5 Reasons Why Every Church Needs a Staff-Board Conflict Resolution Strategy

The board meetings have begun to sour. Increasingly the pastor and his board have heated conversations about the church’s direction. The conflict has bled into every meeting for months. Emotions are running high. Conflict reaches a flash point. There is no written plan on how to deal with it. What happens? The board either sends the pastor packing or he quits out of frustration. A rarity? No. Over 1500 pastors are forced from the ministry each month and many more pastors simply quit because they’re broken. Many are pondering leaving right now. What can a board or pastor to encourage biblical conflict resolution? That’s the focus of this post.

When emotions run rampant among pastors and boards, thoughtfulness seldom prevails. Our emotional brain hijacks our thinking brain.

So what is the solution to this problem? A written, clear, agreed-upon conflict resolution process. Here are 5 reasons your church needs one.

  1. Simply quoting Matthew 18:15-17 on dealing with conflict often doesn’t cut it. Although it’s the basis for conflict resolution, it’s seldom practiced without specific written guidelines.
  2. When we’re emotional, we don’t think clearly. When that happens we need something objective that is not open to interpretation, something that specifically explains the process how board-staff or staff-staff conflict can be resolved.
  3. Such a policy can often result in a more redemptive resolution to conflict than knee-jerk reactions like firing or quitting.
  4. We are called to model to the world love for each other (John 13.34-35). How we respond to conflict often conveys just the opposite.
  5. When we solve conflict in a God honoring way we embody unity, what the Scriptures often command us to seek. Ephesians 4.13 says, Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

I highly recommend the organization called Peacemakers to help you craft such a policy. Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, founded and leads this organization. Every pastor should read his book.

They also offer training and have produced some excellent materials you can use to teach your church and leaders. Check out this link for their resources.

Does your church have a conflict resolution policy? If not, what would be a good first step to create one?

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5 Signs that you Need to Quit Something

Quitters never win and winners never quit was drilled into my mind at an early age. I believed it. I practiced it. I lived it. I only quit one thing in my life before age 18, my high school football team. I quit because I sat on the bench 99.976% of the time. Since, then, however, I’ve questioned the veracity of that phrase, as catchy as it may sound. And recently I heard a concept that further spurred my thinking about quitting – strategic quitting. What is strategic quitting and why should pastors and leaders practice it? In this post I define strategic quitting and suggest 5 signs that you need to quit something.

First, a definition of strategic quitting. Strategic quitting is thoughtfully and carefully quitting a program, ministry, or initiative that simply is not working, has become staid, is disproportionately  sucking up resources, or simply needs to go. In contrast to reactive quitting, quitting when things simply get harder, strategic quitting is not a spur of the moment knee-jerk reaction to difficulty. Rather it is a measured decision carefully made.

It’s a concept so essential that leadership expert Seth Godin even wrote a book about about it, The Dip: A Little Book that Teaches You When to QuitHe says, “Strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations.”

Unfortunately, strategic quitting isn’t easy because of a phenomenon called the ‘sunk-cost bias.’ The ‘sunk cost bias’ is a mental trap we can easily fall into. Because we have invested so much time and energy into a project, we would feel like a failure if we nixed it. In reality, many such projects need to go. Read more about this bias here.

So what are some benefits of strategic quitting?

4 benefits of strategic quitting…

  1. It can release resources (your time, staff or volunteer time, and money) for other projects and initiatives with greater potential for material, spiritual, or organizational payoff.
  2. It can remove the perpetual drip, drip, drip of regret that has nagged your soul and emotions for months (or even years).
  3. It can boost your leadership in the eyes of others when they see you muster the courage to nix that ‘elephant’ that most everybody felt should have gone long ago.
  4. It can develop a key quality great leaders embody, humility. It’s humbling to admit that a project you may have started just doesn’t work anymore, or never did.

If you think you may need to strategically quite something, how do you know?

5 signs that indicate you need to strategically quit something…

  1. When in your soul you know it needs to go. Perhaps you’ve often wrestled with this ‘thing’ in your mind and you never can seem to get peace about it. Is God saying, “Now’s the time?”
  2. When those you trust hint that it needs to go. Have influencers in your circle raised the issue from time to time? Have they suggested that the ‘thing’ needs to go?
  3. When in your mind’s eye as you envision it gone you sense deep relief. As you’ve thought about it and imagined it no longer a burden, do you feel like a weight is off your shoulders? How much influence should you allow this subjectivity play in your decision?
  4. When you sense the Lord prompting you to strategically quit. In your quiet moments with the Lord, do you sense Him releasing you from it? Have you spent time praying about it?
  5. When you begin to really dislike the ‘thing.’ Perhaps your attitude has soured on it and constantly confessing your attitude doesn’t change it. Maybe this is God’s way of saying, “It needs to go.”

