Conflict Management Preventative Maintenance Plan
by Rev. Michael Ray Beach, Ph.D.
Presented by Saint Luke Evangelical School Of Biblical Studies
To appropriately handle conflict situations in a biblical manner, a thorough knowledge of the scriptures that deal with this issue is a necessity. Although a variety of conflict management materials are available to the minister, only God's Word is completely reliable when searching for the mind of God on an issue. Our Heavenly Father has no doubt used many individuals to provide more and detailed information on many subjects through the ages, but His Holy Word must be the starting point to avoid mixing heresy with truth. Human emotions and feelings are involved in many conflict situations. Without a firm foundation of truth already established, one might tend to be swayed by the human and not the Divine.
Concordances, lexicons, and dictionaries are all good tools for the minister to consult as he approaches the Bible to mine the truth of God with relationship to conflict management. Each scripture should be thoroughly examined in its setting (the surrounding verses and chapters) and especially in relation to other verses that address the issue. For example, one might think that it would be acceptable for the "eye for an eye" conflict management style to be practiced if it were not for the scriptures that tell us "vengeance belongs to the Lord, and that He will repay". Scripture should be compared with scripture as the minister winds his way through the Bible. At the conclusion of such a task, it could be honestly said that one has truly searched the scriptures with relation to conflict management. If prayerfully and diligently studied and applied, it could be said that a firm foundation has been established.
The next area of examination should be that of the minister himself. An honest and prayerful study should be conducted of the ministers handling of previous conflicts. Particular attention should be focused on the types of management styles used and their effectiveness. The minister should have previously studied the various conflict management styles to properly characterize his own actions.
The minister should know himself and his usual responses to conflict situations. Questions should be asked like: "Do I react without thinking?"; "Is my response appropriate?"; "What is my tolerance for conflict?"; "What factors seem to influence my decision making?"; Are the decision making factors personal, or more situation oriented?"; "Can they be changed?". These are just a few of the types of questions that a minister must explore within himself to find out where he stands in his own understanding of himself and his relation to conflict management. The answers to these questions will serve as valuable resources to the man who truly wants to learn how to make the best possible decisions in conflict situations. This information coupled with the understanding gained from the scriptures and other studies of conflict management literature will enable the minister to see his weak and strong areas. Change can more readily come as education reveals the need.
Thirdly, the minister should use the knowledge that he has gained to seek Godly wisdom. Daily, the Man of God should ask for wisdom from the Father to not only handle conflict situations, but also all other items that may come his way. We are given the promise of scripture in James 1:5 that if we ask for wisdom, God will give it. More than anything else, the power of God is needed at all times to respond appropriately. More than scriptural knowledge, knowledge of self, or knowledge of conflict management styles, the power and wisdom from Above can overcome the limitations in any of these areas. It is not to be inferred that a minister should neglect study, for we are given the command in the Bible that we are to study and show ourselves approved and worthy of our hire. Rather, the minister should live with the understanding that his own study and understanding are not the determining factors in the outcome of a conflict situation. Submission to God brings in knowledge and power that are spiritual in nature and will oftentimes lead the minister to decisions or conclusions that his fleshly intellect would have discarded.
Along with Godly wisdom, the minister must use his knowledge of the people involved when confronted with a conflict. This action necessitates that he has previously observed his congregation and their behaviors. One of the most definitive rules in the sales business is to "know your customer", and this would also apply in a ministry setting. A minister must take the time to get to know the congregants on a personal level. Evangelists better accomplish ministry to the masses. Pastors are the shepherds that God has chosen to keep His flock. A good Pastor will not only count the flock and keep them from imminent danger, but will also inspect each one carefully at various times to ensure healthiness and discover any hidden needs. Getting to know the congregation is a time consuming task, but one that will pay many dividends in the future.
The fourth area of this conflict management plan is to focus on the communication skills of the minister. He must be able to communicate his ideas clearly and effectively to each person involved. Observe how people respond when a hard subject is being dealt with. Do they soon grow weary of listening, or are they listening intently? If a minister has difficulty keeping the attention of his audience, he needs to focus on his presentation skills. Does the audience ask seemingly redundant questions? If so, it could be an indicator that the minister doesn't communicate clearly. A review of some public speaking books or a class at a local seminary or college might go a long way in sharpening the communication skills of the minister.
Another factor in the area of communication skills is listening. A minister must focus himself on the individual who is speaking to make sure that the message is clearly understood. Jumping to conclusions is a sure sign that one is not listening as closely as needed. The minister must be an active listener. Active listening not only involves what is said, but the tone and actions with which things are spoken. Questions may need to be asked to clarify a point or get additional information. Proper listening will go a long way in helping the minister properly address concerns expressed by an individual or group. Make sure that what is heard, is what was said.
Fifthly, a plan for congregational education should be formulated and implemented. This plan should include the Deacon body and staff as necessary. Other people in the church body also need to be aware of conflict management techniques and processes to help them deal with situations that arise. It will be of great benefit to the minister to have other individuals in the church appropriately responding to conflict situations. Not only will more conflict situations be handled in appropriate and Christ-like ways; many conflicts may be resolved before the minister is involved. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this is especially true of conflict management.
Lastly, not in the order of importance but relative to all aspects of the plan, is the cultivation of good leadership skills. Leadership is the backbone of any organization and someone who is a weak leader is usually weak at conflict management. It takes initiative and strength to be a leader and these same qualities are necessary for effective conflict management.
Regular examinations of the ministers' leadership abilities are recommended. Study of the scriptures as well as other leadership resources is encouraged. The minister should be consistently giving his motivations and ideas to the Lord in prayer to seek the very mind of God and lead accordingly. Outside critiques of the minister's leadership abilities should be considered but not totally relied upon. The Holy Spirit is an able teacher and well equipped to instruct in the areas of need.
If followed, this plan should keep the minister in the will of God with respect to the area of conflict management. As well, with consistent practice and application to other areas, this plan can enrich the skills and understanding in many other facets of the life of a minister.