4 Questions to Ask when you Face Conflict

Everybody faces conflict. It’s nothing new. From the cosmic conflict between Lucifer and God before creation to the conflicts in the early church to the conflicts Jesus often faced with the Jewish legalists, it’s a given in life. Conflict is not sin in itself, but sin can cause it and we can sin in how we respond to it. Wise leaders, however, know how to manage conflict when it comes. 4 good questions arise from Acts 15 in the account of the early church’s conflict with those who believed that non-Jews (Gentiles) could become Christians, but only after they first became Jews.

Choose to Resolve or Continue Conflicts - Conflict Resolution

4 good questions to ask when you face conflict:

If the early church had not resolved the conflict with the Judaizers, the results could have been disastrous. In a similar way, when conflict arises in our churches, unless we wisely resolve them, we can lose momentum, people, and resources.

Question 1: The conviction question. Is the conflict you are facing a matter of deep conviction that you can’t resolve through personal prayer and processing?

In the early church’s case, the issue of salvation (was it Jesus plus works or Jesus plus nothing) was a significant issue. It could not be overlooked. Paul and Barnabas had to deal with it.

Many issues are simply issues of personal preference, hurt feelings, or simple misunderstandings that we can pray through and move on. We don’t need to confront every person over every issue. However, some issues are too significant to overlook.

I suggest these five thresholds that can help you determine if you need to take it further than prayer and personal processing.

  1. The issue is seriously dishonoring Christ. In some sense God’s reputation is being dishonored or damaged. In the Judaizers case it was well within this threshold.
  2. This issue is damaging your relationship with that person. Were you not to try to resolve the issue, it could seriously hurt and undermine your relationship with that person.
  3. The issue is hurting others involved.
  4. The issue is causing hurt to the offender.
  5. You just can’t shake it through prayer.

If the issue meets one of these thresholds, then take it further.

Question 2: The counsel question. Do I need a third party to help?

In Matthew 18.15-18, Jesus says to first go to the person one-on-one if you have a conflict with someone. Usually that’s the proper procedure. But sometimes I believe it’s appropriate to bring in a wise third party even before you do that.

Paul and Barnabas felt it necessary to go to Jerusalem to include the elders and apostles there for them to weigh in on this issue. They needed wisdom.

Sometimes we do need to include the counsel of others even before we escalate a conflict to a one-on-one conversation. What might justify doing that?

  1. You need wisdom from an objective third party to help you discern it you really need to confront the other party.
  2. You need wisdom to know how to confront the other party.
  3. You need to be encouraged to confront the other party and a wise person can give you the confidence to take that step.

If you do bring in a third party, check your motives. Make sure you’re not doing this to make the other party look bad or to win the person you’re seeking counsel from over to your side.

Question 3: The compromise question. Do I need to defer in some way in this conflict?

Often the issue is not so much about what the other person did to you, but about your role in the conflict. Sometimes we should defer, yield, or let go of the issue. Compromise never means watering down truth or your convictions. Neither does not mean you are weak.

In the case facing the early church, the Judaizers had to give up their wrong notion that becoming a follower of Jesus required that a person had to become a Jew first. And the Gentile believers had to yield to some of their Jewish Christian brothers on some dietary issues that could have a caused a rift in their relationships with them.

A sign of a mature follower of Jesus is loving compromise.

Question 4: The clarity issue. Have I clarified the issue?

Often conflicts get so muddied that both parties loose sight of the real issue. The conflict reflects something deeper or even something not related to the ‘presenting’ issue.

The early church clearly clarified their issue by appealing to history, to the facts, and to God’s Word. They dialogued, listened to each other, and even recorded in a letter what they had resolved.

When they clarified the issue they presented a united front, avoided a split, and encouraged each other. When we truly resolve conflict in the church, everybody feels a sense of relief, just like the early church did.

Some when you deal with conflict, make sure you clarify the real issue.

These four questions based on how the early church resolved a conflict can guide leaders toward successful conflict resolution in their churches.

What else has helped you resolve conflict in your church?

