I have been posting a series of discussions concerning critical abilities for the missional leader. If you understand the true mission, establish a biblical vision based on that mission, and then build bridges of leadership that guide your entire congregation to get on board with that vision, get ready. The enemy will not be pleased and he will certainly do everything he can to tempt some of the people with whom you serve to not be pleased either.
In my last post I introduced the fourth critical ability, managing change and conflict well as an important tool for missional leaders. Though this might seem like a reactive ability, it requires a very proactive approach. Let me attempt to help you think through this a bit.
Causes of conflict can involve several issues such as unmet needs, misunderstood intentions, unrealistic expectations, a sense of devaluation, basic personality differences, fear, and sin among many others. It is very important to attempt to understand the real root issues of the conflict at hand and not simply react or overreact to its symptoms. Some causes of conflict may go far back in history and others are very personal and deeply felt. Overreaction to every minor criticism and difference of opinion can suck the life out of your ministry but a failure to ignore significant conflict and take it seriously will eventually escalate the problem even further.
Research the cause of conflict. Listen to all sides. Seek to determine the truth. What do they really want? Why? Is this conflict affecting the congregation’s ability to fulfill the vision and mission God has for it? Is there clear sin involved? To what extent is this conflict affecting your ability to lead? Remember individuals respond differently to conflict and so do congregations. Some do not handle it well at all. Apply scriptural principles and pray to help you discern objectively the significance of the conflict being addressed.
Inevitably confession and repentance will be necessary in real conflict. True repentance requires replacement. It is not enough to stop a behavior. One must fill the void left by the negative actions or attitudes with positive ones or they will eventually fall back into the hole left behind. This is the cycle of addictive behavior. One is convicted, seeks forgiveness but then falls back into the habit after a time because they did not replace their addiction with a positive discipline. This principle can be seen in Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine… but be filled with the Spirit.” Replacement!
Conflict resolution requires replacement as well. Old behaviors and thoughts or decision-making processes have to be replaced with new ones. If they are not, it is very likely the conflict will simply be repeated in the future when the same set of circumstances arises again. Though compromise is a short term solution in which both parties give in to get along to end the immediate conflict, it does not prevent the conflict from being repeated later. A long-term solution requires addressing the real root issues and putting into place the appropriate replacements based upon mission and vision. An effective, missional leader will have new behaviors, processes and actions ready because he has mastered the first three critical abilities. Though the change produced by these abilities might lead to the conflict, they will also be a source of the resolution of the conflict.
Resolution may require individual forgiveness as well as corporate opportunities and teaching on forgiveness and reconciliation. Some churches may need to “draw a line in the sand” and mark a place in history at which they have chosen to move forward by “forgetting what lies behind.” Working together through key bridges of leadership will aid in developing these processes and moments for a congregation. Conflict is never a good time for a leader to be alone.
Isaiah wrote in 62:10 “Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations.” As church leaders we will often find ourselves in the stone removal business. Identify walls in your ministry. Determine which stones to remove first and work, based on a mission and vision, and with a team of other leaders ready to “pass through, pass through the gates to prepare a way for the people” with you.