4 Mistakes to Avoid When Dealing with Conflict

Conflict is going to happen. After sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve, God told Eve that the relationship with her husband would no longer be perfect: “Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). Scholars have pointed out that the same wording of desire and ruling is used in the following chapter to describe Cain’s relationship to sin (Genesis 4:7). So often conflict in our relationships with one another is the result of sin.

Many of the letters in the Bible, the epistles we learn so much about God from, were written because there was conflict in the churches. God redeemed the conflict by giving us great books in the Bible for our encouragement and growth.

Of course, not all conflict is bad. Some conflict is really healthy tension, but unhealthy and sinful conflict destroys. Unhealthy conflict spoils the unity and morale of the team. Unhealthy conflict distracts from the mission. As this type of conflict arises, here are four mistakes leaders make:

1. Ignoring

Many a leader has said, “I just don’t like conflict.” But the longer conflict goes unaddressed, the worse it gets. Burying your head in the sand does not make the conflict go away. It only exasperates the pain and fallout when you finally pull your head out of the sand. A leader who ignores conflict is abdicating leadership responsibility. A leader who ignores conflict is being unloving to those he/she serves as the culture of the team disintegrates.

2. Being vague

Without specificity in a confrontation, it is improbable the person can adjust. When addressing conflict, being vague with statements like “I just sense something is off” or “I am uncomfortable about the vibe I am feeling” harms more than helps. A lack of clarity in confrontation is crushing. A person being confronted without clarity is likely to trust the team less, and the lack of trust will only create more relational strife.

 3. Over-involving others

Relational and team conflict should first be addressed between those involved in the conflict. When leaders unnecessarily involve others in an issue that could be easily handled, the residue of the conflict can remain in the minds of others long after resolution has occurred between those who were at odds with one another. (I am referring to relational conflict, not issues that should be brought to light for broad exposure.)

 4. Not distinguishing between sin and style

Confronting someone for habitual sin that results in conflict (dishonesty, divisive attitude, gossip, etc.) should be handled differently than confronting someone for a leadership style that is out of sync with the context or a lack of competence that is causing strife. People who don’t match the culture of a team or who lack competence in their role should not be confronted as if they are in sin. While the issues must be addressed, their character and integrity should be affirmed in the midst of the process. At the same time, people who cause conflict because of their sin should be confronted for their sin. They should be lovingly challenged to repent for their own sake and for the sake of the teams they will serve on in the future.

Ultimately, unhealthy conflict among leaders impacts the people the leaders are seeking to serve. Conflict will always exist while we live this side of eternity. Wise leaders recognize this reality and seek to handle it with wisdom and compassion.

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Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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