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When People Compare Pastors

Many pastors secretly struggle with measuring up to very successful pastors and churches. It’s tough, but it comes with ministry. People compare pastors. In this post I suggest a few ways to deal with this “measure up mentality.” I begin with one pastor’s experience. He received this e-mail from someone in his church. The names are changed to protect the innocent (uh, I mean the guilty).

comparison

Hi Pastor Jim:

Sharon S. here. How are you? I have been meaning to send you a note for quite some time and tell you about a pastor in California that I thought you might be interested in. Yeah, I know. If I were you I’d be rolling my eyes about now. But I must say, this guy is awesome and has challenged me personally in my life over the last year.

He has pastored [God’s Favorite] Church just outside [Utopia] for about three years and has grown it from 150 people to over 3,500. I have never seen a young guy with such a passion and a heart for God, willing to go against the “appropriate” evangelical grain and just teach the scriptures.

He just started a new series a week and a half ago. I am going to attach the first message because I would love for you to listen to him.  I can’t tell you how many people I know listen now. His name is [Gabriel, the archangel]. He has some of the best teaching I have ever heard on leadership in the church, justification, and some other tough subjects. He is a lot like [another famous pastor], who is his friend and a Facebook “fan” of his. Anyway, I have felt led to connect you with [Gabriel] for a long time. I’m not really sure why. Take it for whatever it is worth. 

Sharon

Pastor Jim emailed this response back.

Dear Sharon,

Thanks for reminding me that my preaching is subpar. It’s great to know that people in my church are making sure they get podcasts from somebody who will never know their name or answer their encouraging emails.

You’ve really made my day. I was studying for this week’s message when I got your note (I’ve already spent twenty hours on my sermon). I immediately stopped to download his magnificent sermon. It’s also wonderful to know that his church has exploded in growth; as you know, our attendance declined by 3% last year because people like you stayed home to watch guys like him on TV!

Gotta go finish my shallow sermon.

God’s blessings on you,

Pastor Jim

Pastor Jim didn’t really send this e-mail. He only wished he had.

I admit that at times this ‘measure up mentality’ has sucked my joy out of ministry, especially when I served in the U.S. I serve in Canada now and find this less of an issue here.

I’ve applied some simple ideas below that have helped me keep my joy even when I felt that I didn’t measure up in the eyes of others. Perhaps they will encourage you as well.

  • God made me who I am. I may not be a world-class leader, a ‘blow you a way’ preacher, or as creative as most, but I must appreciate, embrace, and faithfully use the gifts and competencies He has given me.
  • He has placed me where He wants me to be. I must accept that and do my best with the opportunity He’s provided.
  • I must not dismiss or cutoff those with whom I don’t measure up. We will never please everyone and such people will probably stay in our churches.
  • It’s ok to take care of my valid needs. I can’t change what other people think about me, make them like me, or force them to approve of me. I can, however, take care of the body, soul, and spirit God has entrusted to me. In doing so, I then become the best pastor and leader He has created me to be.

This old King James Version verse has encouraged me as I’ve faced the ‘measure up mentality.’

Psa. 62.5 My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Thee. 

In my third book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, I deal extensively with how to manage this ‘measure up mentality’ as it relates to the temptation to people please.

How have you handled this ‘measure up mentality?’

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5 Signs You’re a Leader who Talks too Much

Nobody likes to talk to others who monopolize conversations and drone on about themselves. Healthy conversations should be two-way streets but science tells us that we tend to spend 60% of our conversations talking about ourselves. And unfortunately, leaders can talk too much, not necessarily by monopolizing conversations, but by giving too many answers. So, how do you know if you are a leader who talks too much and what can we do to stop? Consider these indicators.

Scruffy unpleasant looking man with a silly facial expression and unruly hair puts his fingers in his ears so that he can not hear.

5 signs you’re a leader who talks too much:

  1. You do more than half the talking in staff meetings.
    • If you do, your staff may feel the meeting is all about you rather than about the team.
  2. Staff and volunteers come to you for answers more often than to offer solutions.
    • This can indicate an unhealthy dependence on you to solve their problems.
  3. You tend to rush conversations with others.
    • If you’re a quick thinker and get frustrated with time wasters, you’ll struggle with this one.
  4. Silence in a conversation really, really bothers you.
    • Action biased leaders often view silence as another time waster.
  5. While another person is talking, you’re framing your response.
    • It’s easy to slip into this one. When we do, we miss half of what the others person is saying.

