Today in a meeting, I turned my head quickly to speak to the person sitting beside me, and I got a quick sharp pain in my neck. Those little moments remind me of how much I fail to appreciate that all the members of my body work properly each day. Many of us have had moments like this when a pain or sickness humbled us to be grateful for our usual pain free existence. We take medicine, go to therapy, or make life style changes in order to avoid pain. Or more specifically, to avoid a member of our body not working properly. The hard truth is no matter how much attention and time we invest into being healthy, we can not reverse the clock, and members of our body will eventually break down. Its unavoidable.
I love that Paul uses the illustration of the human body to describe the Church. Christ is the head, and we are the body with many members. Paul understood every member of the body serves a purpose, and although there are some members of the body we can live without, no one desires to live without them. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul describes his upbringing, and education as a Religious Allstar. No doubt he was very familiar with the story of Nehemiah. A leader ready for conflict. Nehemiah put swords and hammers in the hands of people because he anticipated conflict. He knew it was unavoidable. He had a vision to rebuild the city walls, but knew that they would experience conflict. Good Leaders know that like our physical bodies, the body of Christ has members that will eventually break down. There are so many reasons why some members may be in conflict with vision, or we ourselves find that we are in conflict with vision of a leader. Here are a few.
1. Too little or too much communication.
2. A Non-Formal Chain of Command (Structure)
3. Personal Variables
For people to work together there must be good oral and written communication. Leaders need to make sure they make the vision plain so others can pick it up and run with it. A sure fire way to frustrate teams is to leave them in the dark. Also, when people don’t know who is actually in charge, or where the buck stops, people will test authority, ignore authority, or reject authority. Finally, some people just don’t gel with others, and their personal variables don’t compliment others. Personalities conflict, people are more or less emotional than others, and their values are different. These are just a few conditions that can lead to conflict in a church, business, or even a fantasy football league. So what should we do?
Be ready for it.
Nehemiah was a great leader who anticipated conflict. He used conflict to inspire those following him. Paul having learned all his life about leaders like Nehemiah describes the Church as a body. Conflict within the body is unavoidable, but with greater nourishment, care, and preparation there will be less conflict. In order to prevent members of our physical body from breaking down, we must take action, and not avoid the problems. Leaders must take action. Leaders can deal with conflict with other leaders or team members in a few different ways.
1. Compete- This attitude says, “Its my way or the highway.” Leaders who compete in conflict see others desires as opponents to their own satisfaction.
2. Collaborate- This attitude says,” Im trying to please everyone.” It has been my experience that this is impossible. Everyone on the team cannot be totally satisfied with how things are going. Therefore, someone will be disappointed.
3. Avoid- “This attitude says, “If I ignore the problems they will go away.” No one with any sense would recommend this type of behavior in leaders. Leaders call the shots and take the shots, and if leaders avoid conflict, they avoid people questioning their leadership style. Take courage, don’t avoid conflict, and use it to be better.
4. Accommodate- This attitude says, “I will sacrifice what I want to satisfy others interest.” Sometimes leaders have to count the cost of something going their way or losing value in the minds of those on their team. When people voice their disagreement, leaders must consider their reasonable ideas. This requires servant leadership and self denial on the part of those in charge.
5. Compromise. This attitude says, “We all need to budge a little to come to agreement.” There is no clear winner, but a decision is made, and it is all for the good of the overall vision, and not the preferences of individuals.
Leaders need to discern which one of these is appropriate for each conflict, because none of them are exactly the same. Lastly, and most importantly as leaders we must see conflict as a way to improve. In the book of Acts chapter fifteen Paul experiences a real conflict with Barnabas. They are on a journey to go and strengthen churches, and Barnabas wants to bring a disciple named Mark along with them. Paul disagrees because of the way Mark had previously behaved when they were with him before. Acts then says Paul and Barnabas were in sharp disagreement. I was recently in Jacksonville, FL attending the Church of Eleven 22, and the Pastor Joby Martin said it best, “That conflict should sharpen leaders, and when we disagree it should refine what we really believe, who we are, and what we stand for.”
Ultimately, conflict should make us better leaders, because our style, methods, beliefs, and values should be questioned. Most leaders don’t like it when people on their team question their intentions or decisions. As long as they do so with humility and respect, leaders are obligated to make sure their teams know their vision, and why they do what they do. Sharp disagreement sharpens leaders, because they must think critically about their decisions. So be a leader ready for conflict.