CHURCH LEADERSHIP & CONFLICT

by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)

Non-denominational Reformed


Preface:
In a recent podcast (#277) Tom S. Ranier addressed 12 ways in which to handle church conflict. What I noticed was that all of the items actually dealt in some form with the leadership of the church. I think it would be worthwhile to revisit his list albeit in my own vocabulary and with my own commentary and additions. The phrasing of the points may differ as well, but I think the issue is important enough to be shared again “anew.”

Text: Acts 15 – (Just as an example)

Introduction:
Something that may seem obvious is that healthy churches tend to have healthy leadership. On the other hand, churches that have some kind of underlying, or blatant, staff conflict can do great damage to a church staff and can also spread out into the church preventing them from realizing and functioning at their full potential.

Following is what has been discovered as some of the main reasons found for conflict among church staff:

1. Lack of relationship and leadership training.

Unfortunately, too many pastors graduate college or seminary and are selected, or sent out, to a position with little to no relationship or leadership training. This shouldn't be the case. It almost sets them up from the start for conflict, and possibly even failure.

I have seen it happen more than once. They almost get eaten alive when they are bombarded with incidents they are expected to solve when they have little or no training on how to deal with those types of incidents or issues.

2. Lack of involvement when selecting team members.

Not involving the church staff when selecting lay, or hiring paid, staff can cause them to feel like they don't have a voice in major things church related. Everyone doesn't have to agree on the candidate, but being included so they know their input is valuable helps them feel their insight is important.

3. Bad chemistry.

This can start out slow and grow into a monster. Often times the root cause of this is placing someone in a position that is not where their skill set, nor their heart, lies. One area of note in particular that I have noticed is the hiring of youth leaders as merely a stepping stone, or proving ground, for other ministry positions in the future. If a person does not have a heart for youth and are put in charge of youth in hopes of a “promotion” later, this often leads to a sense of bad chemistry among the staff. And it's not just with youth, it's in all areas where a calling or ministry skill set is being misused.

4. Different priorities.

Regardless of how many people you have on staff the number of opinions are going to be the same as the number of people. Regular church staff meetings on the direction of the church, the philosophy of the church and the priorities of the church, need to be held so everyone is on the same page. If there are differing opinions allow them to be voiced. Even if another direction is taken people still want to be heard.

5. Jealousy or Insecurity.

This one may be a bit tougher to deal with as the number of causes for jealousy and insecurity are virtually countless. This is where not only regular staff meetings can be of help, but meeting individually with staff and allowing them to speak freely can help prevent, or ward off, this type of thing before it gets out of control.

The most secure of us have insecurities and as much as we'd like to think we have become, or are becoming, spiritually mature jealousy is a strong feeling that can creep its way into all of us at times.

6. Insubordination.

This situation needs to be handled as delicately as possible. Attempt to understand where her or she are coming from. Try to get a grip on how it is they are feeling. Sadly, often times this a “rotten limb” that just needs to be lopped off before too much damage is done. Regardless of how legitimate the reason(s) may be for ridding the staff of this influence, people like this have usually developed a small following so be aware of how this may affect the body as a whole and be prepared.

7. Unhealthy alliances.

This one can go hand in hand with the above point. It's possible that church staff will develop unhealthy alliances with others in the church. Often times a small group of dissenters, or those who thrive on drama, can get an ear of someone on staff or in leadership and this can cause a clouding of judgment and strife.

8. Poor communication.

This is just as it sounds. Causes for this are numerous. Church staff and leadership are busy. It's easy to cancel a meeting here or an appointment there because there is something more pressing. If this is done often enough, however, a habit can be developed. You miss enough of these and communication begins to suffer.

A pastor who sets themselves up as strictly a “make an appointment” leader, even among staff, can close off much needed communication from his colleagues. An “open door” policy for staff, with some boundaries of course, is key to keeping communication channels open.

9. Work ethics.

The job description of someone in leadership needs to be defined and that leader needs to be held accountable for their performance. This doesn't have to be rigid. In ministry there needs to be a certain level of independence allowed for people to operate in their gifts and talents, but results and accountability are necessary. It's far too easy for one to get lazy, or start to approach laziness, in a ministry environment so accountability is key.

At the same time, I think that in general church workers are over worked. For instance, the standard for a Senior or Lead Pastor is 6 days a week 8 to 16 hours a day plus availability for any and all emergencies. In my opinion, that's too much. I firmly believe pastors should only be working 5 days a week as is the norm for most careers. They also need additional time off for specific, uninterrupted study, to spend time with family, and to refresh themselves not just spiritually but mentally and physically as well. There's no real set standard, but too many in ministry burn out. We need to prevent this from happening. The key is to let the work ethic which is expected be made known clearly.

10. Blame.

Sadly, church staff at times can be good at playing the blame game. If an idea doesn't work, “See. I told you that wasn't the way to approach this but nobody would listen to me.” Or, perhaps in a moment of weakness when one is approached privately by a church member about something going on that they don't agree with, a comment like “Well, between you and me I had nothing to do with that. That was so and so's idea.”

The blame game does nothing positive and only breeds negativity.

11. Solutions are interfered with.

When ideas for possible solutions for situations are brought up that some on staff may disagree with, they can drag their feet in taking steps toward the proposed solution. And yes, this does happen in church staff/ministry settings just as it does in business.

12. Lack of appreciation.

This is not just a problem within the leadership circle itself, this is an issue the entire church could help prevent. I, for one, would love to see congregations show much more appreciation for the leadership in their churches. Not just pastors on their birthdays, holidays, and pastor appreciation days, but appreciation to ALL leaders. Ministry is one of the hardest, granted most rewarding, positions one can be in. Appreciation for the work done by church staff needs to be given.

Church staff meetings that are heavy on compliments, showing appreciation, open and honest communication, inclusion, leadership and relational training (or mentoring), and personal responsibility produce much healthier church leaders than those that do not.

So, what is to be done?

At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, I'd like to close by simply suggesting that those on staff and in leadership pray with and for each other. Church members, pray with and for your leadership. And all of you, remember you are where you are as servants of Christ to live His example and pass on the gospel to others in word and deed.

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