Is Your Church in Conflict?

As a young seminarian, I got caught in the crossfire of a church conflict. I was the focus-some in that congregation didn't believe women should be allowed to preach. I sat on the couch of one of the church leaders while he stood in front of me with his New Testament open, telling me why I was wrong. In all honesty, I went to his house to tell him why he was wrong.

We can be blindsided by a conflict coming out of the woodwork. People we thought we knew behave in ways we never expected.

Exodus 10 describes the plague of locusts in Egypt. After a population increase, locusts crowd together. They change color and behavior, fly by day rather than night and swarm together, devastating crops.

Likewise, church people (including clergy) under certain circumstances, begin to crowd together emotionally, and act in ways than can be destructive to congregational life. When anxiety is high, people often function reactively.

The conflict I described happened right after two beloved pastors left. Other changes in congregational life can cause anxiety to rise:

• key staff changes (including the church secretary),

• a pastor's sabbatical

• building changes (building program or building fires).

Here are some tips for managing when locusts swarm:

  1. Keep your head. Manage your emotions, at least a little. When you sense yourself getting hooked, take a deep breath, step back physically, or continue the conversation later. No one will get this right all the time, especially when things are intense. Find someone to help you process what is going on, especially someone who can ask good questions and not just take your side.

  2. Define yourself. Say what you think, clearly and calmly. Don't try to convince others you are right. A self-defined leader can help others calm down. The moderator in the conflict I experienced as a seminarian was a mild-mannered man, yet he was calm and clear about his position. He helped me and everyone in the church.

  3. Keep the big picture. Ask yourself questions like: why now? Have we faced challenges in this area before (youth, music, carpet color)? As you step back, you will find yourself calmer Do your best not to take things personally, even when they are framed personally. Avoid labeling people as "antagonists." Perhaps thinking of them as "the loyal opposition" may help you stay a little looser and less defensive.

How can you get more perspective on the conflict you face?

Get the free mini-course, "Five Ways to Avoid Burnout in Ministry" here.