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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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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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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Should you get Closer to your Critics?

What’s happening in this picture? I used this in a recent talk and asked the church audience to give me their answers. Their responses included… two people are angry, they are upset, they aren’t talking, they disagree about something. One lady came up to me afterwards and said, “I think it means that she was right and he was wrong.” I chuckled at that one. In a phrase, this is what I see: two people, for whatever reasons, have cut themselves off from each other, both physical and emotionally. Leaders do that sometimes to their critics and naysayers. Here’s why that’s not a good idea and how we can stay closer to our critics.

emotional cut off copy

One of the greatest survival stories ever began in August 1914 when the famous explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, sailed with twenty-seven men on his ship the Endurance. He planned to lead the first expedition across the Antarctic continent. However, his ship got stuck in heavy sea ice which eventually crushed it off the coast of Antarctica. Stuck on four feet of ice over mile-deep water, Shackleton and his crew survived 635 days and nights with poor shelter and limited rations in some of the harshest conditions known. Amazingly, on foot and by small boat he eventually got to safety and then rescued his entire crew. You can read the full story in the great book, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage.

What was the key to this amazing story of survival? It was a quality of Shackleton’s leadership presence. The ship’s surgeon, Alexander Macklin, captured one of the most important characteristics Shackleton embodied that contributed to the men’s survival. He wrote in his diary, “Shackleton at this time showed one of his sparks of real greatness. He did not rage at all, or show outwardly the slightest sign of disappointment; he told us simply and calmly (my emphasis) that we must winter in the Pack, explained its dangers and possibilities; he never lost his optimism.”[1]

Shackleton illustrates a quality I believe leaders need: to maintain a calm presence with their critics, dissidents, and naysayers. In his time of crisis, he calmly connected to his men, especially the dissidents and potential troublemakers. It made the difference between life and death.

It’s a counter intuitive approach. Staying reasonably and calmly connected is the better way to lower the relational tension and personal anxiety we feel toward our critics. It can improve those relationships and it doesn’t mean that we become their best friends or that we let them run over us.

So, who in your ministry is your biggest detractor today?

  • An old-timer who has been in the church 40 years?
  • A board member who seems to always take a contrarian view?
  • A staff person who isn’t performing?
  • A volunteer who doesn’t like you?
  • Or?

Shackleton’s secret was that instead of pushing away his detractors he actually drew closer to those men. He made two of his troublmakers his bunkmates in his tent. And when he left on a lifeboat to assemble a rescue party, he took 3 men whom he felt might cause trouble with the men who were left.

Here’s what I suggest to maintain a calm presence with such people.

  1. Recognize the power of emotional and relational force fields.
    • Just as magnets have force fields around them, leaders carry emotional force fields as well. Our demeanor, words, and vocal tone all carry power. We can draw people to us or push them away (like the same poles on a magnet do). Great leaders monitor and control their emotional force fields because others will sense our tone. It’s a social neuroscience concept theory of mind that states that we can somewhat intuit the emotions, intentions, and thoughts of another. Although it’s not mind reading and we often misread other’s intentions, it is what some call our sixth sense. Great leaders recognize this and create welcoming rather than repelling emotional force fields, especially toward their critics.
  2. Take the initiative.
    • With our critics and naysayers, it’s easier to keep our distance even though we know relationship tension exists. A good leader, however, will take the initiative to reach out to a critic, even though he’d prefer that if, “they have a problem, they should come to me.” A simple conversation like this can potentially ease tension… “Hi, John, just wanted to check in with you. How are things going?”
  3. Practice empathy.
    • Empathy is the ability to step inside another’s shoes and see life from their perspective. Try stepping into your critic’s shoes to see you from their perspective. You might gain new understanding about what lies at the root of their resistance. Daniel Golemen (the emotional intelligence guy) believes there are three kinds of empathy. I describe them in this way: knowing empathy (we cognitively know our critic’s distress), feeling empathy (we feel our critic’s distress), and doing empathy (we are moved to help relieve our critic’s distress). Which kind do you need to express toward your critic?
  4. Become more self-aware.
    • Related to number 1 above, becoming more self aware refers to recognizing the power of emotional contagion, the concept that explains how others catch our emotions. If you act distant or cold toward someone, they tend to mirror your behavior. If you act friendly and open toward others, they tend to respond in like kind. Neuroscientists have discovered a unique set of brain cells called mirror neurons that play a role in emotional contagion. These brain circuits prompt us to subconsciously mimic goal directed behavior we see in others. Ask yourself how you come across to your critics. Would you want them to relate to you as you do to them?

Again, who’s the person in your life or ministry that criticizes or hassles you the most? Which of these four suggestions if applied might make that relationship better?

Even though we may not feel we have the strength or emotional reserve to relate in a positive way toward our critics, the Bible tells us that every follower of Jesus has the Holy Spirit. He promises to give us everything we need to relate in wise and healthy ways toward our critics. The Apostle Paul reminded us of this when he wrote these words.

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you (Rom. 8.9, NIV)

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[1] Marcuson, Leaders Who Last, kindleKloc. 1117.

6 Dangers of Self-appointed Leaders

Malcolm Webber is one of my favorite leaders of leaders. With a PhD and over 20 books on leadership to his credit, he insightfully describes the dangers of a self-appointed leader in his book Healthy Leaders. He draws insight from a self-appointed leader named Korah described in the Old Testament book of Numbers, chapters 16-17. I’ve paraphrased these dangers below and contrasted them with 6 qualities of true God-appointed leaders.

Fashion man pointing at himself

Self-appointed leaders…

  1. resist existing spiritual authority (Nm 16.2).
  2. … criticize and question existing leaders (Nm 16.1).
  3. … accuse other leaders of what they themselves are guilty (Nm 16.3).
  4. aren’t satisfied with the positions they hold. They push for greater authority and position (Nm 16.10).
  5. murmur against leadership that God has appointed (Nm 16.11).
  6. ultimately face God’s judgement (Nm 16.31-35).

God-appointed leaders…

  1. willing submit to existing authority (Daniel’s repeated examples).
  2. when issues and questions arise, they appropriately appeal up the chain of command and go to their leaders in private and in person (Mt 18.15)
  3. avoid a judgmental spirit (Mt 7.1-5)
  4. wait on God to promote them (Paul and Moses spent years in obscurity before rising to significant leadership)
  5. only speak well of their leaders whether to their faces, behind their backs, or in the presence of others (Eph 4.29).
  6. lead with the eternal goal in mind to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt 25.21).

Of these two lists, which one most characterizes your leadership? If the first list does, what changes do you need to make so that list two most characterizes you?

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