As published in Kidzmatter Magazine…
A Crash Course In Conflict
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 in their teeth, would you…
a) Tell them immediately
b) Make some kind of gesture and hope they get the point
c) Not say anything, and hope that someone else will tell them
It is my belief that how you answer this question is a good indicator of how you approach conflict and it’s counterpart, resolution. We all must deal with conflict. HOW we deal with it will greatly determine our impact as a leader. Maybe we should learn to see conflict as an opportunity. 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 conflict. 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 oblivious to any tension at all. 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. At best, this can be as awkward as telling some unsuspecting person that they have something in their teeth, at worst it can be confrontational and hostile. Let’s look at a scenario somewhere in the middle.
Take Delia for instance. Delia is a volunteer that has been around for quite a while in your ministry but is habitually late. She’s a great volunteer that 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 (except that one time during Daylight Savings Time when she forgot to roll her clock back). 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. As a leader, you can’t ignore it any longer. You can’t even just hint at it (you tried that ten times already). You have to meet with Delia and explain the situation. More than likely, she will not respond in anger, but 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.
a) Address the matter head on and face whatever Delia’s response may be. (“Umm, I hate to say it, but you have something in your teeth!”)
b) Leave the church altogether and hope everyone figures out it is because your volunteer Delia keeps showing up late. (A big gesture, yes. Let me know if your next church is free from problems.)
c) Allow a group of volunteers to be frustrated for a prolonged period of time and hope one of them will eventually confront Delia for you.
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?” While a leader must learn to be comfortable with conflict, they should constantly protect against turmoil.
Turmoil and conflict are very different. Based on the diagnostic below, are you experiencing conflict or turmoil?
Turmoil is a state of great disturbances, confusion, or uncertainty.
Conflict is a state of identifiable disagreement, opposition or disharmony.
Turmoil is draining and never productive.
Conflict can be constructive and facilitate growth.
Turmoil is most often filled with conflict.
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.
You should know that I am completely comfortable with confrontation. Some people have complicated lives, 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 on conflict, I want to make sure that we are all on the same page. Everything discussed here MUST be wrapped in the love and grace of Jesus. As we read in 1 Corinthians 13, we can do many things but without love it is nothing.
Here are 4 truths that my ‘conflicated’ life has taught me
1) Conflict is rarely addressed too soon and is most often addressed too late.
Most 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. The way He was able to identify the root issue was astounding. Can you imagine Jesus trying to fulfill His mission on this earth without conflict? Of course not! Why should you and I expect it to be different for us as we pursue God’s calling on our lives?
3) 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 a young lady named Samantha to discuss some conflict that was arising between her and several members of her team. As I began to speak to her, she began to cry. As Samantha wiped 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 dispassioned, careless, or oblivious. While you don’t want to be perceived as a headhunter looking for trouble, ignoring problems often creates a burdened team filled with strife and resentment. I truly believe that a good leader is a lover and fighter: Loving toward the people in our lives but willing to fight for what God has entrusted to our care.
I don’t want to leave you with a bunch of difficult truths without a few tips to help you manage the treacherous waters of conflict.
Here are a few strategies that have helped me along the way.
Four Strategies For Resolving Conflict
1) Be prepared. Play out the best and worse case scenarios before you meet.
Prepare for how you expect the person you are confronting to respond (based on previous behaviors) and how you hope he or she will respond (based on the Holy Spirit working in them). Depending on his or her response, ask yourself, what is your relationship with this person going to look like moving forward?
2) Assess your heart before assessing his or 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)
John 21:15-19 (how to)
Matthew 18:15-17 (how to)
4) Conflict rarely gets resolved without a few tears.
Conflict can be emotional. 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. Those that you meet with need to know that you care about them. Can you imagine Jesus addressing Peter’s denial of Him via courier? It sounds ridiculous because it is. Along the way, you will discover your leadership style, as it relates to conflict. You’ll also discover if you’ve invested enough into those you lead. When you have relational equity, it’s much easier to address the proverbial “elephant in the room” in a way that shows love and resolves the problem efficiently.
Conflict will occur. A healthy team has healthy conflict. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes that means you, as a leader, need to go on the offensive to push your ministry forward. In order to do so, lead with the reason behind the conflict. 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. We have a mission to reach a world in need of the Gospel.
Speaking of the Gospel, in John 13:35, 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. People appreciate passion even if it shows itself through healthy conflict.
As I mentioned earlier, these truths about conflict should be filtered through a lens of grace. I’m not suggesting that you should look for conflict at every turn. For most leaders, this isn’t your approach anyway. Most of us tend to lean the opposite direction. We hope that over time the conflict will resolve itself. We all have those anecdotal stories of situations miraculously working out. In reality, this rarely happens in ministry.
It’s important to note that simply reading this article isn’t enough. We must not only be aware of conflict (that’s not the hard part), we must do something about it!
I know we have just scratched the surface on the matter of conflict. Each scenario is unique and difficult in it’s own way. One area that cannot go unmentioned is forgiveness. This topic is too big to address in this article, but my pastor, Steven Furtick, did a fantastic job unpacking this topic in a series called F-Bomb. You can watch or listen to the entire series for free by visiting the sermon archives at elevationchurch.org
Let’s keep the conversation going.