Tag: counsel

Grace-Centered Conflict Management

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 goalto 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?

At the end of your rope?

If your life has been at all like mine, there have been times when you have reached a dead end. The situation seems hopeless and you wonder how things will ever work out. You may feel trapped, abandoned, or just totally zapped.  Every effort you give to solve or move past the situation brings with it more confirmation that the challenge is above and beyond your strength and understanding to resolve, remedy or explain.  Is there anything you can do when you come to the end of the rope? How should we handle the times when we come to a dead end? Is there any hope when we find ourselves in hopeless situations?

Here’s a few words of counsel when you find yourself holding on by the threads…

1) Consider that what appear in life to be “setbacks” are often “setups” from God

Sometimes when we feel backed in a corner with no way out, the situation can be daunting and very intimidating.  So naturally, we first think of it as a negative, not a positive.  We imagine the worst possible outcomes and conclude that life is unfair and the situation will never turn out for the good.  However, what we may not immediately realize is that God is trying to correct our path or even set us up for an entirely new course, and if He didn’t force the issue, we would have never considered nor traveled down the path of His desires for us.  

Consider that maybe God is testing your faith, or drawing you closer to him so that He can move you to a new chapter in your life.  Or, maybe God is protecting you from greater harm or disappointment.  Maybe God is positioning you to impact and influence people whom you never would or could have if He didn’t allow the situation you are in to come to pass. 

Or, maybe just maybe, God is simply giving you a real, true-to-life story to tell of God’s faithfulness as He leads you, walks with you, and takes you from tremendous difficulty to tremendous triumph.

Instead of seeing your circumstance as a sure “setback”  try asking God to show you what He is trying to “setup” for your life and future through the challenging circumstance you are in. You might just be amazed at what He shows you.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

2) Wait on the Lord

Typically, when it feels like we have been left hung out to dry in life, our first impulse is try to quickly get away from the pain, solve the problem, make a decision, move things ahead somehow, or find a way out.  The problem is, those impulses are often emotionally driven and impulsive.  Who could blame us? We are hurt, spent, tired, disillusioned and the list goes on and on.  But that’s all the more reason to “wait on the Lord.” When we find ourselves feeling hopelessly trapped in a dead end, we aren’t usually as stable and sober in our thinking and judgement.  And most of all, waiting is the last thing we want to do.  But waiting, is actually one of the most important things we should do.  The times when life throws us a curve ball and the unexpected happens are some of the times when we are the most vulnerable and apt to take a mistake and make into a bigger mistake, or a difficult situation and make it into an even more difficult situation.   The scheme-artist Satan would love to do nothing more than exploit you and your situation.

Waiting on the Lord doesn’t mean you do absolutely nothing, but it does mean that you make every effort to take each step with the clear leading and nudges of God, and not before. Remember, God is very likely setting up something, but if you rush ahead, you’ll miss it.   You never know what God is up too, and the last thing you want to do is to give up too soon.  Is there a time to “give up?”  Is there a time when you may realize, God is closing one door and opening up another? Sure.  But if you don’t wait on the Lord, you will never know what was His will as compared to what was merely you getting quick in the saddle and moving before God blows the whistle. Unfortunately, the only thing that can come as a result of that is found in one word you should do everything you can to avoid experiencing…  regret.

If you wait on God, he will show you, lead you, and nudge into His purposes and plans. Waiting on God assures that you don’t get ahead or behind what God has been working towards all along.  

Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. Psalm 27:14

3) Remember, when you reach the dead end, you are actually closer to deliverance than you have ever been before.

It’s hard to see, it’s hard to believe, it’s hard to feel, but it is absolutely true!  When you are at a dead end, you are actually closer to the possibility of things truly moving forward and new doors opening up than ever before.  Like a doctor will tell you, sometimes a fractured bone needs be completely broken before it can be healed. And furthermore, when it does heal, it will then be stronger than ever before.  Sometimes God has to bring us to our knees before we are willing to wake up and seek His will and wisdom for our life.  In a sense, he has to break us so that we can be truly healed.

Dead ends have a way of opening us up to real life, the life only God can give us.  Dead ends have a way of showing us how much we need God and His supernatural power. We often think we are the masters of our own universe and that we don’t need anybody but our own smart selves. Dead ends shows us how desperate, insufficient, and in need of God we really are.

God-given deliverance never comes without coming first to a God-planned dead end.   Dead ends have a great way of showing us where we end and God must begin if things are to ever truly move forward towards healing and wholeness.  Unfortunately, many come to a dead end only to give up too soon, or never turn to God to be and do for them all the things in their life that they can’t and never will be able to on their own. What happens? They never graduate. 

Think of every dead end in your life as a classroom from God where most of the time, the ticket to graduate is turning to God in faith and faithfulness at a level you have never before.  If you never turn to God in faith God will allow you to either turn away from Him or keep bumping your head into the wall.  With God’s classrooms, there is only one grade, “pass.” And he will allow you to stay in that classroom until you do.

