How NOT to Handle Conflict

One of the things that is very tough to manage in life is conflict. I’ve usually handled conflict fairly well, until I got into church. For whatever reason, the church world made me feel like I needed to handle conflict differently. For whatever reason, I knew conflict would be a reality outside of church, but working in the church I thought it would be different.

The Bible is pretty clear on how we should handle conflict:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.Matthew 18:15-17 ESV

Handling conflict seems to be a big issues in the church. Here are 3 common improper ways that I’ve handled conflict in the past.

1. Avoid it

That volunteer that doesn’t show or even worse is not one that you want on your team and you avoid the conversation like the plague. I had a conversation early on in Switch, that I avoided for a few weeks. It was a volunteer who wasn’t on the same page and I thought they would just eventually get on the same page if I prayed hard enough or if I did my job well enough. Unfortunately, I heard this person wasn’t just unhappy they were flat out mad and were trying to get other people on board.

I eventually sucked it up had a conversation to say this is the direction we are going and I really want you to go there with us. This person said they didn’t think it was right and I asked them to step down and recommended a ministry that was doing the strategy and philosophy that she believed in.

If you have some conflict, bring it up in person.

2. Handle it improperly

There are a few ways that I’ve experienced this could be done:

  • Nancy nice pants that wants to have a conversation but doesn’t address the issue.
  • Bob the bully who is overly aggressive in handling conflict
  • Dennis the denier who denies everything that has ever happened

My tendency is toward Nancy, although it also depends on the situation. You can’t be a bully, not talk about it or deny your involvement or responsibility. Verse 16 says “if he listens to you…” we must listen in conflict if we want to resolve it. We can’t manipulate responses to conflict but we can handle it properly.

In one instance I had a friend who could not handle conflict in an appropriate manner. They would try to aggressively solve the conflict on their own rather than allowing the other person to really hear what they were saying. They eventually resigned because of their lack of desire to change in this area.

3. Overreach your authority

There is a particular way that the church is supposed to handle conflict. One on One and then through the use of a third party. Generally if you are working in a church or anywhere else for that matter, you should talk to your supervise to follow up on the conflict.

You cannot always get people over to your way of thinking. But if you continue to have conflict, there has to be some resolution, that’s why supervisors should be included.

Bring complaints up the food chain, push praise down the food chain.

“Conflict is inevitable but combat is optional.” – Max Lucado

These are a few of the ways that I’ve mishandled conflict in the past. Any that you see that are missing? Do you struggle with conflict?

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J.C. Thompson is the 5th & 6th Grade Director at Brookwood Church in Simpsonville, SC, one of Outreach magazine’s Top 100 Largest Churches in America.