He stood inches from my face and yelled. I wondered if he would make a fist and belt me. The rest of the leaders sat silent, stunned. He stormed out of the meeting and never came back.
I was a new pastor in my first church, and it was my first experience with conflict. Since then I’ve weathered many conflicts — some well, some not.
Here are four lessons I’ve learned.
Conflict Is Inevitable
My uncle was right: every pastor will experience significant conflict. Just pray that it won’t consume you, especially in your first church. Conflict is an inevitable part of ministry.
You Can’t Handle Conflict
We have no control over the behavior of others. The only thing we can do is to learn to control our own responses and behavior. Marshall Shelley’s book Ministering to Problem People in Your Church is required reading: “When attacked by a dragon, do not become one.” Learning emotional intelligence and learning to become a non-anxious presence is critical.
If Your Leaders Are United, You Can Survive Almost Anything
When the leadership of the church is healthy, the church body will be healthy enough to fight off infection. The opposite is true: if your leadership is unhealthy, your church won’t be able to survive a small level of conflict. “If the church itself is not healthy, the best thing to do is to build a healthy board,” writes Shelley.
Conflict Is an Opportunity
I still hate conflict, but I now see it as an opportunity, and conflict avoidance as a danger. Walk toward conflict. Aim to understand the other person. Listen carefully, and share your perspective. Pray for unity. Have tough conversations. Don’t ever look for conflict, but don’t let conflict fester. Learn to see conflict as an opportunity and walk toward it.