Conflict Is Not Always Bad... It Can Be Good!

A married couple sat in my office looking at each other with puzzled looks on their faces. I had just suggested the concept of ‘constructive conflict’ to them.

“How can constructive and conflict even be in the same sentence”, they asked.

Many people view conflict as bad or evil, something to be avoided.  

No wonder that many pastors, having experienced wounds from destructive conflict and the pain of criticism in churches, hate conflict. It even contributes to a decision by some to leave the ministry.

Yet conflict itself is not necessarily bad. It can even be good. Pastors in a Christianity Today report from 2004 stated they had experienced the following positive outcomes from conflict, including:[1]

  • I'm wiser72%

  • purifying process 44%

  • better defined vision 42%  

Unlikely as it may seem, 16% reported that conflict actually benefited church attendance in a positive way!

All organizations, including churches, by nature will experience some conflict. So, what can a pastor do to improve the chances of turning a potentially destructive encounter into a beneficial encounter?

Here are three skills every pastor should use to manage conflicts more constructively:

  1. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. When confronted, do not state your own position until you can state the other person’s position to their satisfaction (no matter how absurd, irrational or uninformed you may consider their opinion to be.)

  2. Stick to one topic at a time. Avoid and discourage “issue expansion.” Certainly don’t do it yourself.

    “Yes, that is something else we may need to discuss but right now let’s stick to…”

  3. Decline to counter-attack.  Give in to the temptation to say something hurtful, sarcastic or even mean, and you will only escalate emotions. Nothing constructive comes from it.

Conflict handled properly leads to mutual understanding. It clears the air and leads to greater productivity.

Emotionally intelligent pastors see conflict as a potential opportunity for growth.  Grow in your own communication and conflict management skill by adopting the attitude that conflict is a challenge, a problem to be solved, and a potential opportunity for greater unity.  

While we cannot control others, we can choose constructive conflict tactics and strive to make every conflict constructive.

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[1] Retrieved on 5/12/16 from http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2004/fall/6.25.html?start=2