One thing ministry leaders would all like is to be able to handle conflict with more confidence, inner-rest, and effectiveness. Can I get a good “Amen” to that?
Conflict is a part of life and relationships, and it’s certainly a part of ministry. It’s never pleasant and seldom easy to manage. Yet, when we approach conflict from our identity in Christ and a foundation of Grace, it can become less intimidating and a powerful catalyst to growth.
Yet, in the midst of conflict, we tend to fear extending Grace because we wonder if it might be exploited and become a license for further disobedience and rebellion. Additionally, we tend to lose ourselves and our sense of identity during conflict as it calls out the worst in us rather than the best. However, when we truly understand Grace, we learn that Grace is in fact our best ally in our conflict management. When properly applied and understood, Grace provides the necessary ingredients for meaningful change, resolution, alignment, and obedience to occur. The desired change we pray to occur through conflict management is in fact the change only Grace can bring, not a religious spirit of rules, punishment, and rule-keeping.
Here are three key dynamics in navigating conflict management with confidence and effectiveness where God’s Grace and our identity in Christ are the foundation from which we handle conflict.
1.0 Who You Are (Your Vibe)
How you see yourself will have dramatic implications to how you manage conflict. Believing in who you are in Christ is critical in handling conflict well. Who you are in the midst of conflict will likely have tremendous impact on the outcome of conflict. We all give off a vibe as we handle conflict. This vibe has more influence than you might think.
When we are secure in ourself because of our identity in Christ, conflict need not push our personal buttons as easily, if at all. In fact, most conflicts have little to do with us and much to do with the person or situation. When it does have something to do with us, it should never be given the power to influence our sense of identity in Christ. Our identity in Christ through His Grace is the foundation from which we must ground ourselves in the midst of all conflict. It is this sense of identity through trusting in Jesus’ work in our life that gives us the calm, confident, inner-resting foundation from which to manage conflict well. This vibe, rooted in your identity in Christ is the x-factor of managing conflict well.
One of the ways I have come up with to apply this personally to my life and leadership is what I call… Identity Detachment.
“Identity Detachment” is simply the idea of maintaining our sense of identity in Christ in the midst of conflict. This enables us to maintain control of our attitudes, emotions, and actions as we avoid being sucked into the personal drama of conflict. We can walk assured, confident, and complete even in the midst of our harshest critics and most difficult moments of conflict. When we allow conflict to become personal to the level it reaches our sense of identity, we have entered into an unhealthy place.
Satan always tempts us to do the wrong thing in conflict by first getting us to believe the wrong things about ourselves.
This is a critical awareness. Making sure to detach our sense of identity from the drama of the conflict is key. Knowing who we are and what God has graced us with are critical to having a solid posture/vibe from which to manage conflict well. For all os us, our identity is nothing less than being the righteousness of Christ, completely forgiven, lacking nothing, and much, much more. For some, God has graced you with levels of authority, responsibility, calling, gifts, etc. Making sure our identities our stewarded well will give us a proper foundation, expressing a healthy vibe, from which we can manage conflict gracefully.
Specifically, “Identity Detachment” does several positive things in the midst of conflict…
1) It enables us to not overreact or under-react
2 It enables us to maintain professionalism
3) It enables us to act in ways that do not diminish our character
Fear and hurt are common when dealing with conflict, yet they can cause us to do all the wrong things and miss doing all the right things while attempting to manage conflict. They can cause us to overreact or not react at all. They can allow our emotions to get the best of us and make our actions impulsive, and it can lead us to acting in ways that we would never do in normal circumstances.
One powerful way we can detach our identities from the conflict at hand is to claim by faith that “Perfect love casts out fear.”
God perfectly loves you. Through faith, we are the righteousness of Christ having been given every spiritual blessing, and even the mind of Christ. We are guilt and shame free with God’s Grace removing all condemnation over our lives.When we trust in who we are in Christ and His perfect love for us, it calls us back to a foundation from which we can respond to conflict gracefully without losing ourselves in the process.
The first step of managing conflict well is to secure our identity in Christ through faith in who we are in Him. Having this as the foundation from which we manage conflict is critical. Remember, your vibe will enable you to thrive through conflict. This expression of faith in Christ for who we are (in the midst of a conflict that is likely trying to steal, kill, and destroy all that) greatly pleases God.
I pray I have communicated this well as the principals of this concept are gold to those who lead and seek to manage conflict effectively for the Kingdom.
2.0 Who the Person(s) is With Whom There is Conflict (Their Value)
Where our vibe (given from our identity) is powerful in handling conflict, the value we place on people is equally powerful.
All people are deeply loved by God unconditionally, even our worst enemies. Furthermore, God is at work to move all people onto His agenda for their lives. The goal of this agenda is to make each person into a completely new person through faith in Christ, with a new identity, and a therefore a new life. God makes us brand new through faith in Christ, we believe and receive it which gives us a new sense of identity, because of our new sense of identity, we can live and have new life.
Therefore, we must have a sense of purpose to our handling of conflict that seeks the best of God’s agenda for the lives of all involved. A purpose statement for handling conflict might be something like…
We will use conflict as an opportunity to seek the best of God’s agenda for the lives of all involved in making them a new person with a new identity, living a new life through His Grace and our faith
In this way, conflict is given a desired outcome where love is expressed and God’s purposes in the lives of those involved is sought after. Furthermore, it is important that we see behavioral problems as an identity problem at heart. Grace that enables a new sense of identity in Christ is what removes the spirit of rebellion and fosters new living. Rules and religion only serve to fuel disobedience.
