My grandma passed a saying on to my mom who passed it on to me. The saying is in reference to marriage and goes like this, “If two people always agree one of them isn’t necessary.” Perhaps it is simplistic, but it is also profound. Conflict in marriage and in ministry is normal and to be expected, yet so much of the time we make mistakes in handling conflict. If you handle conflict poorly you loose credibility or even your job. If you handle it well, you gain credibility, you usually keep your job, and you might even get some leadership cred.
Here are some principles I’ve picked up in dealing with conflict:
1. Attitude matters
Humility is something that is generally lacking in our culture. Instead we are told to believe in ourselves, be confident, and don’t let others look down on us. This is not what Jesus did. Instead Paul reminds us in Philippians 2 to have the humility of Jesus, to do nothing out of conceit, and to count others as more significant than ourselves. Approaching conflict with humility is essential.
2. Be Teachable
There is often an arrogance seen in youth pastors that has a stubbornness preventing them from learning. It is important to remember that our bosses usually have more experience than we do and even if they don’t, they have been put in a position of authority for a reason. If we open our ears more than our mouths we might learn something.
3. Communicate Clearly
For some this is not a problem, but for many this is the main problem. I have had many conversations over the years with guys who had a problem with their Senior Pastor, but they never told him or they simply hinted at the problem. Does your boss know there is a problem? If they do, do they know precisely what it is?
4. Be Confident
This is not the opposite of humility, that would be pride… and there’s a difference. Confidence is what you need to deal with the possibility that you might be wrong. The confident person can distinguish between personal attacks and critiques. The confident person can confront without being defensive. The confident person can submit to authority. The prideful person has trouble doing any of these.
5. Be committed
When conflict becomes heated and egos get out of hand it is commitment to God, to the ministry, and to person that will help you see it through. Too often we throw in the towel too soon. The kingdom of God, the ministry, and the relationship will almost always be better off if we will be committed to the process and hang in there just a little longer. The goal is resolution for the benefit of everyone.
6. Don’t email, text, or Facebook
Words on a screen do not communicate tone or intent. This kind of communication is easy to misunderstand. You can use these mediums to set up a face-to-face discussion, but not to resolve it.
7. Know your place
The word “submit” has become a bad word, but it is a concept clearly taught throughout Scripture. Submitting to those whom God has given authority is not a bad thing, it is an honorable thing. There are appropriate places to question authority and inappropriate places. Develop a sensitivity to the situation and act appropriately.
8. Say your piece and move on
It is human nature to want to be right and think the other person doesn’t understand, but there comes a time to just move on. In reality our boss often does understand and simply disagrees. If you have communicated clearly and the message has been rejected, submit to authority and move on.
Over the years I have ended up in some pretty heated conversations with my boss. I can honestly say that when I followed these principles it turns out well. Having conflict is normal and how you deal with it is of the utmost importance.
Question: What’s most important to you as you deal with conflict?
God has blessed John Byrne with 18 years of ministry experience in 7a variety of contexts and it is that experience that gives John a unique perspective. John enjoys writing, (Blog: YMTheology) speaking, and his church (The Rock of Southwest) in Littleton, CO. Most of all he loves his wife Christa and his two kids Catrina (12) and Jo (6).