Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Choose Your Battles: 6 Questions to Ask in a Ministry Conflict

Photo Credit: JWPhotowerks (CC)
Leadership in the church can be a series of uphill battles.

Why is it this way? Policies, politics, and preferences, which all have a common thread: people. Conflicts and disputes with people can take a lot of time and energy. Sometimes those battles feel completely unnecessary, causing ministry leaders to expend lots of sideways energy for a conflict that isn't worth fighting. Some battles are worth dying for; others didn't need to happen in the first place. It's these latter conflicts I hope to address here. Too many battles simply weren't worth fighting in the first place--they had to do with quirks, personal preferences, or simply weren't worth the time or energy.

Good ministry leaders know which battles to fight. I hesitate to use the word "battle" for its warlike connotations, but conflicts between people in the church can get downright ugly, especially if they're done poorly. Yet conflicts are an important part of relationship--we need iron to sharpen iron, to hone and refine and clarify.

Honest, humble, gracious conflict can ultimately be life-giving. But it won't be if we're fighting the wrong battles, expending lots of undue energy and time on issues that aren't really important or distract from the overall mission.

Here are 6 questions to ask yourself as a ministry leader in a current or potential conflict:

1. What are my values? Having core personal and professional values can offer a helpful framework for discerning whether a conflict is worth the time and energy. If a person's actions or words completely conflict with a core value, it may be a battle worth fighting. For instance, if one of your core values is growing small in community, and a ministry leader decides to dismantle all small group ministry programs, it's likely a conflict worth pursuing. One of my ministry values is creating environments of belonging. If a student or youth leader is mean-spirited or overly sarcastic in their tone and making others uncomfortable, it's not just a personality issue--it goes against a core value, and needs to be addressed directly. However, if a new non-Christian student is a bit unruly or distracting during a talk, the value of an environment of belonging allows me to give grace instead of calling that student out and potentially hurting the relationship.

2. What are my motives? Check your heart--why did this particular situation become a conflict for you? What is the history behind this relationship and conflict? What planks might be in your eye that need to be removed? Can you approach the situation with authenticity and self-awareness?

3. Who is affected by the ripples? Every conflict has ripples. These are the emotional and relational shockwaves that impact and influence other relationships. This is a question of systems thinking, viewing the conflict through the lens of overlapping relationships. Who are all the people affected by this conflict? How will having a conflict be beneficial or detrimental to these particular people, both in the short and long term? Knowing the relational impact will help you know the weightiness of the conflict at hand.

4. Am I throwing pearls to pigs? Jesus's statement in Matthew 7 is somewhat strange, but it's set in the context of judging others. I think Jesus is implying that some battles aren't worth fighting due to the other person's hard heartedness and inability to change their opinion about the issue. Of course, there isn't anyone beyond redemption or change. But if it's a battle that keeps getting fought over and over and over, it may be worth setting boundaries for yourself and not wasting time offering valuable input or advice to those who won't hear it.

5. What is my relational equity? If your relationship with this person(s) was a bank account, how much do you have invested? How much time and energy have you spent with this individual or group? What sort of relational withdrawal are you willing to make? If you choose to engage in a conflict where you don't have much equity invested, you may find yourself bankrupt and the relationship lost. You'll have to ask, is this relationship worth losing for me?

6. What is the Spirit guiding me to do? This is the ultimate question--what is God calling you to do in the situation? Regardless of personality, conflict styles, or personal preferences, God may be calling you to lovingly engage in a conflict, or to back off and give grace and patience.

May you engage in loving, gracious, truthful, life-giving conflict and know the battles you need to pursue!

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