Life in general brings conflict, in families, at work, with ourselves, and handling it is a requirement of life.
After 13 years of planting and leading a church community, I've found that there is a similarity between the conflicts I face in my role and those I faced in my previous job. But there are some differences too.
The intersection of friends, colleagues, co-workers, and the voluntary nature of church mean that conflicts in my church role have seemed a) far more multifaceted and complex, b) are far more frequent, and c) are emotionally far more impacting.
My previous 8 year job in London, carried conflicts. But they were ones that you left at the end of the day when you went home from the office. I've noticed with other church leaders and particularly with friends that burn out' often occurs when our bandwidth for processing conflict is overloaded. And I know it's an area that takes one the largest tolls on me too.
What follows is not a pity party, but some practical advice on handling the types of conflict that church life seems to bring about, and from my perspective as a pastor/minister/church leaders.
So what follows are some thoughts on trying be healthy and process conflicts in a life sustaining way. Let me know what you think and what you practice for this challenging area of life and ministry.
1. Don't take things personally
You can hold things 'out there' and don't take on board everything that comes at you because:
a. Conflict is a normal part of life and processing, this is an expected part of pastoral work. So stop being surprised by it
b. I am not diminished by considering other people’s comments and by choosing to not react to what I think I hear communicated
c. Avoid the 'downward spiral' trap, with others sucking us into a spiral, and our stuff sucking others into a spiral
2 . What opportunity does this conflict present
To clarify something, to learn something, to train, grow, develop etc? Remember most of us do not communicate important things well. Look through the presentation for the essence and possibilities
3 . What needs confronting
Then with those practices started, ask what does needs confronting, if anything i.e poor communication, bad behaviours, inappropriate responses, in others and me! Then plan how to do that constructively.
4. Feed myself
Imbibe and taken onboard biblical and leadership materials for skills around conflict. Frame pastoral work and these interactions theologically/biblically (personally I'm back reading Eugene Peterson, 'Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness' and Gene Edwards, 'A Tale of three Kings: A Study in Brokenness').
Understand the cadence of pastoral life within the notions of the church calendar and in particular the nature of ‘ordinary time.
Unlearn old reflexes by practicing these new ones. Learn a new process for processing. Learn to use other spaces and places to process my hurts, less in the moment and more on reflection, later, without dumping on others.
6 . Change my demeanour
Choose your attitude, be present, play and make someones day (See FISH, by Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul, & John Christensen)