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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Top 10 Healthy Ways to Handle the Church Critic

One well-worn adage goes, “The two things you can’t avoid in life are death and taxes.” I’d  suggest one more adage for those in ministry. “Two things you can’t avoid in ministry are…people late to the service and … church critics.” In this short post I suggest 10 ways to handle the church critic.

Having served in full-time ministry for 35 years, I’ve experienced my share of critics. I’ve responded well to some and not-so-well to others. When I’ve sensed a good heart from the critic, I tend to respond with more grace. And, I’ve learned to appreciate this advice from Abraham Lincoln. “He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.

10 healthy ways to respond to my critics (actually 9, I’d love to hear your 10th).

  1. Give them your ear, but within reason. Don’t allow someone to destroy you with caustic criticism.
  2. Let your body language communicate that you are really trying to understand their criticism.
  3. Avoid an immediate retort such as, “Yea but,” “You’re wrong,” or some other defensive response.
  4. Breath this silent prayer, “Lord, give me grace to respond and not react.”
  5. Before responding, take a few moments to check what you’re about to say. President Lincoln suggested that we when we get angry we should count to 100 before responding. That may a bit of overkill, but counting helps us avoid reacting.
  6. Look for the proverbial ‘grain of truth’ in the criticism, and learn from it.
  7. If you see more than a grain of truth and you can’t process it alone, seek feedback from a safe person in your life. (see my post on What to Look for in a Safe Person).
  8. Ask God to keep you approachable to your critics (within reason). You probably don’t want to vacation with them.
  9. Learn from your critics on how best to deliver criticism to others. When someone delivers criticism that you received well, ask yourself what they did that made it easer to receive. For those who botched it, remember to avoid those tactics.
  10. …… what would add as a tenth?

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5 Brain-friendly Tips to Enhance Your Presentations

It’s all about the brain. When you preach a sermon or make presentations and want to maximize your impact with your presentation, keep the brain in mind. More than anyone else, cognitive psychologist Richard Mayer has studied the link between learning and multimedia. In his experiments, those exposed to his learning concepts recalled details more accurately and problem solved better, what we hope happens when we preach, teach, or present. Here’s a summary of his findings with practical tips you can easily apply in your next Powerpoint or Keynote presentation.

How to enhance your presentations.

  • People learn better when you use words and pictures versus words alone.
    • Application: include applicable pictures in your slides, not just filler type pictures.
  • People learn better when you simultaneously use words and corresponding pictures rather than using them successively.
    • Application: include words AND pictures on the same slide.
  • People learn better when you place the words and pictures close to each other rather far from each other on the slide.
    • Application: make sure you keep your words and related picture close to each other on every slide.
  • People learn better when you exclude extraneous material.
    • Application: keep your slides simple, the fewer words and pictures the better.
  • People learn better when you use animation and narration rather than animation and on-screen text.
    • Application: when appropriate, sprinkle animations into your presentations to illustrate key concepts. SermonSpice is a great resource for churches.

What have you discovered that has helped make your presentations more sticky?


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When Leaders Get Hooked on Being Right

You’ve been wrestling with a ministry challenge and you believe you’ve found the right answer. At the next board meeting you share your idea and one board member begins to voice opposition. Because you feel so strongly that you’re right you begin to raise your voice, talk faster, and talk over others who want to engage in the conversation. Tension escalates. Anger rises. You think, “How dare they think I’m wrong. I know I’m right.” What happens in those types of meetings? Why do they tend to go south? And what’s a leader to do when this happens more often than not? What do you do when you are hooked on being right?

hooked

If this has ever happened to you, a small almond shaped structure called the amygdala has hijacked your brain. Located deep inside our brains, it (there are actually two of them) causes our fight-fight-freeze-appease response to danger.

So when you felt threatened from a board member’s pushback, your emotional side takes over. And when that happens, the part of our brain that helps you think clearly, respond wisely, and listen carefully, the prefrontal cortex right behind your forehead, gets shut down. You react emotionally rather than thoughtfully. And when you get too pushy, you probably put the other people’s brains in the same fight-fight-freeze-appease mode which increases their resistance to your idea.

Unfortunately, many pastors and leaders get stuck in this unhealthy mode. They are driven to be right, avoid appearing wrong, or even appease others. As a result, too much of the stress hormone, cortisol, courses through their bodies and brains and puts them in a state of chronic stress. Too much cortisol over long periods of time harms our hearts, decreases our creativity and memory, and actually kills brain cells.

When that happens, what can we do?

