Speak Up Before It's Too Late (How Pastors Can Manage Church Conflict - part 3 of 3)

by Dennis J. Hester

<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN"> How Pastors Can Manage Church Conflict (Part 3 of 3)

Vance Havner, the late evangelist and popular pastors' conference speaker, used to say: "It's too late to talk about draining the swamp when you're up to your neck in crocodiles." When should a pastor speak up if he detects conflict personally or within the congregation?

It has been said that churches have the biggest rug in town, under which they sweep their problems. "Church secrets" can be detrimental to a congregation and pastor.

Congregations, like small towns, want to protect their image. They often believe, like individuals, that if they have problems, people will think they aren't committed to the Lord. A congregation is a family, and like any family it will have periods of conflict. But what do many congregations do? They keep silent! As the leader of the congregation, a pastor may also keep silent, hoping his silence will help to preserve unity in the congregation. If he would speak up before the conflict is noticeable, he might help himself and the congregation to avoid conflict.

Here Are a Few Suggestions:

1. If you are unhappy with what you hear during negotiations with a prospective church, speak up. Don't wait until you are called as a staff person and then begin to complain.

2. When you have a "gut sense" that something isn't right-in the planning stages of a project or in the early stages of discussing some issue, speak up. Say to the individual or group, "I have some concerns I would like to voice, and I would like to see if others are having similar concerns."

3. If you are aware that an individual's behavior might be damaging to the congregation, meet with the individual by appointment as soon as possible and voice your concerns and observations. If the person appears overly-emotional, stressed-out or possibly harmful, be cautious and take someone with you to talk to this person. Remember, "speak the truth in love."

4. When you see someone pushing a personal agenda, say to the person or group, "Maybe we need to pray and gather more information before making a decision on this issue. Who would be willing to meet and pray before this issue is brought to the church body?" This buys time for research and discussion. The church's business meeting is not the place to say, "I see a potential problem here."

5. If a fellow church member is being criticized or personally abused in a meeting or a parking lot session, say, "I'm feeling very uncomfortable about what we're discussing. Since this person isn't here, we can't be certain that what we are sharing is 100 percent true. Our conversation may get back to this person, so let's be careful and fair in what we say. I'm sure we wouldn't want to damage a reputation."

6. Keep the congregation informed from the pulpit and by meetings, newsletters, and in general conversation about what you feel God's will is for the congregation. In order to keep the vision/mission clearly focused, the pastor, staff, and congregational leadership should periodically meet (some recommend every 90 days) in order to keep the dream alive.

It's never too soon for you as the pastor to "speak up" to the congregation. Before you ever become the pastor you must ask appropriate questions of the congregation, and after you become pastor you must constantly ask questions, build relationships, and create a climate of openness with the congregation and other church leaders.

If you teach people how to share openly, and you exhibit openness and non-judgmental sharing during the good times, your people will be more willing to hear you when conflict arises.

Dennis Hester is an intentional interim minister specializing in helping churches to prepare to call their next fulltime minister. He also serves as a seminary speaker, church consultant, and conducts workshops in communication, conflict management, and learning to deal with transitions. He is the author of "Pastor, We Need to Talk!" How congregations and pastors can solve their problems before it's too late. To contact him call (704) 480-0494 or email: dennishester@carolina.rr.com.