Keeping it healthy
Let’s start with a question. If I were to introduce you to someone you really admire today and a little later you saw them walk by with something black in their teeth, would you …
1) Tell them immediately?
2) Make some kind of gesture and hope they get the point?
3) Not say anything in hopes that someone else will tell them?
It’s my belief that how you answer this question is a good indication of how you approach conflict and it’s counterpart—resolution. It has many of the same elements. It involves other people. It’s awkward. It may have happened before but the scenarios are not identical. How you handle it may determine how you interact with this person in the future. Conflict is all of these things and more!
We all must deal with conflict. HOW we deal with it will greatly determine our impact as a leader. We must learn to see conflict as an opportunity, and for many of us that means we have a multitude of opportunities!
For leaders, the challenge is to not only manage conflict but to create it. You read that right. Great leaders create conflict. What do I mean by creating conflict? There are times when you and I need to address something that is wrong or broken but the person frolicking in the tide of brokenness has no clue there is a problem. They seem totally ignorant of the existence of any tension. This type of conflict can be the most difficult to resolve. Not only do you have to shine light on the problem, but you must also address it at the same time.
Take Delia for instance. Delia is a volunteer who has been around for quite a while in your ministry but is habitually late. She’s a great volunteer who has a true gift with children and families. No one has addressed her tardiness, despite the fact that she has been late every weekend for a year. What Delia doesn’t realize is that her late arrival forces the rest of the team to arrive earlier than necessary to cover for her lack of prep time. It’s starting to get old. As a leader, you can’t ignore it. You can’t even just hint at it. You have to meet with Delia and explain the situation. More than likely, she will not respond in anger, but rather in embarrassment or shock. She has been completely oblivious to the scowls of her teammates. She just thought they were all a little grumpy.
When scenarios such as this arise, you, as a leader, have a choice.
Option A: Allow a group of volunteers to be frustrated for a prolonged period of time. (Let me know how that works out for you.)
Option B: Address the matter head-on and face whatever Delia’s response may be.
Option C: Find another church that doesn’t have these problems. (Good luck.)
You may be thinking, “I’ve already got enough conflict. Who needs more?” You’re asking the wrong question. The question you should be asking is, “Do I have healthy conflict that will help move my ministry forward or is turmoil brewing?”
Turmoil and conflict are very different. Turmoil is a state of great disturbances, confusion, or uncertainty. Conflict is to come into collision or disagreement with. Turmoil is always draining and never productive. Conflict can be very constructive and can produce tremendous growth. Turmoil is most often filled with conflict but conflict does not necessarily derive from turmoil. There’s a big difference between living in a state of turmoil and managing the tensions of healthy conflict.
As a leader, what we do with conflict is one of our greatest responsibilities; yet, we spend very little time learning how to improve it. Welcome to a crash course in conflict.
Some would say that I’m a specialist at this topic. I’m not certain that’s anything to brag about. I grew up in a home filled with conflict. Half of my family wanted to scream and argue until everything was resolved while the other half wanted to ignore the issues completely. At an early age, I determined that I would master the art of conflict. I’m still learning, but I can share with you what I’ve observed.
You should know that I am completely comfortable with confrontation. I guess you could say my life has been very conflicated. (I think I just made up a new word.) Before we get too far into our discussion, though, I want to make sure that we are all on the same page. Everything discussed here MUST be wrapped in the love and the grace of Jesus. As we read in 1 Corinthians 13, we can do many things but without love it is nothing.
Four Truths about Conflict
1. Conflict is rarely addressed too soon and is most often addressed too late.
All of us can immediately bring to mind a conflict that wasn’t addressed in a timely manner and the nightmare that ensued. Church splits, division among leaders, and staffing disagreements often point back to untimely conclusions. It’s better to go ahead and get a conversation started right now. If not, you will just find yourself in a world of turmoil.
2. You can’t do what God wants you to do and completely avoid conflict.
Jesus dealt with a lot of conflict involving both religious leaders and His own disciples. It was astounding the way He was able to identify the root issue. Can you imagine Jesus trying to fulfill His mission on this earth without conflict? Why should you and I expect it to be different for us?
- Conflict rarely resolves itself. Instead, it creates incredible opportunities to reflect the love and mercy of Christ to others. I will never forget sitting down with Samantha to discuss some conflict that was arising between her and several members of her team. As I spoke to her, she began to cry. Wiping away her tears, she explained that she never intended to be rude or hurtful to those around her. However, she was facing a difficult situation at home, and her hopelessness in that situation was bleeding over to her volunteer role. In that conversation, I discovered that she was in an abusive relationship. Once Samantha opened up, she was able to find the assistance and support she needed to remove herself from that situation. Can you imagine if I had chosen to avoid the awkwardness of that very difficult conversation? I would have missed the opportunity to help a woman in need, and Samantha may have never received the help she so desperately needed.4. One of the most frustrating places to find yourself is under the leadership of someone who avoids conflict. There is a certain measure of uncertainty that comes from serving under a “conflict-free” leader. More often than not, this kind of leader comes across as dispassionate, careless, or oblivious. When a leader chooses to ignore problems, a burdened team filled with strife and resentment is the result. I truly believe that a good leader must be a lover and fighter—loving toward the people in their lives but willing to fight for what God has entrusted to their care.
Four Strategies for Resolving Conflict
1. Be prepared. Play out the best and worse case scenarios before you meet.
Prepare for how you expect them to respond (based on previous behaviors) and how you hope they will respond (based on the Holy Spirit working in them). Depending on their response, ask yourself, what is your relationship going to look like moving forward?
2. Assess your heart before assessing his/hers. Ask yourself why are you having this conversation to begin with. Is this a pride issue on your part? Are you meeting with this person because it’s what is best for the ministry?
3. Seek God’s Word before you act. The Scripture is filled with examples of how to (and how not to) address conflict.
1 Thessalonians 2:8 (how to)
2 Samuel 14:1-15:37 (how not to)
Matthew 18:15-17 (how to)
4. Conflict rarely gets resolved without a few tears. It can be emotional, so it’s important to take the time to meet face-to-face. Never address an issue through text or email; people need to hear your tone and see your expressions. Can you imagine Jesus addressing Peter’s denial via courier? It sounds ridiculous because it is!
Conflict must occur. A healthy team has healthy conflict. Sometimes that means that you, as a leader, need to go on the offensive to push your ministry forward. In order to do so, you must always lead with the “why.” Give some vision around what God is calling the team to do and point out any issues that may be hindering that. This isn’t about personal preferences.
Jesus said that our love for one another will show the world that we are His disciples. Show love in the midst of conflict and watch as others are drawn in. All of these truths about conflict must be filtered through a lens of grace.
It’s important to note that simply reading this article isn’t enough. You must not only be aware of conflict, you must do something about it!