4 Things Conflicts Make Us Do

Conflict happens. Even people who love Jesus have conflict. Imagine how different the New Testament would be if Paul and Barnabas didn’t have such a strong dispute? I personally would have loved to read Barnabas’ thoughts on all that God was doing. Because of their dispute we get to read about Paul’s adventures but miss out on all that God did through the rest of Barnabas’ life.

Conflict happens. It happens in church, with staff, and between people that truly love Jesus.

We are imperfect. We are broken. We have bad moods. We are selfish. It’s not easy being human.

But that shouldn’t stop us from trying to have healthy relationships. In fact the local church should be the healthiest place to work. Church staff will never be void of conflict, but we should be an example to the world on how to handle it.

Conflict happens. If we ignore conflict problems become bigger than they should be. Minor issues become major problems when they aren’t addressed.

I love the quote by Chris Sonksen,

“Frustration is never content until it’s expressed.” – Chris Sonksen

Frustration is never content until it's expressed. - Chris Sonksen Click To Tweet

So with that in mind what can we do to promote healthy conflict and reduce the damage done by unhealthy conflict? I believe there are four ideas that can help staff do something productive with the conflicts they have.

4 Ideas To Promote Healthy Conflict

1. We can disagree and still be friends.

2. We talk to people and not about people.

3. We seek to understand not to agree.

4. We Matthew 18 or we do not survive.

Now let’s spend a few moments fleshing these out.

1. We can disagree and still be friends.

For some reason our identity gets wrapped up in our ideas. We easily wrap our identity in our thoughts, opinions, and titles. Because of that when someone disagrees with us there is the potential for a divide.

The Apostle Paul experienced these types of divides with the early church. In response he wrote,

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Being one doesn’t mean we have to always agree. It means we have to fight for the relationship and not in the relationship. It means we have to allow disagreements, but not allow them to create separation.

As humans it is natural to think that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is a card carrying idiot. It’s called Fundamental Attribution Error.

When it comes to our own faults we are wired to make an excuse. We think things like, “I’m late but I have a good excuse.” When it comes to other people’s faults we think, “You are late and it’s because you are incredibly selfish.”

Fundamental Attribution Error tells that as humans we believe there is a fundamental flaw in anyone who we disagree with.

As Christians we are called to a higher standard.

We will not agree on all things. In order to protect unity we must believe that when we disagree we can still be friends. A disagreement, a different approach, or a different personality should not make a person an enemy; yet so often it does. We have to hold fast to, “We can disagree and still be friends.”

2. We talk to people and not about people.

When frustration happens the temptation will be to talk to someone about it. Fear tells us not to talk to the person who offended us. Fear tells us they won’t understand. Fear tells us it won’t do any good. Fear is a liar.

When someone on your staff has a conflict they must bring that conflict to someone who can do something about it.

“He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip.” Proverbs 20:19

Negativity breeds negativity.

When a staff member wants to talk about the boss or another staff member to another staff member the response has to be, “I can’t do anything about that. Have you talked to _____ (insert boss’ or staff member’s name here).

Most people don’t really want to solve their problem. They want someone to agree with them. If they truly wanted to solve the problem they would overcome fear and talk to the person who they have conflict with. People rarely do that.

So it is up to every staff member to hold to, “We don’t talk about people, we talk to people.” That response will quickly change the conversation.

Behaviors exist only in an environment that supports them. - Chris Sonksen Click To Tweet

When we show others we won’t put up with gossip other staff member will have on of two options. Either they can move on to another job that will support their unhealthy habits or they can change to embrace healthier behaviors.

3. We seek to understand not to agree.

The goal of conversation is not agreement. You will never agree with everything someone says. When you feel a disagreement you must seek to understand.

That is not easy, but it is crucial for healthy church staffs.  

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” 1 Corinthians 1:10.

When disagreement happens it leads to division. In order to put this verse into practice we have to agree to be unified in the midst of disagreement.

This can only happen when we seek to understand another person’s perspective when we disagree with them.

Here is a real life example. I was once told by a staff member named Bubba (name changed) that “Everyone on staff dumps everything they don’t want to do on me.”

Bubba felt his work load was too much and was specifically stressed by a new task. Bubba’s response was to use absolutes and to blame.

I didn’t agree. So I quickly said, “That is not true. I just spent an hour tearing down our portable baptistry. That is not in my job description. We all have to do things we don’t want to do.”

I feel I was right in my opinion, but I was dead wrong in my response.

What Bubba needed was for me to understand.

If I could do that conversation over I would say, “Bubba, that sounds really tough. I understand you are stressed with this. I get the sense that this new task is overwhelming to you. I believe you can handle this task. I understand your perspective, and I’d like to offer a different one. We all do things that aren’t on our job description. What can I do to help support you in getting this done.”

That response would have shown empathy. It would have helped Bubba feel supported. Instead Bubba left feeling unsupported because I led with my disagreement. When conflict happens we have to seek to understand where the other person is coming from. You don’t have to agree with them, but in order to have a healthy staff you must understand their perspective.

When you don’t show empathy you communicate that the only opinion that matters is yours. We can disagree, but for the health of our relationship I will work hard to understand where you are coming from. Even if I disagree.

When a person feels supported they are more open to hearing a different perspective. Listen. Understand. Support. Then offer another perspective if needed.

4. We Matthew 18 or we do not survive.

Jesus was clear that a kingdom divided against itself will not stand. He was also clear, in Matthew 18, that when someone has wronged you, go to them first. This is not a natural response to conflict but Jesus is challenging us to go to the supernatural.

After every meeting where decisions are made remind staff, volunteers, and members about Matthew 18. If you have a problem with someone, or if someone has offended you, or if there is an offense you must go to that person first.

Little disagreements become church splits when they are allowed to fester. We will either learn to communicate conflict in a healthy way or we will promote disunity.

The Church is too important, there is too much at stake, and people matter too much to allow conflict to separate us. This isn’t a minor thing…it’s major. The truth is the vast majority of church fights happen over differences of opinion.

People leave church staffs wounded because of different opinions.

We can disagree and still be friends. Major disagreements may end up with someone finding a new position, but let’s work hard to make sure it’s a healthy transition.

Most people will leave with a  mound of hurt and never express their frustration. When they finally do the frustration spews out in toxic form all over anyone who will listen.

Most of the time when this happens, the person is better than this. They just have allowed an offense to fester for so long it’s become toxic in their own life.

To prevent this we must promote healthy ways to deal with conflict. Matthew 18 is the plan.

How have you dealt with conflict on staff? What would you add to this post?

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