  • Evaluate whether or not you are under chronic stress. If you often feel anxious, react easily, people-please too much, or have difficulty concentrating, your amygdala may be controlling you instead of the Holy Spirit. Your body may be telling you that you need a cortisol break. Ask a close friend or a counselor to help you determine if you’re under chronic stress. Even better, ask them if they feels like you always need to be right. Of course, you may not even need anyone to tell you that. You may already know it. A good dose of self-honesty will go a long way toward healing. If you are under chronic stress, create a plan to lessen your stress.
  • Remind yourself that God is in control. When the brain experiences uncertainty, (i.e., Will the board approve my idea?) it feels threatened. When we feel threatened, our emotional side driven by the amygdala tends to take over. Yet, God is the most certain Reality in the universe and He tells us to have faith in Him. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Heb. 11.1, NIV) Even with the uncertainty that comes with leadership, we can rely on God’s steadfastness certainty and His Spirit can override our human tendency to become fearful when things seem uncertain.
  • Learn to listen more empathetically (i.e., when you present your idea to your board). Empathy, being able to step inside another’s shoes, is a key competency for successful pastors and leaders. One study even showed that empathetic doctors got sued less than non-empathetic ones (Ambady, 2002). It doesn’t mean that you don’t hold to your convictions. It does mean, however, that you try to listen with your heart. Empathy, kindness, and caring can actually help activate the trust hormone, oxytocin. When that happens, when others feel that you care and that you really listen, they will endear themselves more to you and to your leadership.

So, if you have to get hooked on something, don’t get hooked on being right about your ideas, but about being right with others and with the Lord.

What behaviors have you seen in leaders who are hooked on being right?

Here’s another great blog posting on the subject by Judith Glasser.

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References:

Ambady, N. (2002) Surgeons’ tone of voice: A clue to malpractice history. Available from: [Accessed 27 March 2013].

How I Wrote a Leadership Book in 4 Months: 10 Writing Tips

I’ve written four books and my third book (People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership) took me, from contract to manuscript delivery, four months. I’m working on my fifth (99% done) and my sixth (15% done). How was I able to write 60,000 words in such a short amount of time? If you have a book in mind, what would it take for yours to get published? Here’s my brief story and 10 writing tips to consider if you want to write a book.

It might be helpful to give you some background first.

I’ve been a pastor for over 30 years and at that time I had resigned my church to begin a church consulting company, travel, write books, and get another degree. So, I had more time than the average full-time pastor. I had already published two books prior to this one. Thomas Nelson published my first one in 2005 that I co-authored with my daughter Heather, Daughters Gone Wild-Dads Gone Crazy. Bethany House (Baker) published my second one in 2010, Five Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them. Prior to my first book I had published over 25 articles in various Christian magazines and had attended several writers’ conferences. When I began this project I had some experience under my belt.

I write and read mostly non-fiction. I have a passion to help pastors and writing is one way I can help them. I’ve been around the block a few times. And I’m disciplined with my time.

So, how was I able to write at book in four months? And is that reasonable for most authors?

Here’s what I’ve learned in the last several years that has helped me consistently write and publish and helped me write that book in four months.

  1. Start writing regularly. Write for your church newsletter, your local paper, and/or blog. Before I ever considered writing a book I wrote articles. I now blog about twice a week to keep my writing skills sharp and to build my platform. Small writing chunks can keep you motivated because you can quickly see your finished product.
  2. Attend writer’s conferences. I attended the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference several times as well as numerous others. At those conferences I learned how to write, I connected with editors and agents, and I learned what publishers want. Number 3 below can point you to various conferences around the country.
  3. Buy the book The Christian Writer’s Guide, 2017This book lists everything you need to know about the Christian publishing world including an agent list, publishing house needs, available writers’ conferences, and magazines where you can submit your writing.
  4. Do your homework. I had already done research for this book for about two years prior to writing it. I had attended conferences on family systems and had begun a master’s program in neuroscience, which I based the book on. I had also read many books on the subject. Begin learning now more about the subject matter of the book you want to write.
  5. Consistently capture your ideas. I used a visual thinking software program called Inspiration that includes a great mind-mapping function. Mind mapping is a simple visual process that captures and organizes your ideas and thoughts. I also used an outliner app on my iPad and iPhone to quickly record ideas that came to mind. It’s called Outliner.
  6. Learn how to write a good proposal. Michael Hyatt’s e-book on proposal writing is great.You probably won’t get published unless you write an outstanding proposal.
  7. Learn how to expand your platform. Again, Michael Hyatt has written the definitive manual on developing your platform in his book Platform. Get it and learn from it.
  8. Get an agent. Most publishing houses don’t accept manuscripts directly from authors. They only do so through agents. The Christian Writer’s Guide I referenced above lists many agents and what they accept. You can, of course, bypass agents and opt for self-publishing. Some of the big publishing houses even have self-publishing divisions. Essentially self-publishing requires that you pay upfront to have your book printed. A great article on self-publishing is here.
  9. Schedule time to write that works best for you. Some authors set a daily or weekly word count. I prefer to set up my calendar with hours I will write each week. I also figure the total hours I think it will take me to write a chapter, about 20-30 for a chapter of 4,000-5,000 works. Then, based on the number of hours I’ve allocated each week, I schedule a reasonable completion date. Remember, by the time I got to this stage I’d already compiled lots of research, written my proposal, and put my book ideas into a mind-map format. Find the best time for you to write and follow Nike’s advice, just do it.
  10. Edit. Edit. Edit. Once you’ve written your book, the job is only half done. I once heard someone say, “I don’t like to write. I like to ‘have written.'” After your write, the editing process is indispensible for improving your writing. Few if any writers get it right the first time.

So, if you have a book in your heart, go for it. You can leave a lasting legacy through writing. One of the most satisfying feelings I experienced lately was when I pressed ‘send’ and emailed my manuscript to my editor.

If you’re a writer, what advice would you give to budding writers?

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