Resolving Conflict With Leaders by Kurt Johnston
(written for youth pastors but very relevant!)
There’s nothing more challenging interpersonally than dealing with a serious conflict with someone on your church staff, or a volunteer in a key position in your ministry. The temptation would be to let time heal it, or hope that the tension would simply go away on its own—but fight those feelings because conflict in the church, especially on a team, has to be dealt with well in order for genuine progress to be made.
Can’t we all just get along? Actually, no, and that’s probably a good thing because it forces us to tackle conflict in a God-honoring manner. Here are some steps to move toward resolution when you find yourself in conflict with someone on staff.
Be the bigger person. Someone is going to have to lead with humility—might as well be you. How would this relationship change if you decided to take action and humble yourself (right or wrong in the matter that caused the division, either way), and begin a conversation to rebuild trust and love? Until someone does this, any progress will just be an outward act covering up a pain-filled heart. Unresolved conflict eats away at your job satisfaction, your vision, and your heart. Don’t let it happen.
Take a small step forward. A simple note, gesture, or gift can go a long way. Could you find an excuse to give them a small token of your love for them—even if it’s never acknowledged or reciprocated? Continually take small steps forward—mixed with time this is a powerful way to break down walls.
Talk them up to other people. People can usually sniff out when someone is in tension with another person—in fact, most churches specialize in spreading that information around gleefully, it seems. When you talk positively about the person in conflict, you are disarming the potential for a greater divide in the church, and not forcing people to take sides. Plus, it is surprising (and won’t take long) for word to get back to that person, too!
Pray for healing. Too often the “right” answer is to pray for the situation—in this case, it’s no different. You have to ask God to mend what is broken and heal what areas are infected. Conflict between people who work together every day can, and has, claimed many churches—don’t let yours be one of them!
A Response by Chris Wesley
I see the people I work with as more than just coworkers. After being at my current place of employment they feel more like family and friends. Just like family and friends there are times when we laugh together, and other times where you could cut the tension with a knife. Conflict is inevitable, especially if you work in a church. You are dealing with relationships and saving lives, and it will get personal.
I’ve found that in these times of conflict I can take two approaches:
Run And Hide, hoping it will all go away. I find that never works; yet I still try it.
Lean In, and face the situation before it escalates into anything regrettable or destructive.
Josh and Kurt offer some great practical steps when dealing with conflict. It’s important for us to take the high road, lift up the other person, and seek God’s healing. On top of those suggestions I would add:
Keep Communicating. The last thing you want to do is talk with someone you feel tension toward (unless it’s to chew them out). But if you don’t get the communication rolling it’ll make the situation worse. When there is a break in communication two things can fill the gap: TRUST or SUSPICION. To ensure it’s trust lean in, work with them, and keep the communication flowing.
Put On Their Shoes. Many times we grow frustrated with someone because we are either focused on our own issues or don’t understand theirs. If you sense conflict or feel tension, take the time to ask, “What are they currently seeing and feeling?” Answering that question might be the key to your conflict. When you get to know someone you are willing to give him or her a little grace for their situation.
Seek Accountability. Josh and Kurt pointed out the importance of humility. Sometimes you need a trusted source to point out when you are in the wrong. By having a different perspective on the situation you give yourself the resources you need to face the tension and resolve the situation.
The relationships with those you work with are important, and if you aren’t working together it will hinder the movement of your local church. Lean in, keep the communication, and love on those you work with. They are in the trenches and fighting the same fight.