Last time we began our look at the important lessons for ministry most pastors-in-training don’t get in seminary. You can read about the first three right here.
One of the key lessons we looked at last time was that Conflict is absolutely necessary in a thriving church culture.
We’ll pick up from there with a few more things you probably didn’t learn in seminary.
Your greatest resource outside of God is yourself. The conflict lesson bothers a lot of pastors because they are naturally peacemakers. You may think “I’m totally conflict averse, and entertaining and nurturing conflict runs completely contrary to my nature”.
If that’s you, congratulations – you’ve taken the first step to becoming more effective, which is knowing yourself. At least, at this point, you have a sense of what causes anxiety for you (conflict).
Keep in mind that the threats to your ministry are not external, but internal. It is our tendency to adapt to the surrounding immaturity we find everywhere. It is this immaturity that currently permeates our culture and virtually all its institutions that is so apparent and so destructive of progress forward. In the church, it is expressed by “Feed me! Nurture me! Take responsibility for me! (What Paul addresses in the first letter he writes to the messed up church in Corinth). This kind of emotional climate can only be dissipated by clear, decisive, well-defined leadership.
Your best resource outside of dependence on God is knowing and trusting yourself- your personality, story, and the way you interact with the culture around you. We’ll explain those three factors in a future post, but for now, just note them.
The problem is always in the room … and begins with me! A secret to knowing yourself is knowing what causes you the most anxiety. Conflict raises anxiety, and once anxiety is raised, the focus becomes reducing the anxiety (even when the anxiety is helpful in moving people in more useful directions).
One sure-fire way to reduce anxiety is to focus on issues outside of the room (such as a problem person within the congregation). This allows us to avoid the present conflict unfolding between us, and focus on something/one who is not present.
Another way to reduce anxiety is to marginalize those in the room who bring up conflicted topics that demand resolution.
Unfortunately, this runs completely counter to good leadership, which always protects the voice of dissent, knowing that dissenting opinion often ripens the conversation, bringing in different perspectives that have been overlooked. It must be noted that not everyone is adept at dissenting in an effective manner. But no matter, differing opinions are critical to effective conversations.
By the way, avoiding conflict means that there will always be an ‘elephant in the room,’ that unspoken, unprocessed something that continues to gum up the works. If we could talk about it, we could figure out how to resolve it. But we can’t talk about it, so it just simmers there gaining more power within the organization simply because it has never been discussed.
That thing that you are reacting to most strongly? It’s probably the thing you need to pay the most attention to! “The problem is me” shouldn’t be heard voiced in the tones of self-condemnation. In fact, it is best spoken with a winsome voice, offering a new path to insight and freedom!
You absolutely cannot go it alone, even if you’ve been a Lone Ranger in ministry for many years.
I coach and have coached dozens of ministers in many different traditions around the country and in Canada. Over and over I discover these ministers to be isolated. And this isolation brings with it a whole host of problems and dysfunctions.
Folks, get a clue! You’re on the front lines! You’re taking all manner of incoming fire. How can you possibly be effective, maintain your sanity, uphold clear boundaries, and lead effectively if you’re doing this completely alone?
You need the support of people who are in the same position as you. (Be advised that people who have not experienced being in ministry have no idea as to the pressures you face, none!). Within your communities undoubtedly there are gatherings where you can find understanding and guidance as you navigate the troubled waters of ministry. Don’t let these pass you by because you are too busy.
Want to know more?
I’d like invite you to a learning experience with me and a few colleagues. re3vit@lize is the result of a new partnership between TAG Consulting and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a three year journey (two days each year) where we will explore together how to grow as a pastoral leader, lead change, mobilize your congregation, unleash the potential in the people you serve, and craft a thriving church culture where people can fulfill their God-given desires to belong, contribute, and make a difference. Please see the invitation below and join us in New England! For more information and to register, click on this link.
Dr. Jim Osterhaus is a Senior Partner at TAG Consulting and has served at one time or another as counselor/coach, professor, author, and consultant to a wide variety of organizations.