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In Part 1 of this article, we said that any pastor in church ministry or any leader in any environment knows that conflict is part of the reality of leadership. It is impossible to avoid conflict and be alive at the same time. Leaders cause motion and motion causes friction.

Conflict happens.

The goal is not to avoid conflict, but to learn to resolve it. The absence of conflict is not a good sign. It only reflects the calm before the storm, or a church in the comfort zone.

In Part 2 of this teaching, I want to continue with the with nine steps that outline the basics of conflict resolution.

3) Seek common ground.
This is the best way to defuse the situation quickly so you can communicate. Find out what you do agree upon. For example, one group may want to rent a bus for the teens, while another group may want to purchase a bus for the youth activities. It would be easy to mount an argument for either side. However, if that is the focus, it becomes a debate, not a conversation, and can escalate into a battle, if not a full-scale war.

Find the common ground. In this case it would be safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation for the kids. Focus on the welfare of the teens and the good of the church and go from there.

4) Make your desires and expectations clear.
We have established from James 4:1-2 that when people don't get what they want, conflict is often the result. None of us will get everything we want, nor should we, but that is quite different than expressing what you want. It is healthy, good, and normal to express what you want in a direct manner.

Conflict cannot be resolved if either or both parties don't know what the other really wants. Again, mutual satisfaction may not be achievable, but it is impossible if it is not clear. Honesty and clarity are essential. For example, if you are frustrated because a key team member is consistently late, it is important that you express that frustration. Not in a manner that insists you get your way, but in a manner that seeks to understand why.

Once you have learned this, pursue a solution. You may find that you are dealing with a sanguine, happy-go-lucky personality that has no clue they are late and wonders why you are so uptight all the time. You might discover that their desire and expectation is for you to relax. From this vantage point, you can make progress.

5) Stay focused on the issue at hand.
This step is perhaps the easiest to understand but the most difficult to follow. We all chase rabbit trails that have nothing to do with the issue at hand from time to time and we all know that if you chase two rabbits, you catch neither one. Take a moment, very often, to make sure you are focused on the real issue.

6) Maintain direct communication, no third parties.
Alerting the media does not enhance conflict resolution. The local Atlanta police, just like every other police department, do not want the media to show up at a crime scene, or worse, in the midst of a crime in action. The issue gets distorted, blown out of proportion, and the truth is buried.

Involve only the necessary people to resolve conflict. Don't seek out your loyal friends and supporters to side with you. While that might feel good, it won't help the situation. In fact, it will make things worse.

7) Listen and don't respond defensively.
Listening is difficult when emotionally charged issues are on the table. Try using this approach, and coach others to use it, as well. While you are carefully listening to the person, have a notepad with you and jot down comments and questions you wish to make. This allows you to listen without interrupting, to pay better attention, and will prevent you from worrying about forgetting to say the important things you want to say.

When it comes to note-taking, don't go overboard. Don't look like a court stenographer. Just jot simple, abbreviated words to remind you of what you'd like to say when it's your turn.

Maintain good eye contact and when it's time to respond, don't be defensive. Admit to your mistakes, or whatever you might have done to contribute to the issue. Rarely is conflict 100 percent someone else's fault. Take responsibility for your own actions, and don't begin sentences with an accusing sounding "you."

If you sense yourself getting angry to a point of blowing up, step out of the room for a few minutes, collect your thoughts and return. When you return, offer to pray for the Holy Spirit's presence and guidance in the conversation.

8) Make a commitment to what is in the church's best interest.
I have personally seen this point save the day many times. When the parties in conflict agree up front to ultimately set their personal agendas aside and aim for the good of the church, resolution is already in sight.

This does not necessarily mean to sacrifice or completely abandon your big-picture goal. Leaders have vision and goals - that's how things get done and progress is made. The point is to never allow your agenda to rise above the good of the church. This goes for all persons involved.

I worked with a church where there was bitter disagreement between the choice of chairs or pews in the new worship auditorium. They were clearly at an impasse when discussing the issue from a personal preference bias. But when they analyzed what was best for the church, it went from a 50-50 split to about 90-10 in favor of chairs.

There may be a way of accomplishing the desired results that is different from any of the original desires. A completely new option is often the result of good conflict resolution.

9) Always reflect to discover and apply what you learned.
Conflict can be a wonderful way to learn and grow. When defenses are low and grace is high, receptivity is enhanced. When receptivity is enhanced, there is much greater potential to learn something new.

At the end of the process, take some time to reflect upon what you gained, what new insights you gathered, what you might do differently next time, what you learned about yourself, and how you can use this situation to become a better leader in the future.

This article is used by permission from
Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter The Pastor's Coach
available at

Author Biography

Dan Reiland
Web site: 12 Stone Church
Dan Reiland is Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY.

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