3 Essentials to Resolving Conflict Well

Nobody likes conflict. Yet, it’s inevitable in life. As I’ve served as a pastor for over 30 years sometimes I’ve handled conflict well. Sometimes I’ve not. However, I’ve learned more about how to solve it Biblically from Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, a book I’d recommend every ministry leader read. His book is filled with pure gold and I’ve modified below some of his insights with these three essentials necessary to resolving conflict well. I call them the 3-R’s of conflict resolution.

Choose to Resolve or Continue Conflicts - Conflict Resolution

The 3-R’s of Conflict Resolution.

  1. Recognize your autopilot response to conflict.
    • When a pilot flies a jet at high altitude on autopilot, he is passively piloting it. The computers take over with automatic non-thinking responses.  In the same way, when we feel pressured or threatened by another in a conflict, we tend to act on autopilot without even thinking.  Below I list eight F’s that describe unhealthy ways to resolve conflict. In this post I unpack these responses in more detail.
      • Fight-Flee-Freeze-Fuse-Fixate-Fix-Flounder-Feed/ fornicate/ finances
  2. Recast conflict as an opportunity to…
    • ..honor God. 1 Corinthians 10.31 tell us to do everything for God’s glory and honor. Conflict provides a moment in time when we can honor or dishonor Him by our responses. The next time you face conflict, ask yourself if how you plan to respond will honor Him.
    • …help others. Conflict can position us to be God’s healing agent toward another. If we respond well, we can model true grace to the other person.
  3. Realize the ultimate source of conflict: the human heart.
    • James 4.1 says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” The word desires is the word we get hedonism from. It’s conflict that comes from our drive to satisfy ourselves at the expense of others. So, ultimately conflict is a heart issue. In the heart of us all is a drive to order our lives around ourselves and to do and get what we want.  It is called sin. So since conflict is ultimately a heart issue, it takes a heart/spiritual solution, the power of the Holy Spirit to change us so that we handle conflict in a redemptive way.

Resolving conflict is never easy, but it’s not impossible.

Whether you are a leader or not, conflict will come your way. When it does, consider the 3 R’s as you seek to resolve it.

What has helped you resolve conflict?

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5 Ways to Respond When Life Throws you a Curveball

Curveballs in life are inevitable. Unexpected surprises can level us or become opportunities to learn. The curveball thrown to Joseph when Mary told him about her “surprise” pregnancy certainly caught Joseph off guard, quite a curveball. But the story in Matthew 1 gives us 5 insights on how to respond when life throws you a curveball.

Curveball Grip

First, a bit of background. Matthew 1 tells us that Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married. Unlike engagements today, in New Testaments days when you got engaged it took a divorce to end the engagement. They were both young and looking forward to a long life together and then Mary dropped the bombshell. Not only was she pregnant, but she explained it to Joseph with a story about how the Holy Spirit brought it about, a double whammy for Joseph: his wife was pregnant and she made up some crazy story it was not because of involvement with a man…two curveballs.

Here’s what we can learn from Matthew’s account.

When life throws you a curveball…

  1. Don’t act on impulse by doing what first comes to your mind.
    • In Joseph’s case probably the first thing that came to mind was the normal protocol for adultery in the time, a public divorce. But because he loved Mary, he didn’t want to publicly shame her and mar her chances to marry to a decent guy in the future. Impulse didn’t dictate his decision. Rather, his character did.
    • Principle: Grounded people resist impulsivity. 
  2. Draw upon Christ-centered character.
    • Verse 19 paints Joseph as a righteous man. That meant that he was a good man, a compassionate man, a man of character, a man faithful to God’s commands. Rather than acting on impulse, he acted upon his deeply imbedded values. He decided that a private divorce (much like a settlement out of court) would spare Mary from disgrace.
    • Principle: Christ-formed beliefs should determine our behavior. 
  3. Face, don’t deny your fear, worry, or anger.
    • But before Joseph acted, an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him not to be afraid to take Mary home as his wife (v 20). The Gospels tell us that God spoke to Joseph four times through angels. God knew that Joseph felt fear so he spoke to Joseph about it. When curveballs hit us, it’s normal to feel anger, fear, anxiety, or worry. Our fight-flight-freeze centers in our brains automatically evoke feelings that we can’t avoid. But denying or stuffing them actually makes them more intense.
    • Principle: We can’t avoid feelings but we can determine their expression. 
  4. Stand upon the bedrock fundamentals of your faith.
    • Until I studied this passage deeply did I realize how it illustrates several core fundamentals of our faith. Focusing our attention on core doctrines gives us hope and confidence when a curveball hits us. Here are four fundamentals:
      1. The Holy Spirit dwells in us to, among other things, comfort us and give us wisdom to wisely respond (v 20).
      2. The virgin birth and the incarnation encourage us that our faith is based upon supernatural, life changing truth (v 23).
      3. Salvation in Christ alone reminds us that Jesus came to a crib to go to a cross to offer us forgiveness of sins (v. 21).
      4. Fulfilled prophecy provides evidence that Jesus was who He says He was (vss 22-23).
    • Principle: Undeniable truth forms the bedrock for Christianity. 
  5. Obey God’s promptings.
    • After the dream Joseph obeyed God and took Mary as his wife. Just as God acted in unconventional ways to bring about Jesus’ conception in the womb of Mary, so sometimes we must obey in unconventional ways. Joseph did not take the expected path, divorce. Instead he went against the then current social morays to do the right thing by marrying Mary.
    • Principle: Obedience to God may take you into uncharted territory. 