Knowing when to strategically quit can be tricky. Our emotions can powerfully influence decisions, sometimes in the wrong direction. But when your heart, your influencers, and the Lord seem to all say, “Stop the thing,” maybe it’s time to.

As you read this post, what ‘thing’ in your ministry or organization came to mind that you potentially need to strategically quit?

If some program or initiative did come to mind, what steps do you need to take to discern if you need to quit it?

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Has Your Emotional Brain Hijacked your Leadership?

Great ministry leaders keep their emotions in check. Unfortunately, when we don’t keep them in check, our emotional brain can hijack clear thinking and good leadership. Yet, when we understand how our brain and emotions work, such insight can help us manage them in God honoring ways. Below I give a quick summary about the part of our brain that affects emotions.

Many parts of the brain influence our emotions, but the part I call the Panic Alarm (the limbic system, especially the amygdala) contributes the most. The word limbic means ‘edge’ and it got its name because it lies on the edge between the outer part of the brain and other important internal structures. Its primary structures include the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the hypothalamus. The Panic Alarm strongly influences our emotional system, sometimes called the X-system.

The amygdalae (I use the singular form amygdala) are two almond shaped structures that play a critical role in our emotions for several reasons. It’s constantly on the lookout for problems and receives sensory input from many other parts of the brain. It stores and catalogs emotional memories. And both the hippocampus and the amygdala are involved in memory, the former primarily for facts and the latter for emotions.

For example, your hippocampus helps you remember the names of your elder or deacon board members. The amygdala tells you which ones you like. Because the amygdala is so highly connected to other parts of the brain, when it gets overly activated (the Panic Alarm goes off) it can diminish clear thinking and diminish thoughtful leadership.

An external real or perceived threat (an angry board member), a memory (when we were called to appear before an emergency board meeting), imagining ourselves in a threatening situation, or ever anticipating a threat can incite our Panic Alarm. The flight-flight-freeze-appease response originates from here. It’s also vital in helping us form healthy emotional attachments, especially at an early age.

Another component of the limbic system, the hypothalamus, acts as a controller to the master hormone gland, the pituitary gland. When we’re under stress it releases the stress hormone cortisol into our blood stream and neurotransmitters into our brain. Our body reacts very quickly to the neurotransmitter release but slower to the hormonal release. And chronic stress can damage our body and even kill brain cells (neurons) in the hippocampus. However, since the hippocampus is one of the few structures that can grow neurons, called neurogenesis, when stress decreases and cortisol levels out, the brain can regrow neurons here.

Another significant part of the brain, the insula, also influences emotions, and informs the amygdala. It maps our body’s internal feelings by receiving continuous input from over 100 million neurons (Armour, 2004) that line our hollow organs like our heart and intestines. It takes this information and represents how we feel in relation to our outside environment. Intuition is affected by this so called ‘second brain’ (Hadhazy, 2010). It can give us a ‘gut’ feel, butterflies in our stomach, or a ‘heartfelt sense’ we sometimes feel about something or someone. It’s also finely tuned to feel disgust and to sense unfairness.

I believe God used my insula to help me make a difficult decision years ago. I had been leading a poorly performing staff member that I had hoped I could reform to fit our culture. I kept telling myself that I could change him. But nothing seemed to work. I thought I needed to release him but I just couldn’t seem to pull the trigger. However, one morning I woke up in the middle of the night and knew in my gut I had to release him. I believe the Holy Spirit used my insula to help me make that decision.

Although the Bible never uses the word brain, it often uses the word for bowels to refer to the deep interior of our heart, soul, and mind. Although the Biblical writers didn’t explicitly understand the inner workings of the brain, God gave them keen insight into how our bodies and brains actually worked in real life.

Has your emotional brain every hijacked your leadership? What has helped you keep your emotions in check?


“I just learned how my emotional brain can sometimes hijack my leadership.” (tweet this quote by clicking here).


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References:

Armour, J.A. (2004) Cardiac neuronal hierarchy in health and disease. American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 287 (2), pp.R262-R271.

Hadhazy, A. (2010) Think Twice: How the Gut’s ‘Second Brain’ Influences Mood and Well-Being: Scientific American [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=gut-second-brain> [Accessed 28 February 2013].

