How can we address leadership conflict within the church?
Jensen has been feeling disturbed for several months. He entered with much enthusiasm to serve in the church board, but has met with a very unpleasant observation: there have been several occasions when 2 board members raised their voices strongly over disagreements! This has recurred several times over the last 7-9 months.
Repeated conflict affects the enthusiasm and morale of a church, and may impede positive change from taking place, ‘pulling back’ on church growth. Such conflicts may erupt at the most inopportune time to distract or derail efforts for evangelism, teaching or discipleship…because at the root of this lack of unity is an element of spiritual warfare.
Factors contributing to Leadership Conflict
We all understand that leaders desire good for the church and do not set out to disagree with each other. However, intense disagreements are familiar to many churches.
- Insufficient time and space of heart to seek God on pressing issues
There are often too many issues that require decisions, with too little time to make them. Lay-leaders with a full-time job may not have sufficient time to think through these issues. By the time it becomes a conflict, it is too late in the process…
- An unclear process of decision-making
A desire for a more “plural” or “consensual” leadership may result in a lack of clarity over how to break deadlocks in light of opposing views and to who has the final say. By far, this is the most common problem leading to conflict in churches I have observed.
- A lack of understanding of spiritual authority
There are various modes of church governance, each with their strengths and weaknesses. However, leaders in each church need to have a common understanding and whole-hearted acceptance of the authority structure in place. Without this, it is common that during stressful situations, different parties have different preferences regarding who should have more authority, which leads to confusion and conflict.
- Unhealthy ways of addressing conflict
Different personalities, strong emotions and painful personal histories are elements that may result in unhealthy ways of conflict resolution. During conflict, these serve to deteriorate relationships while leaving core issues unresolved.
Helping Your Church To Navigate Through Leadership Conflict
To help our brothers & sisters–especially those in leadership roles—work through conflict, we need to understand the various values carried by different parties and educate our leadership to resolve conflict in a mature way that builds greater unity. Here are some thoughts that may aid you in your journey of navigating this ‘pull-back effect’:
- Highlight the impact of leadership behavior on church morale
It is important to educate leaders regarding the profound impact their behaviour has on the morale of God’s church. Members take their cue on spiritual passion from how their leaders model and carry themselves. Many leaders forget the onus of this leadership dynamic during conflict. A poignant reminder of the impact of leadership behaviour will go a long way for the Holy Spirit to convict them to change.
- Teach/equip leaders on how to work with different personalities
“Our entire leadership team (staff and lay leaders) did a comprehensive personality profiling that revealed the team profile and how each person contributed to the ministry. It answered many questions on why certain team members behaved or acted in a certain manner. It showed how they made a dynamic difference to the team with their unique gifting. More importantly, uncovered areas for improvement and revealed what the team profile could be when all the different personalities worked well together.” (Rev. Keith Lai, Covenant Presbyterian Church Singapore)
- Champion acceptance of one another
Conflicts may recur even after they are resolved and despite genuine forgiveness. However, if there are key-people who remind the leadership of the importance of unity and the new patterns of relationship, there is a hope that such conflicts will significantly reduce and a greater energy of serving God will flow through the board.
Hear what other Pastors and Leaders say
“It is important for people to deal with blind-spots, however, it begins with the leader. Leaders may not be aware of these underlying misconceptions and extreme views they carry, resulting in a habitual reaction. Humbling ourselves before others, admitting our unbalanced views and prejudices go a long way to bring a healing process.”
Rev. Keith Lai, Covenant Presbyterian Church Singapore
“I have been blessed the past nineteen years of pastoral ministry with a strong cohesion within our leadership team. This depth of relationship has allowed us to trust each other and have robust–albeit sometimes heated–discussions without deteriorating into face-offs, immature manoeuvring or posturing. There was a time when this was not so: where a mistrust and suspicion existed. This positive change has become a visible model for church members. We thank God for the deliberate time and effort invested in our relationships, and it has become the sweet-spot of our leadership team. In the long run, it is worth it!”
Pastor Beh Soo Yeong, The Bible Church
What Do You Think?
What other factors have contributed to the ‘walls’ built in your church? What has your church done to navigate this ‘pull -back’ effect? Share your thoughts with us, and let me know if this post has helped you!
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Rev. Dr. Philip Huan is the Principal Consultant at ChurchLife Resources, and is passionate about helping churches and leaders become strong and healthy!