Patrick Lencioni, in his book, The Advantage, notes that ‘organizational health trumps everything.’ Not only have I found his argument to be true in the church to a high degree, but I have also found it to be true for the leaders of the church as well. Outside of the work of God, health is the most important factor in the effectiveness of pastors, staff and ministry leaders. Outside of the Gospel, the most important factor in the effectiveness of a church is the health of the church. Health trumps all.
Healthy leaders do conflict well.
No one loves conflict.
If you do love conflict, please see a mental health professional!
In church organizations, one of the biggest detriments to organizational health is conflict handled poorly or not at all. Conflict avoidance is never really effective in the long-term. Conflict can destroy organizations and relationships. Conflict can also be an incredible teacher and opportunity.
Most of us, when it comes to conflict have a fight or flight instinct. We need to push past both of these. Instead of fight or flight, we need to engage.
Dealing with conflict does not mean that we have to excuse bad behavior. It can mean having to set some boundaries in spite of any resolution to the conflict that might occur.
We often make conflict about truth, fairness or justice. In reality, conflict is primarily about relationship.
Conflict is hard, but it can also have great value. We learn in the midst of conflict. We find and dispense forgiveness and grace in the midst of conflict. Conflict can deepen relationships.
In every conflict, there is some value. God does not waste anything and can use conflict for good. In every conflict there is some truth. In a conflict involving two or more parties, no one party is every fully to blame. Conflict can also be a mirror. So often the things that frustrate and anger us the most are the very things that we do ourselves.
Avoiding conflict is the easy road, but it means giving power to the conflict, situation or person who has hurt you. It means letting someone or something live rent free in your head. Unresolved conflict creates hurt, chaos and distraction.
Poorly handled conflict is often as or more destructive that ignored conflict. Triangulation (when an outside person intervenes or is drawn into a conflict), talking about a person instead of to a person (gossip), or taking a passive aggressive approach are common ways we poorly handle conflict.
In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus gives us specific, detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to deal with sin and conflict in the church.
- Talk directly to the person.
- If that does not bring resolution, have a third person come in to help bring resolution.
- If that does not work, bring it to the church leadership.
- If that does not work, then the relationship may be permanently altered/end.
The goal of conflict resolution is not winning, administering justice or deciding who is right and wrong. Conflict resolution is about restoration; it is focused on relationship. Conflict that is resolved is an incredible chance to learn and to deepen relationships.
Healthy leaders embrace conflict in a healthy way.
Rev. Dr. Marcus J. Carlson, Executive Director