a “firestorm” may result that has the potential to destroy the church and the faith of its members. The use of such alarmist imagery is intended to shock staid church members, and especially leaders, out of their complacency. Many church members, ministers included, attend church almost as a matter of routine, unaware that any problems that lie below the surface.
The church has the same social dynamics that can stress any organization or group of people. For that reason it is never an indestructible entity. Even well-meaning mistakes can trigger major conflicts within the church.
Susek uses biblical references throughout the book. Once such reference is to Matthew 18. That passage encourages us to take an active role in rooting out and solving problems that might fracture the church. The author outlines a series of steps a church can use to “implement” the meaning of this scripture into church practice.
Church often has an overly idealistic image in the minds of people. It is a place where love is central and conflict is non-existent. Susek reminds us that a church is composed of people. These people do not leave their idiosyncrasies, opinions and faults at the door. In fact, the same notion applies to ministers and the church leadership. Because people are neither clones nor perfect beings free from sin the opportunity for conflict within the church is always present. Susek gives a dire warning, but it is not one devoid of hope.
A “firestorm” to Susek is more than a death of an organization. It is a painful event that affects people long after the event. In some cases, it can even lead people to question their own faith. Susek reflects on his conversation with a church member who had been through such an event. From this backdrop, Susek begins to dissect the events and search for root causes.
Early in the book, Susek uses the example of an actual church to illustrate how the firestorm cycle can arise. Some conflicts were minor while others were more serious. The way people, including ministers reacted to the strewn bits of conflict allowed them to eventually meld into a major situation. After his real-life example, Susek begins to dissect the situation. He presents a number of personal traits, opinions and perspectives that can blossom into a serious problem.
Differences of opinion are an understandable stress on the foundations of the church. In and of themselves, however, they should not spell the end for that church. Susek points out that people with strong opposing viewpoints may ultimately choose to act sinfully against one another. This can have the most damaging results in a church conflict.
Even some signs that outwardly show church health can be misleading. A rapid growth in church membership could hardly be seen as a bad thing. The new members bring an influx of talents and resources that can potentially further the mission of the church. However, there can be underlying problems. New members bring new perspectives and expectations. Older members have to adjust to the newer members. Ministers themselves may be causing problems, or at least allowing them to expand into more serious ones. Susek examines both the role of the minister and the minister as a person. It is a pattern for a self-reflective journey ministers must take on a regular basis. What elements of a ministers personal background might be influencing his current actions, and how? Are personal issues affecting a minister too greatly?
Susek outlines several potential problems within the membership that can feed upon themselves and eventually cause a firestorm. The most obvious are clashes over doctrine. These can pit different generations within the church against each other. The bleeding of strongly held political ideologies into the church environment can also endanger unity. Group think, peer pressure selfish motivations are common social behaviors that can potentially undermine a church. In a demonstrable cycle, Susek illustrates that these foibles can be triggered into a serious conflict.
The church environment can rapidly become political. Discipline breaks down. Factions form, some voices are censored and people act selfishly. When leaders are corrupt, the situation accelerates even faster. Old issues can arise, making the situation even more complicated. This process is defined by Susek in six recognizable phases.
In the latter part of the book Susek offers some practical suggestions. Many of them are problem-solving techniques that are applicable in all walks of life. To reinforce his suggestions he also offers biblical context. Finally, he offers advice for healing the wounds of the church after the firestorm has been contained.
Among the possible solutions Susek offers to church conflicts is the usage of interim ministers. According to the author, an interim minister may be more well-suited to address some short term problems. He or she can provide a more independent view, free from the politics of the competing factions within the church. An interim minister can also help to refocus the church on its true mission while providing a pastor a break from the tension within the church. Susek also points out that interim ministers are more readily available than one might think. One obvious source would be to draw from the ranks of retired ministers.
Churches, according to Susek, make several fundamental mistakes in dealing with crises. Often they wait too long to address problems. They rely on prayer or the passage of time to solve problems. Susek’s approaches are more proactive in an effort to squelch small fires before they become larger. Outside help may seem unaffordable, but an even larger price may be paid later for those churches that do not address conflict.
The pastor and other officials of the church should not mediate conflicts. The pressures they face from competing sides are too great. The church should draw on outside resources, an interim minister or denominational boards to resolve conflicts. Rather than do this, some churches choose to drive out those perceived to be causing problems. This may not have been necessary. Also, it may not even solve the problem.
Susek also gives suggestions on managing interpersonal concepts that are rooted in common sense. Hearing and understanding others points of view are essential characteristics for church leaders. For someone who truly understands the situation, a list of options can then be written to guide further action.
Ron Susek’s book can only raise the concerns of ministers or those seeking to become ministers. His points are well founded. They are applicable to the world away from church, also. The only danger of a book like this is that church leaders may come to look at each other, and the church members too suspiciously. Too much mistrust of others’ faith can lead to a lessening of one’s own faith. A critic could also argue that Susek is overly focused on superficial definitions of church success, i.e. financial status, church attendance.
Still, a lot of what Susek says makes sense from a psychological standpoint. Ministers are essentially managers of people. In order to keep the church on track they must be able to identify and deal with conflicts effectively. A growing church, financially an otherwise, can potentially provide more opportunities to renew and reinforce their faith among a strong church community. The ultimate message is that Jesus loved his church, and his followers. The church is a blessed place, but it is one that can fall into decay if all its members are not diligent in maintaining it.
About the Author
Ron Susek is a minister affiliated with the North American Baptist Conference. He is a well-known and sought after public speaker. Having been pastor of several churches, he now directs the Susek Evangelistic Association, headquartered in Gettysburg, PA. He has authored a number of titles on church leadership and conflict management.
Susek, Ron. (1999). Firestorm: Preventing and Overcoming Church Conflict. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Cite this Book Review “Firestorm: Preventing and Overcoming Church Conflicts”
Book Review “Firestorm: Preventing and Overcoming Church Conflicts”. (2016, Dec 11). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/book-review-firestorm-preventing-and-overcoming-church-conflicts/