Look for the Roots of Condemnation and Religion
All people have certain amounts of baggage and issues that influence their actions and attitudes. The most serious form of baggage is condemnation. Most people are trying to overcome the condemnation they walk around with through religion and rules. Many don’t even realize the destructive work that condemnation is doing in their lives. Find me a person who is disobedient or a trouble maker (Christian or not) and you will have found a person who has a significant sense of condemnation in their life.
In the next section, I will talk about general ideas about how handle the behaviors and situations of conflict from a posture of Grace in more detail. Yet, it is important to note now that one might first need to contain the conflict (for the protection of what God is doing in the lives of all involved) through various means in order to get to a place where time can be spent dealing with real issues behind the conflict, such as a spirit of condemnation.
However, if we truly want to give Grace into people’s lives, we must be willing to go past behavior modification, punishments, and rules to address the roots of what is causing the symptoms manifested in their behavior. Condemnation is at the base. It is Satan’s greatest weapon he has to go after our identity, in fact it is his only weapon. Satan knows if he can get us to believe the wrong things about ourselves, he can lead us to act wrongly in life.
3.0 What the Situation Is and What to Do (Your Actions)
Obviously, much can be written about this as there are countless nuances to conflict management. However, here are some important principals (among many) to apply…
0.01 Remember the goal… to use conflict as an opportunity to seek the best of God’s agenda for the lives of all involved in making them a new person with a new identity, living a new life through His Grace and our faith. Conflict can be a great opportunity for people to experience what they have been needing all along… Grace. Yet, grace does not condone nor enable sin. In fact, Grace is what teaches and positions us to live obedient lives through becoming a new person with a new identity. Grace that enables, or “declares peace where there is no peace” is not grace.
o.o2 Identity Detachment– Believe in and trust in who you are in Christ through His grace, make this your foundation.
o.o3 Punishment is not an option- Jesus took all our punishment on the cross, there is no longer need for punishment. Punishment has to do with shame and condemnation. Discipline is entirely different. As I will describe in further detail below, proper direction, correction, containment, clean-up, and even removal can be acts of Grace, handled with Grace, and not in a spirit of punishment.
o.o4 Direct communication is always the first step- Most conflicts can be handled one and one through face to face conversation. This is the ideal and primary setting for managing conflict. Problems occur when we don’t communicate directly, throughly, promptly, and personally. This is the opportune time to address issues of guilt, shame, condemnation and identity, all of which are root causes of negative behavior. It is also an important opportunity to clarify roles, expectations, vision, and goals.
o.o5 Being directive is different than punishment- If during the conflict conversations, resolution does not result, and negative behavior continues or escalates, redirecting the person while communicating consequences will likely become necessary and beneficial.
Giving direction or redirection seeks to take negatives and make them into positives. For example, “Johnny, I see you are having repeated trouble with this task and meeting the goals we agreed upon, how about we try having you focus on these other tasks instead.”
Communicating consequences might look like, “Johnny, as you start these new tasks, we will reconnect in 3 weeks and see what progress you are making. If things are going well, we will settle in with this new role for you, if not, we will need to reevaluate things.”
Redirecting can also involve a person getting help, counsel, or training.
Obviously, some moments will require more or less directive-ness and consequences. However, the approach of redirecting/directing (though it may be perceived as punishment) is purposed on enabling God’s work to be done most effectively for all involved, bearing in mind part of the “all” in “all involved” is the Church and it’s purposes.
o.o6 Containment – When a conflict is not successfully resolved through direct communication, correction, and redirection, or it has become a public matter effecting others, containment can become an important option. For the protection of God’s work in all involved, some steps may need to be taken such as…
Clear-up- Unfortunately, when conflict reaches public levels, it can get messy, and the truth can get buried alive. Sometimes it may be necessary and useful to speak in public settings to the issues involved for the purposes of clarification so that God’s work in the lives of all might be protected.
Clean-up- In the same way, conflicts can cause much damage. Directing people in the process of cleaning-up the messes their own conflict has caused can become an important step of growth for them and healing for all involved. This can also prevent the need for someone to be removed or even redirected prematurely. When this is done from a position of Grace, communicating shame and punishment can be avoided while responsibility is given along with an opportunity to rebuild trust etc.
o.o7 Removal can be a necessary act of Grace that protects the person(s), God’s work in them and in all that are involved.
For leaders in ministry, part of the “all involved” (in the purpose statement for handling conflict written above) is the church. God deeply cares about the health and redemptive work of His Church. Unfortunately, even the best skills in conversation, counsel, directing, re-directing, and containment may not produce a resolved result. In some situations, in order to protect and prosper the work of God for all involved, removal of that person from their task, position, role, attendance, or membership will be required.
Though it may not first feel like it to anyone, this act of removal can be a deep act of grace for all involved without being done in a spirit of punishment, shame, or condemnation.
When levels of conflict reach the containment and removal levels, it’s very valuable to have a highly trained Conflict Management Team of a few people that assists you with managing the conflict. There is credibility, strength, effectiveness and health in numbers. Furthermore, having a Conflict Management Process that gives direction, clarity, and consistency to you and your team in the area of conflict management will be equally valuable.
5 Key Questions to ask of each conflict…
What is the current impact, and what is the potential impact of this conflict?
Is this a conflict of relationship or vision, or both? Typically, relational conflicts are more easily resolved than vision ones. When it’s both relational and vison related, much time and energy will likely be required to resolve.
What are the tough decisions that need to be made to make sure that God’s work in all involved is protected and fostered?
What message is my vibe (given from my sense of identity) communicating to those involved?
How well am I utilizing a Conflict Management team as I seek to lead well through this conflict?