There are several aspects to leadership and church leadership that are crucial. An avid and full prayer life is a must. A heart for serving is another. A love for the God we serve is equally important. There are other characteristics that are important as well, like possessing a positive attitude, the ability to inspire, vision casting and more.
But I firmly believe the key to effective leadership, especially long-term leadership, is the ability to resolve conflict.
Full disclosure: my conflict resolution skills are a work in progress!! To spare you the gory details that might best serve a memoir or articulated on a cool, leather couch in a very much air-conditioned office somewhere, I will tell you I grew up in a home of conflict. While I loved my parents very much both have passed away in the last 10 years they did not serve as great models for how to resolve conflict.
Consequently I grew up waiting, relishing and almost wishing for verbal altercations. I learned very quickly that in order to survive as a kid, I had to stand up for myself at all costs. This does not serve you well in church leadership. And, as if it can't get any worse for me personally, I am also blessed with a deadly combination of no patience and very low tolerance for irrational thinking. (I'm sure by now you have created a prayer space wherever you are reading this, placing the names of my wife and children in a prayer cloth).
1.) I have always been very driven by my imagination and the details on how to achieve the objective are simply annoyances. All of this to say the first step in mastering conflict resolution is recognizing your own blind spots. Conflict is not something you need to fix in others while ignoring your own issues.
2.) Become incredibly aware of your triggers, the things that can set you off even if you are driving to the bank to deposit one million dollars.
3.) Explore effective ways in giving yourself an emotional, mental or even physical time out. The first step in conflict resolution is resolving the conflict within yourself.
4.) Next embrace yes, embrace where conflict comes from and what conflict means. I have been at St. John for about 7 years now and I can honestly say that almost every significant conflict I have had there is because people care. When my wife and I argue it's because we care about the subject matter, whatever it is. When I tussle with my kids, it's because I love them enough to fight with them, for them. I have certainly served at places where there's no conflict because absolutely no one cared about the mission of the organization.
A muscle has to get broken down to get stronger; that's conflict. A series of small explosions happen in your car engine in order for that car to get you moving; that's conflict. So conflict, in and of its self, is good.
Conflict is also Biblical.
The Bible is filled with hundreds of stories of where conflict had to occur so that God's plan could go forward. Imagine for a moment if Jesus Christ had poor relational skills and poor conflict resolution skills.
When Christ was being questioned on that Good Friday, imagined if His conflict resolution skills revolved around name-calling, race baiting, deflection and mean-spirited commentary? (And, I'd like to point out HE WAS COMPLETELY RIGHT AND INNOCENT).
Conflict is coming your way. That is not the question. The question is how you will handle conflict.
Lastly, one has to remember some basic ideas to consider when resolving conflict:
- Don't send an email when a phone call is needed
- Assume every email you send WILL BE READ by everyone you have ever met, and a few thousand people you never will
- Settle conflict as soon as you have a handle on the situation; waiting makes it worse for all involved
- Make sure every conflict is marinated in prayer before any move is made
- Do not go into any conflict with any other objective other than understanding
- Don't be defensive more than being open. Find a balance between expressing your frustration without hurting the people that frustrate you.
While I remain a large work in progress, I am thankful for a God that uses patience, love, forgiveness and mercy when resolving the times my deeds conflict with Him. I look forward to using those same aspects to lead the ministry He has entrusted me with.
Eric B Byrd has been a musician, educator, choir director, vocalist and ministry leader his entire life. Currently, he is Minister of Music and Director of Sacred & Creative Arts at St John Baptist Church in Columbia, MD - a 1,800 member church. He manages over 100 volunteers and staff. He has a BA in Music from Western Maryland College and a MA in Music from Morgan State University and a Masters in Ministries: Leadership Arts degree from Lancaster Bible College.