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Upon arriving at our first church after graduating from seminary, the engine on our 1970 240Z hadn't yet cooled before the first conflict set in.

Patti and I arrived in San Diego in 1982 to take our post on John Maxwell's staff. My best one-word description of myself as a leader at that time is green. I remember my first meeting with the Sunday School board, then led by Marte (Kirchmann) Phillippee. She and a host of 16 volunteers awaited me, the new guy, for our first meeting.

Armed with my briefcase full of experience - one whole day - I dazzled them with unbelievably brilliant organization and strategy. Within a few days, I got my first report card. Marte reported to John, "We don't like him." (The good news is that Marte and I are dear friends today, but the road wasn't easy.)

If you have been in leadership for any time at all, you have probably received a similar evaluation at some point.

As I consult with pastors across the country, it's amazing how many pastors leave their churches due to serious conflict, believing their departure is what's best for the church. They also believe that their new church will offer a relatively problem-free fresh start.

They discover, however, that they have only jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Any pastor in church ministry or leader in any environment knows that conflict is part of the reality of leadership. It is impossible to avoid conflict and be alive at the same time.

Leaders cause motion and motion causes friction. Conflict happens. The goal is not to avoid conflict, but to learn to resolve it. The absence of conflict is not a good sign. It only reflects the calm before the storm, or a church in the comfort zone.

The churches I visit that are growing and seem to be relatively free of conflict are actually reflecting a mature ability to resolve conflict quickly and smoothly. The environment is so unified and filled with grace that conflicts are merely momentary stumbling blocks.

These churches have a deep and abiding sense of unity and maturity.

It's important to remember a few general principles before I get specific about how to resolve conflict. If you've ever put off handling a conflict, you know that procrastination makes conflict worse.

You can't run and hide. Conflict will hunt down even the most innocent lamb. In fact, it is often the nice guy who gets creamed because he never saw it coming. If you have a situation where conflict is brewing, deal with it immediately.

Another universal principle is that pressure uncovers the origins of conflict. James 4:1-2 says, simply put, conflict comes when we don't get what we want.

I've seen godly men and women argue over the size of the new kitchen oven and freezer! They were mature enough to work past getting what they wanted, but the added element of financial pressure pushed them over the edge.

In other words, the issue wasn't the issue. It wasn't about ovens and freezers; it was about a serious shortage of money.

The confrontation is usually not as bad as you anticipated. It's worse. Just kidding.

Seriously, when handled correctly and with maturity, conflict often results in individual and group health and growth. John and I had to release a staff member and it did not go smoothly. Two of my close friends in the church dearly loved this staff member and did not understand why the decision had been made.

They were not supportive at all and our friendship was tested. We went through an awkward period, speaking only briefly in passing. Finally, we sat down for a long talk, and when eyes met eyes and hearts met hearts, even though we did not agree, the relationship was restored.

The meeting wasn't nearly as difficult as any of us had imagined. Lack of communication was far worse than difficult communication. When we are left to our imaginations and start to fill in the blanks on our own, we almost always fill them in incorrectly.

Josh McDowell said in his book, Secret of Loving, "It's better to resolve a conflict than to dissolve a relationship." I believe that, and with that thought in mind let's go through nine steps that outline the basics of conflict resolution.

1) Speak the truth in love.
Ephesians 4:15 sets the stage. "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ." The first question is instead of what? Verse 14 speaks of "craftiness" and "deceitful scheming."

Conflict. (I know the context was about doctrinal truth, but I'm confident that conflict was involved.) Speaking the truth in love brings about maturity, the principal ingredient of conflict resolution.

This truth includes any Biblical principles that are relevant to the issue at hand. Do your homework - search the scriptures to see what God has to say about the issue, but do not club the other person with your Bible. Remember, the verse says "in love."

2) Seek to understand the other's point of view.
Conflict will never be resolved if defenses are running high, and emotional blinders are preventing you from seeing the other person's vantage point. "But they are clearly wrong." I've heard this statement more times than I can count.

They may be wrong, but I promise you, the issue is not remotely clear to them. Perception is a live grenade. If you don't handle it correctly, it will explode. You can say, "But he was wrong" all day long, but at the end of the day, everyone is still blown to bits.

If you've been married for more than five minutes, you understand this principle. People see things differently. My wife Patti and I have differing perspectives on capital punishment. We really disagree.

Early in our marriage, both of us were devoted to convincing the other that we were right. Can you guess how far that got us? Today, we have learned to seek to understand the other's point of view, and while we still disagree, this understanding resolved the conflict. (By the way, you have to guess which one is for and against capital punishment.)

The interesting thing is that the more we understand the other's point of view, the less dogmatic we are about our own.

This article is used by permission from
Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter The Pastor's Coach
available at

Author Biography

Dan Reiland
Web site: 12 Stone Church
Dan Reiland is Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY.

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