on conflict in ministry

Thom Rainer has a list of 8 problems that pastors face.  The list are what he sees as common problems.

He starts out his post saying:

Before me are handwritten notes that I took over a few weeks from various social media interactions, emails, and a few phone calls. The total is nearly 200 separate communications to me. I kept a record of them for one simple reason: I wanted to identify the greatest pain points of pastors today.

Here are 8 problems he sees (he has a comments for each and you can follow the link above to see them):

  1. Criticism and conflict. 
  2. Family problems. 
  3. Stress. 
  4. Depression. 
  5. Burnout. 
  6. Sexual problems. 
  7. Financial problems. 
  8. Time management.

I realize that a few of my colleagues here at the Bluechip Pastor are doing quite well in their pastorates and respective ministries but i need to admit I am seeing a lot of this for our situation right now.

I learned something about burnout – the spectrum from laziness to workaholic.  I admit I’ve struggled lately with near extreme laziness – and I know that is not a good sign.  Perhaps my situation is a bit unique as I think maybe I burned out more from the trial of our wilderness time than from our ministry at the Grand Canyon National Park.

I really identified with his comments on the problem of conflict and criticism.  That it seems to be on the rise and and an ongoing problem that most pastors are both not prepared (trained) to handle nor always physically/emotionally /spritually able to endure (we’ve been facing constant ongoing and high level conflict and criticism since we’ve been here in East NC – 8 mos now).

While conflict is normal and neither good nor bad but neutral (since it is more about how you manage or regulate it that is good or bad) – when it is constant and ongoing, personally, my concern would be if it was a sign of a serious problem.  I realize it would all depend on the reason for the conflict but my concern would be that, while conflict and criticism in ministry is all part of the territory (so to speak) I don’t think constant and ongoing high level conflict and criticism is.  My c0ncern would be if maybe the pastor facing all the conflict might be out of their calling or ability to fulfill the calling (while we’re all called to some level of ministry, not all are able or ready to be the lead pastor for example).  Perhaps there is a calling there but is that right place for them?   Could too much conflict be an indicator that perhaps one is in the wrong position for them?

I fully realize that some criticism is illegitimate but that also can be very legitimate – many bring it on themselves – they seem to relish in it (a sign they have deep long held emotional wounds that need healing).  At the same time, perhaps operating out of our calling or perhaps outside of the level of ministry we are ready to handle (trying to be the lead Pastor when we need more time as an associate, or are better fit as an associate, for example, which can be quite difficult to do since so few small churches have associates beyond a children’s worker or “youth” pastor, etc), leads to inadvertent levels of conflict and criticism that could easily diminish once we move ourselves to the place we are better fit to serve?

Its fully possible too much of the conflict and criticism stem from lack of training as well so I want to be careful to make blanket statements – but here I guess I am speaking from the place of one who has an MDiv.  I never took one conflict resolution class in seminary – there wasn’t one to take that I remember (it is a class in the DMin program but not at the Masters level).   There are folks who have all the training in the world but still seem to face too much conflict and criticism and I am wanting to know why?


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7 thoughts on “on conflict in ministry

  1. I think conflict is an integral part of fellowship and ministry and will happen when ever two people come together, yet alone, a congregation. However, how to work through it requires some tough calls.

    Like most things, pride, is the root of most conflict, but not all. I think within a modern church context, a lot of conflict comes about through the “I” syndrome. I am called. My gifting. My calling. My position. My ministry. My congregation. My title etc.

    I think conflict can be more easily worked through with the understanding that church life isn’t about “I,” its about, “We.” We are called. We are gifted. Our calling. Our position (under his feet). Our ministry. Our congregation. And he (Jesus) is the name above all our names and titles and …..

    In the “I” framework, pastors will get frustrated when they try to lead the congregation to follow his goals, his wants, his needs and to be the function of his identity. (Bums on seats. Less divorce. Higher offerings. Bigger building programs)

    But, I believe if the church has a deep corporate sense of God’s goals, God’s wants, God’s needs, God’s leading to be the source of our identity, then we have a foundation of where to begin conflict resolution.

      1. Constant high levels of stress I believe is harmful to anyone going through it. Dan pointed out Max Lucardo as a great example of someone who is good at conflict resolution and I think often the stress levels can be minimised with good facilitation.

        Yet, on the other side of the coin, burn out is a huge issue. One that I am still personally working through and with a limited capacity and stamina, good boundaries are needed to be enforced, as well as self awareness.

  2. Many of us deal with many of the things on the list – sometimes more than 2 or 3 at a time. A lot of them coallesce together.

    My question is do we make sure we get enough refuge time, enough time safe in Luther’s “Mighty Fortress” enough Sabbath Rest (which is different from ordinary rest – it is rest specifically in the presence of God, contemplating His love, His mervy, rejoicing in His being our Lord, and the responsibilities He takes on in that role. We too often hear of His Lordship as what it requires of us…. that’s nothing compared to what it requires of Him.

    It is in that time, where we live deeply in His death and resurrection… that we find the dependence on Him, that allows us to cope with all the other… skubala…

  3. Early on in the ministry where I now serve I had to deal with a LOT of issues. It was a teaching by John Maxwell (who was still pastoring at the time) that helped me have a few tools to deal with conflict. It was also some strong mentoring by a pastor I had served under while in college.

    Conflict happens. There were times I handled it so quickly and so thoroughly I think people thought I “enjoyed” it. I didn’t. I just handled it because I didn’t want something festering long.

    There are some key tools in conflict management that can help. I don’t think a seminary class is necessarily the answer. I think what Bible college and seminary taught me the best was to SEEK OUT the answer when the problem arose. Lack of a class was no excuse for me. (They didn’t teach me boiler maintenance and I deal with an old boiler in my building. I should be bitter about not having a class on boiler maintenance in Bible college!) :)

    All of these issues listed happen regularly in our lives. But as “justified” said, it’s so vital to have that “refuge time.” I stress over finances constantly. But I take it consistently to the Father.

    1. you are right Dan, lack of training or lack of class isn’t an excuse. Perhaps what I am hearing now is that its not so much a problem of being in the wrong place per se but not diligently working to learn how to resolve it all in good and healthy ways. I think perhaps much of the conflict we have been facing lately stems not from us or our leadership but from a situation of mismanaged conflict that took place before we came on the scene and now we’re dealing with the brunt of it all.

  4. Great question. Over the last several months I’ve seen an increase in conflict. It definitely begins to wear on you to the point where you can become indifferent towards people.

    What I’m wondering is, are we seeing more and more conflict now because people in general have a growing skepticism and mistrust of leaders in our culture today? In other words, are leaders generally having to work harder and longer to establish trust with those whom they lead?

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