One of the biggest surprises about parish ministry? The amount of conflict!
Church conflict contributes to disillusionment, discouragement, and burnout among pastors. One major study of ex-pastors found that 39% of those who recently exited pastoral ministry had also experienced major church conflict over the final two years of their pastoral ministry.
Fortunately, conflict management skills can be learned and negative impacts of conflict can be minimized.
With that in mind, I would like to offer a few tips that will help minimize the stress of conflict.
1. View conflict as an opportunity for growth and learning rather than as a threat. Conflict situations managed well help us learn more about ourselves and others and can contribute to even stronger relationships.
2. Listen before speaking. Listening does more to calm emotions than any other thing you can do. Everyone wants to be heard. When you listen, people feel heard, and they feel better! After that, they may be more open to hearing your perspective.
3. Remember that you are not alone in experiencing conflict. Lots of clergy go through conflict situations. Take comfort in the knowledge that many of your fellow clergy experience conflict, too.
4. Take care of yourself during periods of intensely conflictual situations. Most of us experience conflict as stressful. Do pray, rest and exercise more than you normally would.
5. Resist the temptation to immediately defend yourself with counter-arguments. Stay open to hearing that you may have said or done something inadvertently that was upsetting.
6. Get peer support. Talking it out helps. Seeking out feedback and support shows wisdom. Also, there do exist churches in which a culture of continual conflict exists. In one of these conflict-laden churches, you may need to build an even stronger support network.
7. Remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Building solid relationships and developing trust early on can curb a lot of negativity down the road.
8. Pray, then pray some more. I placed this most important exhortation at the end of my list to conclude in the strongest way possible. Pray!
Conflict occurs in churches, to be sure, but smart strategies can reduce the negative impacts. In fact, in some cases, they can turn conflict to a source of growth. Read on this topic, attend training opportunities, and practice new skills such as those above. You will become a healthier and more effective pastoral leader.
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