I suggest these three solutions to help you stop talking too much.

  1. Practice the art of the W.A.I.T.
    • WAIT is an acronym for this question, “Why Am I Talking?” In meetings and conversations with others when you sense you may be dominating, mentally ask yourself this question. I’ve found it helps me listen much more carefully and talk much less.
  2. Use the AWE question.
    • In Michael Bungay Stanier’s book, The Coaching Habit (which is a phenomenal book every leader should read) he calls the AWE question the best coaching question in the world. It stands for, “And what else?” When you think a conversation has come to the end, he suggests asking this question 3-5 times to get everything from the other person.
  3. Ask “What do you think?”
    • This handy question helps when you sense someone wants you to solve his problem. You may immediately know the answer, but by answering it you may foster an unhealthy dependency on you. Often when I use this question with a staff person, her or she comes up with their own solution. The result? They buy in better to their solution and they learn to think better for themselves.

The Scriptures often remind us to listen more and talk less. These are my two favorites on this topic.

James 1.19    Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. (NLT)

Prov. 18.13    Answering before listening is both stupid and rude. (The Message)

What has helped you become a better listener?

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5 Dumb Leadership Assumptions You Never Learned in Seminary

After two seminary degrees and 35 years in ministry, I’ve gleaned a few insights I wish I’d learned long ago. Although my seminary profs never directly taught me to question the dumb leadership assumptions I’ve listed below, even if they had I wonder if in my youthful enthusiasm I would have listened. Unfortunately it often takes the hard knocks in ministry to teach us what we must know.

Don't assume text concept write on notebook with pen

As you read each assumption below, ask yourself if you agree. I’ll comment on each of them after the list.

  1. What worked before should work again.
  2. Church people will always respect a pastor’s position.
  3. When leaders stay silent, they are agreeing with you.
  4. Reason always prevails.
  5. Everybody perceives the same reality.

It’s taken a few years for me to realize it, but each of these has proved grossly false.

What worked before should work again.

It just doesn’t. Culture changes. Technology changes. Expectations from church people changes. If we as leaders and churches don’t consider how we can do ministry better, this proverbial definition of insanity proves true: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Church people will always respect a pastor’s position.

I recall one preacher who quoted Psalm 105.15 (KJV) Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. He used it in the context of elevating the pastor’s role to an esteemed position. It may be nice if people do that, but some people won’t respect just because you are a pastor. Sometimes the contrary proves true. Your role actually may elicit disrespect from some.

When leaders stay silent, they are agreeing with you.

I’ve tripped on this one a lot. Too often when I’m jazzed about an idea and share it with key leaders or staff, I’ve gotten blank stares or simple nods when I first shared it. I’ve interpreted those nods and stares as resounding support from them. After all, if they objected, they should have said so right then. In retrospect, however, often they were simply being polite. Although I had spent sufficient time to process my idea, they hadn’t. By not asking questions or providing them more soak time before implementing the idea, I’ve often found later that they never really liked it. The result? At best reluctant acquiescence and at worst, active resistance. But, when I’ve provided sufficient soak time, the idea often evolved into an even better one that the leaders really embraced.

Reason always prevails.

Unfortunately, emotion often trumps reason, even among mature leaders. I’m learning more about how neuroscience affects church leadership, especially when hormones hijack clear thinking. Check out this post to find out if your emotional brain has hijacked your leadership.

Everybody perceives the same reality.

In court, lawyers often use conflicting testimony to their advantage. The same holds true in churches. People simply perceive reality differently. Some may see the church as going great. Others may see the opposite. It can become frustrating at times for every leader. When those conflicts arise, seek wise counsel from someone outside of the conflict who can provide objectivity.

What assumptions have you found to be false in your ministry?

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12 Powerful Questions Pastors should ask about Effective Leadership

In the book First, Break all the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, they list 12 core questions the Gallup organization discovered that when asked, give organizations the information they need to attract, focus on, and keep the most talented employees. I’ve included them here as a helpful set of questions about effective leadership pastors should ask themselves and ask about those who serve on their staff.

Speech bubble with the word questions on white background.

12 core questions about effective leadership

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my church make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

Questions have a way of making us think deeply.

What questions would you add to this list?

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