4 Tips to Managing Conflict in Challenging Times

As children’s leaders, we work with all different kinds of people with different personalities and opinions; some that we get along with, and some that we might, at best (let’s be honest), only tolerate.

These are difficult sentiments to utter because, as Christians, we are called to love our brothers and sisters as Christ loves us. It feels unloving to have differing opinions or to be bothered by our co-workers’ or community members’ idiosyncrasies.

However, the way that God uniquely designed each and every person so differently can create tension between leaders or between leaders and community members.

It is challenging in a normal season to work with people with whom you don’t see eye to eye. But what happens when we add a pandemic, a stressful work environment, and different opinions on just about every political and social issue known to humankind?

It’s a powderkeg, just waiting for a spark. Cue the passive aggression, hidden resentment, or even overt anger.

Maybe you’ve experienced this in the past year, or before in your ministry experience. I’m sure some of you have even gone through a church blow-up or split as a result of different perspectives on issues that are of vital importance to faith in God and what the Bible says. Or even things that seemed petty or irrelevant to the mission of the church. 

Instead of hosting a “church hurt anonymous” group in this blog, I want to offer 4 tips on how to grow your capacity to hold the tension when you and your leadership or community aren’t seeing eye to eye.

By no means do I want to oversimplify the pain and destruction that conflict brings. I merely want to help you take a deep breath and consider some alternatives to stress and overwhelm.

1. Remember the Mission First

We are all serving in various capacities on a church staff or parachurch organization because of the mission of the church or organization. (If you have huge philosophical issues with your church or organization’s mission, working there long-term will be difficult if not impossible for you.)

Each of us sees the fulfillment of that mission within our own skill sets, personalities, and experiences.

However, the mission is the same for everyone in an organization. It is imperative that everyone on a team is moving in the same direction, with different roles, in order to achieve the mission for the Kingdom.

When you meet with a co-worker or community member during a conflict, you must remember the mission and keep it at the forefront of the conversation. There might be philosophical differences in the way it ought to be completed. If you can agree on the mission, you can start from a place of unity.

I want you to consider what it might look like for you to step into conflict remembering the mission of why your church exists. What would change in your situation?

2. Try to See Others How God Sees Them

When we’re in disagreement, we tend to only see the faults and failures of others.

However, Jesus offers us the opportunity to grow in the Spirit, to see others from the perspective of being forgiven, loved, and chosen. When we prioritize seeing others the way God sees them, we can offer more grace to them, and even see ourselves in the same light. We are able to come humbly to the conversation, rather than assuming a position of righteousness or holiness.

What would it look like if you saw others how God sees them in the middle of a conflict?

3. Seek to Understand Each Other

When you hear something you don’t agree with, or if someone is coming at you with a verbal attack, I want you to consider listening first before responding. By seeking to understand, you sit in a humble yet empowered position because you are able to move from your flight or fight brain to executive thinking, where all rational and constructive thought can happen.

By asking curious questions about what the person is saying, you grow your capacity to see the other person more fully and calmly try to understand their perspective. You do not have to agree with them, but by seeking to understand, many times you will build a bridge rather than create a further divide.

When I first started my full-time Children’s Ministry gig, I had a mother approach me with hostility over Sunday School. It was literally my first day on the job when she walked up to me and said in a heightened tone, “Are you going to change Sunday School? If you do, I’m not helping!”

I was really puzzled. I had inherited something that was in need of some changes, but I had no intention of making sweeping adjustments on my first day or even months of leadership.

Instead of being overwhelmed by her abruptness, I set up a lunch meeting to hear her frustration and made a point to continue connecting with her as I transitioned into the role.

I listened to her concerns, not validating them as truth, but hearing them as her experience, and reassured her that I wanted to work with parents for the flourishing of families and the ministry. She became a dedicated volunteer for the next 4 years.

I write this to illustrate that if we can hear someone’s words and ask some curious questions, we can find that there’s more to the story than what we first perceived as a threat.

How could your calm demeanor shape the conversation when you seek to understand the other person instead of making assumptions?

4. Cultivate Respect for Each Other

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he writes in chapter 4 verses 2-3 (NIV), Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

As a passionate person, I find it difficult to be humble and gentle in conflict, especially when someone says something I fundamentally don’t agree with.

However, I have found that my role in leadership is not to be right, but to respect the people in front of me, as well as respecting myself. We might not see things from the same perspective, but we must “bear with one another in love.”

If we don’t respect each other there is already a barrier between us. Respect says to another person, “Your voice matters whether or not what you say is not how I understand it.” It also paves the way for the other person to grow in their respect for you.

What would it look like if, even in difference, you maintained respect for the person or group across from you?

Conclusion

Certainly, there are times that both parties don’t come to a conflict with a problem-solving mentality. These tips can only work in an environment of mutuality and respect.

However, if you do try to implement even one of these tips, your character and integrity will grow. This pays dividends in your leadership for years to come and strengthens the body of Christ for the work of the Kingdom.

There is a way forward in this season of division and misunderstanding, and you can be a part of it.

If you want more on this topic, join the INCM Webinar: Discipling Kids and Families Through Challenging Seasons on September 30, 12 pm CST. Register for free here!

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