Leader: Conflict is an Opportunity?



For the last time… Do your homework!

I used to be afraid of conflict.

I didn’t often show it, but in the middle of a conflict I could feel actually feel the blood leaving my extremities and running to my core. My arms would get cold and clammy as the conversation progressed. I was a leader, how in the world could a leader be afraid of conflict?

Leader, if you are a “people-pleaser” or if you believe that conflict is ungodly, you will find it difficult to lead.

Eventually, I learned not to avoid conflict as a leader and to deal with it sooner than later, because in simple practical terms, things only got worse if I ignored it. And at some point, I’d have to deal with it, and there’d be more of a mess to clean up at that point. So, reluctantly I learned not to avoid conflict, but it was many years before I became comfortable with conflict, even looked forward to it.

A few years ago I was in a meeting where a two of my leaders were working their way through a deep rift. It was tense; pointed questions were being asked, and honest, difficult statements were being made. I saw it as a beautiful picture of two mature believers dealing with a deep wound between them. But as I looked around the room at my other leaders, one of them was bent over, standing with his head down, almost rocking back and forth. You could tell he was not comfortable with conflict at all, his body almost had a physical aversion to it.

While people may not always show it, I’ve discovered that many Christians believe that conflict is wrong, that somehow conflict is ungodly. I do not believe this at all. Jesus was involved in many conflicts with people. In fact, often times Jesus even initiated the conflict!

As a young leader, I worked for a Pastor who was insecure, and who led from a place of fear. Intimidation was his go-to card to try to keep control. He bull-dozed all conflict into the ground. It was his way of avoiding conflict. Conversely, several years later, I got the opportunity to work for a leader’s leader, Bruce Miles. He led from a position of strength and confidence. Bruce didn’t run from conflict, in fact we used to joke that he went looking for it! Not to squash it, but Bruce saw it for what it was, an opportunity.

As a CEO I have leaned to see conflict from Bruce’s point of view. Here is how I view conflict now.

1. Conflict is normal.

In a marriage, in business, in a church, it is normal for there to be conflict and misunderstandings between people, even between Godly people, even people in love.

The Apostles Peter and Paul had rifts that had to be worked through. Were they not mature believers? Why should we be any different?


2. Conflict is an opportunity to build loyalty with the rest of your team.

If you don’t deal with conflict, it won’t go away. In fact, it will get worse. And eventually it will create a culture in your organization of not dealing with stuff. This will be like ingesting poison into the health of your organization. Good leaders will not stay in a culture that does not deal with its stuff. If bad employees or bad volunteers are allowed to operate unchecked and unconfronted when they run afoul of the rules, it will eventually run off your good ones who are trying to do it right but feel no support from the top.

3. Conflict is an opportunity to reinforce the culture you are trying to create.

People have different ideas of how things should be done. You need to have a clear vision of the culture God has called you to create. Conflict is an opportunity for you to shape their thinking to the culture you desire. I remember a time where an angry older lady called the church to give Pastor Bruce a piece of her mind. “We don’t sing hymns anymore!” Bruce didn’t get defensive, (yes we do?) or insecure (we’ll do better!), but instead, he calmly explained how he too loved hymns, and often sang them by himself in his car, but that God had called this church to reach the unchurched, and how unchurched folks didn’t relate to hymns at all. He then lovingly explained to her that she would continue to be frustrated attending our church and that there were many other fantastic churches in the area who loved to sing hymns. “In fact, would you mind if I called my friend Pastor Bob and gave him your number? You would love his church. He’s a fantastic pastor and I know they love hymns” I had never seen leadership like this. And it wasn’t a case of “don’t let the door hit you, where the good Lord split you.” Bruce in that moment, really was caring for her pastorally. He knew who he was and what God had called his church to become. And it wasn’t congruent with who this lady was or wanted to be. I saw him do this time and time again with congregation members, volunteers and staff. Without malice or angst, out of strength of conviction and a caring heart, Pastor Bruce would explain the culture God had called him to create. And while people didn’t always agree, they appreciated the clarity and would either change their behavior or leave. Ultimately, there was very little conflict in what became a mega-church that reached thousands of unchurched folks, because division found no place to fester or take root.

4. Conflict is an opportunity to show your commitment to the relationship.

I have a friend who says “I don’t know how much you care about me until we’ve had a fight.” It took me a long time to understand this. But, conflict is bound to happen, it’s how you handle it that shows your character and your commitment to the relationship. Will it break the relationship when we fight, or is this relationship worth fighting for? As a youth pastor, I had angry parents call frequently, now in my non-profit its an angry donor that occasionally calls. I don’t fear these calls anymore. I relish them, because I know that it’s a rare opportunity to strengthen the relationship. In fact, it may be the exact opportunity I’ve been praying for, and a chance to show them my heart.

And if we can’t resolve it, at least there is a mutual understanding between us, and a sense that perhaps God has called us to separate things.

And either way, that’s okay.



About markmoder

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