3 Ways to Defeat Leadership Discouragement

Discouragement comes with the territory for ministry leaders. Unmet goals, putting out fires, staff issues, displeasing people, and general tiredness all contribute to discouragement. When it weighs us down, how can we dig out? The life of the prophet Elijah gives us hope.

I Kings 18-19 tells the story of his amazing confrontation with the prophets of Baal. The people of Israel had gathered on Mount Carmel along with 450 prophets of Asherah. They set up a sacrifice and the 450 pagan prophets summoned their gods to provide rain. Nothing happened. Then Elijah summoned the one, true God who showed His power by not only consuming the sacrifice but also ending the drought.

You’d think that after God showed up in such a powerful way, twice, that Elijah would be on a spiritual and emotional high. Not so. After these great victories, he ran for his life, thinking he was the only true prophet left. He literally wanted to die. But God did not leave him alone. I Kings 19 explains how he cared for him.

Three lessons stand out about how we can defeat leadership discouragement.

  • First, prepare for an emotional dip after spiritual success. I’ve found that discouragement often follows a spiritual high. Among other reasons, it’s the body’s response to stress. Mondays are often the most discouraging days for pastors after an intense Sunday. Prepare for this inevitability.
  • Second, physically rejuvenate. After Elijah wanted to die, God provided food for him through an angel and had him take two long naps. After a spiritual high, take care of your body to give it time to re-energize. Extra sleep, healthy food, exercise, and doing something fun can help you recover.
  • Third, still your soul to hear God’s gentle voice. After Elijah fled, God spoke to him in a “whisper.” Often Satan will attack us most after spiritual victories with condemning and tempting thoughts. When he does, turn your heart to the Lord and listen to His quiet, yet encouraging voice.

What has helped you defeat discouragement?


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5 Ways to Minimize Ministry Silos

Patrick Lencioni brought the concept of silos into the leadership conversation with this great book, Silos, Politics, and Turf WarsSilos occur in organizations and churches when leaders act like their ministry or team is the only one that matters. A silo attitude results in that leader or team only supporting, giving, or attending functions that pertain to them. It can be kill a ministry and result in many problems. In this post I suggest ways to minimize ministry silos.

First, what problems do ministry silos cause? Here are a few.

  • Unhealthy competition
  • Jealousy
  • Hurt feelings
  • Pride
  • Lack of trust
  • Fighting over limited resources
  • Foot dragging
  • Politics

So how can a leader minimize ministry silos? Below I suggest a key foundation and then 5 pillars to build on that foundation to rid your ministry of silos.

If you want to change your culture to minimize and remove silos, build from the bottom up. Build a solid foundation on the Biblical concept of unity. Teach and train your leaders often about unity remembering that unity does not mean uniformity. God gives each of us unique gifts and abilities which creates a healthy church. Keep these and other Scriptures in front of your leaders.

  • Psa. 133.1 (NIV) How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!
  • Rom. 15.5 (NIV) May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus,
  • Eph. 4.3 (NIV) Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
  • 1Cor. 1.10 (NLT) I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.

Next, place these five pillars on that unity foundation.

  1. Make sure you have a clear, shared vision. Keep your church’s mission/vision/values before your leaders. If you’re fuzzy on mission/vision/values, I recommend Will Mancini’s book, Church Unique.
  2. Build trust between all your leaders. When leaders trust each other it increases the trust neurotransmitter, oxytocin, which builds camaraderie. The more people trust each other, studies show that they will co-operate more. (De Dreu, 2012).
  3. Encourage your leaders to talk to each other. Schedule consistent leadership meetings so that leaders can hear each other’s stories and needs. Start a leadership e-letter and send it to every leader. The more in common leaders share with other leaders, the more productive and motivated they’ll be.
  4. Remind leaders that it’s not all about them. Remind them that they are part of a larger purpose and that great teams look out for each other. Foster this attitude among your leaders. “How can I help my fellow leaders, even though it’s not my ministry?”
  5. Teach leaders to step inside each other’s shoes. When we see life from another’s perspective, we are more giving and more likely to help. It’s a concept called mentalizing (Waytz et al., 2012).

How have you dealt with ministry silos in your ministry?

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References:

De Dreu, C.K.W. (2012) Oxytocin modulates cooperation within and competition between groups: An integrative review and research agenda. Hormones and Behavior, 61 (3), pp.419-428.

Waytz, A., Zaki, J. & Mitchell, J.P. (2012) Response of Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex Predicts Altruistic Behavior. Journal of Neuroscience, 32 (22), pp.7646-7650.