Sometimes God uses dead ends to press you towards repentance (turning to God for forgiveness and salvation, and turning away from sin).  Other times he uses them to press you towards faith and trust in Him.  The bottom line is, what God might be trying to deliver in your life is a bucket load of forgiveness, hope, healing, salvation, supernatural blessings, and the list goes on and on. But God can’t deliver what you don’t desire and turn to Him for in your life.  If you feel like you have been in a dead end and nothing is moving forward, it isn’t because God doesn’t desire to deliver you through it, it maybe that you haven’t sought out His deliverance because you want it, realize you need it, and know you can’t truly move forward without it.

The Bible says that without faith we can’t please God, dead ends have a way of pressing us towards faith and dependance on God.  So often we think we can deliver everything our lives need for fulfillment, peace, and happiness, and wholeness.  Dead ends teach us that only God can deliver what we really need and long for in life. 

I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4

4) Listen closely for God, and if He is silent, it may be because He wants you to learn to trust what He has already said or shown you.

The Bible counsels us that in times of crisis, we need to “Be still.”  Listening closely for God is one of the most important things to do when you get the end of a rope and it feels like there is no way out.  Yet at the same time, it will be harder and take longer to hear God if you haven’t been in a good habit of listening to God prior to when you ran into a dead end.  That is not to discourage you, but to say that listening to God before the storm comes reaps a lot of benefits for your life when a storm finally does come.  As a matter of fact, I have found that God will prepare me and even warn me of rough waters ahead if I am willing to listen to him when the skies are clear and the sun is shining. 

If at first, you don’t sense you are hearing from God, be patient.  Yet, God may remain silent. Why?  There are several reasons, you could have an unconfessed sin mudding up your connection with God, you can be too busy and scattered in your life to hear Him, etc.  But one reason may be is that God has already spoken into your life what you need to hear from Him and you need to simply trust in what He has already said or revealed to you.  God isn’t opposed to repeating Himself, but sometimes His silence is a message to you that you haven’t been listening.

Whatever you do, make sure you take time to slow down, be still, and listen to God.  In the passage below, Elijah didn’t hear God until he was willing to listen.

11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.   1 Kings 9:11-12

5) Seek out counsel not advice

Anybody can give an opinion from their best take on a situation, but not everybody can give good counsel.  Advice comes from the opinions of people, counsel comes from the wisdom of God.  When you come to a dead-end level situation, you are going to want expert counsel from the expert of life, God.   God created you, He knows His plans for you, and He knows you better than you know yourself.  If there is any wisdom you should seek out, it should first and foremost be God’s wisdom.  Where do you find that?  Two primary places…   1) God’s Word (The Bible)  2) People who are wise in the ways of God

If you don’t have one, get a good study Bible and some Christian books on the subject of your dead end.  Read your Bible everyday and apply what you read.  If I can understand it and make sense out of it, trust me, you can too.  If you don’t go to Church, find a healthy, Bible believing and teaching Church that suits your personal preferences. Finally, seek out the counsel of Christian, faithful people who love the Lord and believe in the Bible as the absolute truth. 

There isn’t a more important time to avoid advice and seek Godly counsel then when you reach the end of the rope and you are clueless as to what to think, feel, and do. 

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.  Psalm 119:105

6) Present yourself totally available to any direction God might desire to take you, then watch for what God is anointing and what God is closing down.

Sometimes, even in the desperation of a dead end, we can have our own preconceived, stubborn ideas as to what direction our lives should go.  There is nothing wrong with that unless of course it keeps you from allowing God to overhaul, change your plans, rework you expectations,  or redirect your life completely.  

Behind every dead end is an opportunity to take a time-out with God and reevaluate where things are going in your life.  It’s a great chance to present yourself to God as an open canvass upon which God can erase, redraw, and repaint whatever He desires for you future.  Though this may sound like a bit of a frightening proposition, it really is a win, win.  God will confirm what is headed down the right path and gently correct what needs better alignment with His will. Regardless of what God does, you can trust and know for sure that it will be for your ultimate good. 

As you completely open up you life for evaluation and possible renovation, start looking for what things God is blessing and what He is closing down in your life.  From bringing into your life new friends and closing down old relationships, to giving you new passions and desires and shutting down old ones, follow the path God lays before you of closed doors and open ones. It may not be the easiest thing to do, but you will be blessed as you take on new God-dimensions for your life.

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me into foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise. Psalm 51:7-15 (The Message Translation)

7) Finally, walk by faith, not by sight. 

God doesn’t allow you to get to the end of the rope for you to spend the rest of your life there. It may feel that way, but it is not the case.

At some point, after you have done what is listed above, God is going to nudge you to move forward in faith.  You will know it when it happens.  It won’t be exactly clear what the future is going to bring, but that is why it requires faith.  God will give you enough to follow and yet leave enough undisclosed so that you can do so in faith.  That way, God gets all the glory.  

God will go with you, but He won’t go for you.  At some point, you are going to have to pick up and move on towards God and His will for your life.  And if at first, you are a bit off course of His perfect will, He will gently correct your path, so don’t feel like every decision you make is do or die. The first step is the hardest, but once you get going, God will direct you and steer you into His purposes and plans for you as long as you keep the connection lines wide open between you and God and seek to honor and please Him in all the you are and do.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

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