A veteran children's minister called me the other day in shock.
He'd just been fired because of staff conflicts. And he'd never
seen it coming.
Staff relationships can make or break your ministry. If you
don't learn how to work well with staff members, your tenure at
churches will be short-lived. And you'll never have a lasting
impact on kids' lives. Use these tips to ensure healthy staff
*Overcommunicate. Keep staff members informed-especially the
senior pastor, secretary, and lay leaders. Provide copies of
schedules and information memos to all staff. The church secretary
must know details in order to answer questions. Keeping staff
informed heads off the "nobody told me" conflicts prevalent in any
*Coordinate with staff. A music minister may have a children's
musical planned that requires extra rehearsal times. The youth
minister may want a special event to welcome children graduating
into the youth program. You need to know what other people have
planned to avoid scheduling conflicts. And vice versa.
*Learn how to communicate. When you differ with staff, don't
argue, interrupt, jump to conclusions, or pass judgment. Don't
assume that your understanding is the same as the other staff
person's until you check it out. Try to hear what the other person
is really saying and ask helpful questions.
Use "I messages" and reflective listening. I messages tell the
other staff person how you feel. A simple formula for an I message
is, "When (the other person's actions), I feel (your feelings)." I
messages put your feelings into nonconfrontive words.
Demonstrate reflective listening by saying, "What I understand
you saying is that you're feeling (your understanding of the other
person's feelings) because (your understanding of the reason)."
Show interest and express empathy. Be silent when silence is
*Use problem-solving steps to resolve differences. The real
problem is not the issue (such as scheduling or programming). The
real issue is the relationship between you and the other staff
person. Build a basis for mutual problem-solving by realizing that
you both share a commitment to ministry. You both have a vested
interest in the outcome of the decision. Remember, conflict is
inherent in life, and there's a creative solution to every
*Ask good questions. When conflicts arise, ask yourself some of
these questions: Why am I threatened by this? Can I learn or
benefit from this? Would I profit from changing? Is this attitude,
belief, or behavior actually detrimental to the growth of our
relationship? Does my resistance to this conflict or change reflect
the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5? Is my behavior what I want
to model for others?
*Build relationships. Focus on more than "business as usual"
with staff members. Spend time together praying and having fun.
Weekly prayer brings staff together like nothing else. And playing
together enables you to see other sides of each other. Cultivate
staff friendships that'll provide fun social times. Take a
different staff member out to lunch every week. Express an interest
in their personal lives.
*Keep perspective. Stressful staff relationships can dim your
view of the big picture. I keep a running list of milestones and
roadblocks, noting major accomplishments and setbacks in my
ministry. When I find myself discouraged, I'm encouraged by simply
reading over the milestones. It's amazing how looking at the whole
picture changes my perspective.
*Take care of details. Thinking through the little things
prevents many staff conflicts. A summary sheet of all income and
expenses is important to a business administrator. A master list of
everyone going on a trip along with contact telephone numbers helps
the church secretary answer questions. Cleanup assigned ahead of
time will make the custodian smile. If you keep the business
administrator, the secretary, and the custodian happy, you'll be
blessed with many favors in return.
*Know church policies. Know what's appropriate and what's not.
Read through the church constitution, all policy books, and
handbooks to learn church policies. Put in a quick reading of all
church board minutes once a month. Know how the pastor and other
staff feel about issues. If you're not sure, ask.
*Constantly evaluate. I spend a few minutes on my computer after
every event. I even have a laptop computer and pocket tape recorder
that I take to retreats and camps to keep a running diary. Simple
notations about how the event went-strengths, weaknesses,
suggestions for the future-all help. It's a good backup for any
later questions. Put a copy in the pastor's in-box for answers to
questions before they come up. Making the pastor look good with
parents and other staff members will ensure a smoother working
Dr. David Gallagher is a children's minister in
COPING WITH CONFLICT
Staff members have five basic approaches to conflict. Use this
list to clue you in to your own and other people's style of
*Surrender-People who are avoidance-copers will give in and
possibly harbor resentment.
*Subversion-The mother of the sons of Zebedee used this method
with Jesus in Matthew 20:20-21. She went behind the other
disciples' backs to try to get her way.
*Open warfare-Arm yourself! If these people don't get their way,
the whole church will know about it. And your job will be a
*Adjustment-Someone may decide their part of the conflict is
just not worth holding onto. As a result, that person will change
to accommodate the other person.
*Negotiation-This is the healthiest form of coping. The result
of this strategy is that both parties arrive at and accept a
solution to the problem.
Staff members have a tremendous responsibility to model healthy
coping skills for church members. Remember, as staff goes, so goes
When you don't agree, you have three choices: Through anger,
take a step against the person, Through fear, step away from the
person, Through love, step toward the person.
"Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been
called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing
forbearance to one another in love" (Ephesians 4:2).
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