I recently embarked on the journey in watching a new show (to me) on Netflix. This is by no way me endorsing one show or another or even me saying that the shows values line up with the Bible at any capacity. The show was about doctors in the Emergency Room. I am not really into blood and guts, but I just needed to veg out one night. Therefore, here I was sitting in my living room watching initially one show. Then the one episode turned into 2, and then next thing I knew the question of shame came up, “Are you still watching?” At the same moment, the question came up on the screeen “continue watching?” It was like water spritzing my face. I looked at my phone, and behold it was midnight. I immediately had a bunch of internal questions for myself.
“What is wrong with me? I hate tv! I don’t even like blood. How is it midnight? What is it about this show that I like? This can’t be good. I am going to be sleepy tomorrow. I need to go to bed.”
And then, “But what happens next?” I ended my internal dialogue with the notorious, “just one more” that we have all said at one time or another.
The next day, I was still processing why that show had me hooked. I was sitting in our Next Generation team meeting, and a frantic mom came to my office door and furiously knocked on the little window. The woman was clearly distraught and crying. Letting her know I needed 5 more minutes, I finished the meeting, and then I let her into my office.
The mom came in pouring her heart out in tears about a daughter who was struggling with knowing that she is loved. A home with addiction, struggle, pain, self harm, and a mom trying to be the glue to hold it all together was glaring me in the face.
At that moment it hit me. Ministry is a lot like that show I was watching. It’s spiritual triage. We never know what is going to show up on our doorstep. What issue. Blood and guts spewed everywhere. Complicated severed relationships. Distrust, dishonesty, unforgiveness, and as ministers our role is to be the one to remove the infection, help them sort out the gunk, and stitch things back up again for healing to happen.
Here are a few tips on Gracefully Handling Conflict:
- You are not a counselor: Unless you have a degree in counseling, your role is to be a spiritual counselor or guide. Do no harm. If the problem can not be solved in one to two meetings, then you should refer out to a licensed counselor in your area. You do not have to have all the answers.
- Address when the timing is right: The chances that the problem developed over night is rare. Keep that in mind. Sometimes it is right to drop everything and meet. At other times, you can wait a day or even a few days so they have your undivided attention and the ministry as a whole does not have to stop. In addition, this can help defuse the situation so that it is not emotionally driven. Also, some problems can be solved with a phone call while you are on your way to pick up your kids from school.
- Hear the Heart: When there is conflict, especially if it involves you in some way, it is easy to react. Do not react. Find your poker face. I have had students lash out at me, and I have had some crazy stories come across my desk. Nine times out of ten, I act like the person just said they stumped their toe. The more you react, they will react. Oftentimes what comes out when people are upset, tastes to the ears like spaghetti covered in jalapeño juice: crazy, out of order, and a little painful. If you can hear between the lines that will help tremendously. If a staff member is talking behind someones back, they could be trying to gain a case or leverage so they won’t be so insecure themselves. On the other side, the person could be speaking true concern. Discernment and hearing the heart behind the words is key.
- Speak the truth: Truth in love. There is a time to cover with love, repeat back what is said, pray, and affirm. At other times, someone, and it might be you or someone else, needs to step in and have a heart to heart on their stinkin’ thinkin,’ a rebellious attitude, or even a blind spot.
- Document: If there is a major blow up and you are either a part of it or a part in helping resolve it, then you might want to document what happened. Document the conclusion, dates and such. Write down even what you would of done differently. This is purely so that if another circumstance that is similar arises you are able to refer back to this as instruction or if it comes up again with the same person, then the issue may not truly be resolved. At that point, you may need to bring someone else in to help or refer out to someone else.