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Make Conflict Work for You

Handling disagreement can help your relationships

During a routine ministry meeting, I expressed my opinion on a particular topic relevant to our meeting. “Whoa!” said one of the members. “I’m not sure I agree with that.” This began a long discussion, with heated exchanges on both sides. At the end of the meeting, I felt awkward and nervous about the exchange, afraid that this would be the last time she’d come to a meeting. But you know what happened?

We walked away as friends. And she came back the following week.

When I spoke with her the following week, I wanted to make sure not only that she did not walk away angry at the altercation, but also that we were okay as friends. Although I never changed my mind about my theological standpoint (nor did she), I cared enough about her enough to let her know that I still loved her even though we disagreed.

Conflict is inevitable. But what do you do when the conflict is between you and a member of your ministry? Although it is uncomfortable to experience conflict with someone, the outcome can prove beneficial both to you and the other person in the end and can actually help a relationship rather than hinder it.

Here are some tips on how to deal with conflict in an effective way.

Nip it in the bud

If you do not nip conflict in the bud immediately, it will snowball and suffocate you in the end. It is not a matter of if, but when, the conflict will come to a head. If you perceive a problem, set aside time to meet with that person individually. Lead with a servant’s heart. Ask what you can do to help work through this issue. If the person is receptive, walk away with clear ways you can improve your leadership.

Get a mediator

If you find you are disagreeing with another ministry member, try your best to resolve it. If you can’t resolve it, ask a third party to act as a mediator between you and the other person. Make sure you choose a person who can look at the situation without bias or judgment. Then agree to meet at a neutral location such as a coffee shop or restaurant. This helps maintain your objectivity. Ask the mediator to allow both parties to voice their concerns without judgment or interruption. Once both people have spoken their minds, let the mediator help you consider what has been said and help you come to an agreement.

Meet face to face

Jesus’ leadership was one of a servant, lowering himself to our level, emptying himself, and washing the feet of his betrayers. Leadership should be a blessing, not a curse. But to receive the blessing there are often bumps along the way. Leaders who lead God’s people receive the blessing of discipleship just as Jesus did. Confronting others out of love shows your servant attitude toward leadership. A face-to-face meeting acknowledges the person and her concerns. It says to her, “I value you and what you are about to say.” It also says, “In what ways can you help in building me up to be a better leader?”

Read between the lines

During the meeting, make clarifying statements about how you think each person is feeling and thinking. If you see arms crossed in front of her chest, for example, this may mean a closed type of communication. Ask why she feels so closed off to what you are saying. Is there underlying hurt? disappointment? disrespect? Sometimes what is not being said is just as important as what is being said.

Ask clarifying questions

Open your mind and heart to what the mediator has to say regarding the situation. Is there truth to the mediator’s point of view? Are there areas where you as a leader are wrong and you need to repent? It takes two people to argue. It also takes two people to solve the disagreement. It takes humility on both parts to make that happen. Ask God to point out areas that you need to work on that will help the other person feel respected and valued.

Come to a peaceable agreement

Romans 12:18 reminds us, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” As Christians, we are blessed if we seek peaceable solutions to our problems. That means meeting with people and facing our issues directly. It does not mean you will always come to a peaceable solution. Others’ response to conflict is not your problem; it’s their problem. Sometimes people are unwilling to take responsibility for their actions. Do everything within your power to make peace.

Follow up

I believe a certain amount of awkwardness results when you have conflict with someone. Whether it ends peacefully or not, as a leader you need to make sure each party has come to some sort of resolution. Some members, unfortunately, may need to leave because their vision for the ministry clashes with yours. This is okay. You need to give yourself permission to let the relationship end if it’s putting your ministry’s unity in jeopardy. Conflict helps us extract the goodness of God out of every situation. Initiating a follow-up meeting helps resolve any guilt over the conflict and helps you assure peace has truly been achieved. Following up helps you to gain closure over the issue.

Good leaders handle conflict. We may not always receive our desired outcome, but knowing we are doing our part to live at peace with everyone empowers us as leaders and helps us move forward in our goal to make disciples.

Michelle S. Lazurek is a pastor's wife, a mother, an author, and a speaker. She is a contributing writer for Movieguide, a community group leader for Incourage, and published in numerous places such as Charisma Magazine and Women’s Ministry.net’s Tip of the Week. Please visit her website at www.michellelazurek.com, find her on Facebook at Michelle S. Lazurek, or follow her on Twitter @mslazurek.

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