Category CSC
Title 47.1 Justice Versus Resolution
Author/s Dan Egeler, President of ACSI and Michael W Allen, Evansville Christian School
Preview For this issue I’ve invited Michael W. Allen, head of Evansville Christian School, to share his thoughts on conflict resolution in Christian schools.

Welcome to a new school year! This is a great time to think about the wonderful opportunity we have, as parents of Christian school students, to partner with the school in our children's development. It's also a good time to remember that any partnership can encounter conflict-but we can handle it in a way that glorifies God. For this issue I've invited Michael W. Allen, head of Evansville Christian School, to share his thoughts on conflict resolution in Christian schools.

If someone could peek inside my mind, they'd see an amazing ninja scene playing out at all times. It's one giant movie, starring me (in some sort of hero outfit) turning all wrongs right. That's the beauty of movies: clearly resolved conflict that satisfies our desire to see justice. The bad guy got caught! Justice. The jock lost the girl! Justice. The mystery was solved! Justice. I wish all conflicts were so easy to tie up!  

Resolution in real life is not that simple. And therein lies the challenge. Christian schools and the families they serve are in a partnership; how should we approach conflict in a way that fosters community? Being partners in a child's education means putting aside our innate desire for justice in conflict and choosing instead to pursue resolution and relationship.

Often when people think of resolution, they immediately hear compromise. Those with very strong convictions about what is wrong and what is right cringe at the thought of compromise. It means they lost. But did they? Conflict management from the biblical worldview involves compassion and empathy much more than it involves "winning." As Nancy Ortberg wrote in her book Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands (2008), there is a great need to identify the difference between "a tension to be managed and a problem to be solved" (71). Think about the last conflict you had with a teacher, staff member, fellow parent, or even a family member. How did that go? Did it end in frustration? Did it result in continued confusion and thoughts of, "Okay, so what now?" Were you just trying to be right?

As followers of Jesus Christ, our attitude toward conflict resolution has to be in accord with the words of the gospel. James 4:12 says, "There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you-who are you to judge your neighbor?" (NIV). If we believe and understand what that means for human relationships, it has to change the way we approach conflict. The following three practices are essential not only for finding resolution over justice, but for building successful family partnerships with your Christian school.

Put away the motives you have created for the other person. Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler in their book Crucial Conversations (2001), call these "clever stories" (116). If you can, briefly, suspend your belief that the school is inflexible, or the neighbor has it out for you, or your teenager doesn't care about other human beings, you'll have a much better probability of understanding the heart of the conflict. The reality is that most of what you think others think about you has been created by you. Resist the temptation to tell the other's story and you'll find yourself in a much better position to take the second step.

Listen. Often, the hurt just want to be heard. I once found myself on the opposite side of an angry parent phone call about how one of our school policies was negatively affecting her child. After a few minutes, I asked, "Do you trust that Evansville Christian School keeps the best interests of your child at heart?" That's a scary question. Her response? "No."

This was a critical point, right? It was like the Boston Massacre's "shot heard 'round the world." We could have escalated the conflict. What we did instead was step back. I asked what had led her to feel that way, and we began to dialogue about understanding. In the end, she and I had a clear respect for the heart of the concern, and we (as a school) were quickly able to address some policy concerns and start the healing process. What began with dissension concluded in partnership. No one a winner. No one a loser. Just resolution. But this is only possible if you are willing to take the third step.

Be willing to act on a solution. Nothing is worse than when a solution presents itself, but leadership and/or families are too stubborn to reverse course. In many schools that have been around a while, there is a way that everything should be done. But those who hide behind "what has always been done" blind themselves to opportunities to build partnerships. Those who will not entertain what should be and what could be are in danger of pursuing justice instead of resolution. As a parent, you'll have many opportunities to point out how things should be. As a parent of a child in a Christian school, you can hold the biblical expectation that school leadership should be quick to listen and slow to speak. And they can hold the same expectation of you. Remember Elijah, who finally found the voice of God not in the earthquake or fire, but in the stillness. The path forward lies in a willingness to listen-and then do something!

Resolution is not as clear-cut as a game of rock-paper-scissors. In real life, the scissors can be dull, the paper can be wet, and the rock can be tiny. Often, it is the humble leader who fundamentally understands conflict resolution. John Dickson, author of Humilitas (2011), defines humility as "the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influences for the good of others before yourself." Put more simply, it is "a willingness to hold power in service of others" (24). I love the idea that true servant leadership and partnership are the strengths that come with humility.  

Movie drama is rarely willing to see through to the heart of the difference and work to move forward in partnership. But real life can! Justice is the Lord's business. Resolution should be ours.  

Dan Egeler, EdD
President, ACSI


Ortberg, Nancy. 2008. Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands: Lessons in non-linear leadership. Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Patterson, Kerry; Grenny, Joseph; McMillan, Ron; Switzler, Al. 2001. Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. Ohio: McGraw-Hill Education.

Dickson, John. 2011. Humilitas: A lost key to life, love, and leadership. Michigan: Zondervan.

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