This Christmas if life throws you a curveball, look to the Story. You’ll find encouragement, hope, and direction.

What would you add to this list of responses to life’s curveballs?

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8 Reasons Why Our Elder Board Works so Well

I just passed my one year anniversary at the church were I serve as lead pastor, West Park Church in London, Ontario, having served my entire ministry in the U.S. prior to my move to Canada. One of my greatest joys has been working with our current elder board. I’ve never worked with a board that has accomplished so much with so much unanimity and harmony. I believe these 8 reasons explain why this board works so well together.

board of directors 2
  1. PRAYER: We always begin our meetings with a focus on God’s Word and prayer. And our prayers are not the perfunctory prayer-ettes. We often pray for an extended time for the needs in the church. This keeps us focused on our shepherding role.
  2. PREPARATION: I meet with the chair and vice-chair a few weeks prior to plan our meetings. We prepare an agenda that we email to the entire team before the meeting. They know what to expect.
  3. NO TIE BREAKERS: Although I’m an elder, I don’t have a vote on the board. When the board has to approve some significant issue, I give my perspective, but I’m never in a position to be a deciding a vote. Most of the decisions the board has made have been unanimous or near unanimous.
  4. UNITY IN DISAGREEMENT: Our meetings are not filled with all happy talk. We’ve had serious discussions and shared different perspectives on issues. But we agree that when we leave the board room, we speak as one.
  5. LISTENING PERSPECTIVE: Every one on the board truly listens to everyone else’s perspectives. When we disagree, we do so with respect having first truly listened to each other.
  6. BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS: No church is perfect and neither is ours. Before I arrived the board had invested extremely long hours dealing with significant issues the church faced. They have invested much and don’t sit in an ivory tower apart from the day in and day out tough stuff in every church. They have ‘paid their dues,’ so to speak, and want what’s best for the church.
  7. FOCUSED MEETINGS: We meet twice a month and just recently decided to give each meeting a  unique slant. Our first meeting of the month deals with tactical matters and the second meeting of the month deals with strategic issues. During the strategic meeting we set aside time to discuss usually only one key issue.
  8. APPRECIATION: Often I hear different board members share words of appreciation to each for a member’s unique contributions. I also often thank and appreciate the board members for their service.

It’s a joy serving on a board that works through tough stuff, but does so with grace and intention.

What keys have made your board work well?

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7 Questions to Ask Yourself to End your Day Well

Starting each day well is certainly important. We must prioritize our goals, prepare our soul, and schedule our time wisely. When we discipline ourselves to begin each day with intention and thoughtfulness, we do ourselves and others good. I suggested 7 questions to ask yourself each morning in this post. But what about preparing to end your day? How can we end it well? Consider these 7 questions to ask yourself as you end your work day or before you go to bed.

Finish flags
  1. Did I treat others with respect, kindness, and God-inspired grace?
    • “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13.34-35, NIV)
  2. Did I rush through the day, or take time to be truly present with others and with God?  
    • “Be still, and know that I am God….” (Ps 96.10, NIV)
  3. Did I treat myself well, respecting my limits and my margins?
  4. Did I honor God with my time, the responsibilities He entrusted to me, and my competencies?
    • Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…. (Col 3.23, NIV)
  5. Have I told my kids who live at home or my spouse, “I love you,” at least once today?  
    • The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love…. (Jer 31.3, NIV)
  6. Have I thanked God for at least one blessing He has given me today?
    • Be joyful always;  17 pray continually;  18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Ths 5.16-18, NIV)
  7. If you were to add a seventh question, what would it be?

Ending your day well might be the key to beginning the next day well. 

What was your seventh question?

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Servant-Leadership: Have we Gotten it all Wrong?

Servant-leadership seems to be a buzz word among leadership circles today. But what is it? Is it being available 24-7 at the beck and call of those in our churches, organizations, or ministries? Is it being a quiet leader? Is it seeking to make sure we aren’t identified too much with our ministry? Is it being someone’s or some organization’s butler? Just what is it? In this post I suggest a simple definition and 11 qualities of a true servant-leader.

servant leadership puppets

What a servant-leader DOES NOT DO:

  1. Constantly self efface himself or herself.
  2. Force humility.
  3. Try to stay behind the scenes all the time.
  4. Say ‘yes’ to everyone’s need.
  5. Act tentatively.

What servant-leadership IS: I like Audrey Malphurs’ definition.

A Christian leader (servant-leader, my addition) is a godly person (character) who knows where he is going (vision) and has followers (influence.) [Pouring New Wineskins into Old Wineskins, Grand Rapids, Baker, 1993, p. 163)]

What a servant leader DOES:

  1. Is driven by God’s vision for his life and ministry rather than personal interest or accolades from others. He knows where he is going.
  2. Makes others feel valued in their roles. 
  3. Brings out the best in others by empowering them.
  4. Knows what he or she must focus upon, the important, rather than getting sucked into the urgent, less important.
  5. Leads from within his unique personality and leadership style without trying to fit somebody else’s mold or style.
  6. Bases his significance and value on his relationship with God, knowing that as His child, he is loved unconditionally regardless of his “success.”
  7. Seldom uses power and authority as a leverage.
  8. Seeks to lead with true humility without comparison to another’s church or ministry. C. S. Lewis wisely noted that, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next guy.” 
  9. Balances modesty with boldness, tenacity, and initiative.
  10. Doesn’t  believe her own press clippings.
  11. Refuses to act independently.

What other characteristics would you add to this list?

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