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Leadership Development: Leading Through Conflict – Part 1


by Healthy Growing Churches: Conflict in and amongst our teams is inevitable. Each member of the team is human after all, and as much as we hate to admit it, we don’t always walk perfectly in alignment with the Spirit like we wish we could. Also, each member of your team is passionate and gifted in different areas, and while their contribution to a specific project may be significant, sometimes those passions and giftings clash with others’ or even our own leadership.

Let me tell you a little about my leadership journey to help us put some things into perspective. First of all, I have been in some leadership ministry role in church since I was a teenager. For the majority of that time, I was a worship leader. In October of 2010, I became the Worship Arts Pastor at a local church in Upstate, SC. I was in my twenties and full of energy and zeal, which is excellent! Don’t lose that!

Unfortunately, however, I inherited a dysfunctional team. During the first five years of ministry there, I felt like all I did was pick up broken pieces and try to put them back together. It was suffocating and creatively stifling. If you’ve been there or you are now, you know exactly what I am talking about. You have God-given, God-sized dreams and goals, but there’s this constant pounding up against what seems to be a brick wall. And no matter how hard you try, you can’t find a breakthrough. Here are some things I learned during parts of this season and some things that I am still working out today.

There are warning signs. Don’t gloss over them.

So many of our ministers in local churches today fall into the category of the shepherd, teacher, or shepherd-teacher. While these roles are critical for a vibrant church, other roles are important too, like the apostle, prophet, and evangelist (Ephesians 4). My experience in the local church has been one where the shepherd and the teacher ruled and, unfortunately, issues and major warning signs of the dysfunctional got swept under the rug or glossed over. As Christian brothers and sisters, we have to have relationships with those whom we serve that are deep enough to call these things out! It is imperative.

There is a right and a wrong way to deal with conflict, and there are books written to that end that you can study. But the point is that a problem is not just going to go away. It would be like saying a deep, infected wound would heal on its own. No, the way a deep wound heals (without treatment) is that a scab forms over the top of it, but infection and a lot of gross stuff festers underneath. No matter what, that junk is going to come back up to the surface. You either deal with an issue now, or you deal with a much greater one later. In the case of an infected wound, we could be talking about an amputation here. So think about that analogy in light of your teams.

So what are the warning signs for which you should be on the lookout?

1. Disengagement

Is there someone on your team who use to share incredible vision and ideas that now seems preoccupied in meetings or team activities? Is there someone on your team that used to seem excited about the mission and vision of your church, but now appears disinterested and maybe a bit jaded? If you’re the lead/senior pastor at your church, take a look at your youth, children’s, and worship pastors. Are their teams engaged? And are you engaged with them?

2. Discipleship or lack thereof

Do you have members of your team mentoring and discipling other members of your team? Are there conversations going on outside the parameters of the team, church, or ministry? Who are you, as the leader, discipling? Are you setting the example? Do the people on your team seem to generally like each other, even if they don’t always agree on a particular strategy?

Those are just two of the warning signs. It’s likely that you’ve experienced others. Gossip, backbiting, quarrels, and discord – all of these are warning signs, but I believe that all stem from either disengagement or lack of discipleship.

YOU are the key to leading a functional team.

One of the critical elements in determining if your team is dysfunctional is YOU. It is so essential for you, as the leader, to acknowledge your role in the dysfunction of your team. Is there someone on your team with whom you clash? Are you disengaged or disinterested with the team you have either built or inherited? Have you become jaded and unhealthy in your relationship with Jesus? Are you being discipled, and are you making disciples?

Now that you know and understand that your team is dysfunctional and you’ve acknowledged your part in the dysfunction, it’s time to make a plan. This is where the hard work comes in, especially for those who may not be natural relational leaders.

Leading teams effectively requires some range of vulnerability and transparency, regardless of your personal leadership style. In general, you’ll find that more people will follow your mission and vision if they believe and know you actually care about them. This is especially true of Millennials and Xennials, perhaps less true with baby boomers and such.

Whether you like it or not, those who are actually already beginning to take the reigns of the Church or will be leading the church in just a few years are of the millennial generation. I personally think this is a great thing, and I believe there is a lot of hope for the Church because God has uniquely gifted this generation with different gifts and abilities, just like He has with all generations before this one. Every generation has had its particular calling, and when we work across generational lines, we see an essential glimpse of heaven. We begin to see the body of Christ in motion.

An important point to remember is that we all lead people out of who we are. So here you may think, “Well, I’m a strong-willed, unemotional person who just wants to get the job done. That’s who I am. That’s how I’m going to lead.” But there’s a caveat to the statement just mentioned: “We lead out of who we are, but we must lead who we have” (Greg Wiens). The “who” that you lead may need something different from you, and it is important to know this about your team members.

Tools to Utilize

If you’re uncertain about who the people are on your team, there are several tools you can utilize.

Go to our website and have your team members take the FREE Spiritual Gifts Assessment.
Head on over to Healthy Growing Leaders’ site, take and give the DISC Assessment to all of your team members. This will provide you with powerful insight into what makes your team members click – how they need to be led.
Give your team members the Love Languages test. If you want to be a servant leader, this is vital.

During my time as Worship Arts Pastor, I would give all of my volunteers in the band and production these three assessments. I found that some of my team members driven by gifts or words of affirmation, so one of the most perfect ways to encourage and motivate these team members was a hand-written note of encouragement. For some of my other team members, a $5 gift card to Starbucks when they’d really outdone themselves would really speak to them. Many of my millennial team members needed quality time, so a 30 min coffee break was a nice treat to them. Some liked to be acknowledged publicly; some privately. The important thing was that I knew these things about my team.

It all comes down to a desire to be connected, so stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog next week where we’ll talk more about that connection. Also, be sure to check out all the other posts in this series.

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