Batten down the hatches because conflict is blowing your way! How will you weather the storm?
After spending months creating a quality summer ministry for your elementary kids, you’re very proud of your Wonderful Wednesdays program. How awesome! Five Wednesdays during the summer — a trip to an amusement park, a bicycle trip, a zoo trip, a movie, and a trip to a local hands-on science museum — all opening with singing time, devotions, and visits from local mission groups.
While passing out the colorful booklets you spent hours preparing, a parent approaches you. She blurts out, “Just wanted to let you know I signed up to chaperone the zoo trip. I know you have that policy about not bringing babies, but I’ll have to bring baby Madison. I just can’t find a good sitter.”
Unfortunately, your safety policy clearly states, “All children attending Wonderful Wednesdays must be of elementary-school age; no one under or over this age is permitted on the outings.”
In a very respectful, loving voice you explain the reason behind this rule and the importance of sticking to it. The mother quickly retorts, “Well, you can just count my Katie out of all the Wednesdays then! A mother should be allowed to bring her baby with her. What kind of children’s minister are you? That rule is crazy and there are several others who feel the same way!”
• • •
An elder calls you on your day off to question the amount you spent on an outreach event. “Why did you spend $30 on hamburgers? Why didn’t you have the kids donate desserts? This is the kind of waste I see all the time in the children’s area.” You try to get a word in, but he won’t take a breath. You want to tell him, “I did have the boys bring soft drinks and the girls bring chips.” It looks, however, like you won’t ever get a chance to speak. You keep thinking, This guy is supposed to be on my side.
• • •
One of your elementary teachers informs you that Mary, one of your co-leaders, is bad-mouthing the children’s ministry and your leadership. You find out Mary has been phoning several other teachers to get them to contact the pastor to request your resignation.
• • •
In times like these the phrase “Ministry is hard!” seems like the biggest understatement of your life. The truth is, ministry is hard! Another truth is this: Leadership, in any form, is hard. Some days you search to remember why you ever decided to go into ministry.
No one ever says, “Today I had three mothers mad at me and, boy, do I feel good!” Most of us shy away from conflict at all costs. Let’s face it, people can be mean when they don’t get their way. Other people have bad days on occasion and, unfortunately, you might just receive the brunt of it. Others are simply negative by nature and fail to see the good in anything.
These conflicts in ministry are “storms.” Most of these storms are painful at the time, but they pass quickly and become lessons learned. By putting these steps into practice, you can stand up against the inevitable storms that’ll blow into your ministry.
1. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR OPPONENT
The Bible is clear that as Christians, we’re fighting a constant battle we cannot see. Ephesians 6 tells us, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” And most ministers will affirm this fact: Satan’s darts are aiming all the more at you as a minister of the gospel. You are in a war against evil; you stand there with an enormous target on the front of your body, a bull’s-eye right over your heart. Satan desires nothing more than to have his flaming arrows pierce your heart to destroy you and your ministry.
First Peter 5:8 warns us as well, “Be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Note the severity of the language used in this verse: “prowl,” “roaring lion,” “seeking,” and “devour.” This isn’t a picture of a little kitty playing with a ball of yarn. Satan isn’t just batting us around trying to mess with us and our ministries; he’s seeking to kill us! His desire is for nothing less than for you to fail in your ministry, your marriage, and your call. Never forget this simple truth: Satan wants you to fail!
“To live in ignorance of spiritual warfare is the most naive and dangerous thing a person can do,” writes John Eldredge in Waking the Dead. “It’s like skipping through the worst part of town, late at night, waving your wallet above your head… It’s like swimming with great white sharks, dressed as a wounded sea lion and smeared with blood. And let me tell you something: You don’t escape spiritual warfare simply because you choose not to believe it exists or because you refuse to fight it.”
When faced with a storm in your ministry, don’t be ignorant of your opponent. Be constantly aware of Satan and his desires for your life and your ministry. Protect yourself by putting on your spiritual armor every morning. Write the words of Ephesians 6:11-18 on a 3×5 card and place it somewhere visible, perhaps on a mirror, as you get ready each morning.
Ask God to help you put on this armor to prevent Satan’s darts from hitting your heart: “God, please help me to put on the helmet of salvation. Help me to remember that I am yours. You promise me this in your Word. Help me show others today that I am a Holy Spirit-filled vessel for you. Help me to put on the belt of truth. Lord, please let everything that comes out of my mouth today be truth and help me boldly tell others about your truth. And God, please help me keep my armor on throughout the day so Satan’s flaming arrows won’t pierce my heart.”
Facing the day with prayer and the full armor of God will help you deal with the well-intentioned, difficult people you may encounter throughout the day.
2. DETERMINE TYPES OF CONFLICT
Although storms or conflicts come in various shapes and sizes, there are three main types of conflicts you’ll deal with on a regular basis.
1. Conflict to Ignore There will be times in your ministry when a storm arises and you simply have to shrug your shoulders and go on. For example, you spend all day filling water balloons for a preschool pool party at your church the next day. Your fingers have blisters on them from tying those little knots. You place all the balloons in a trash can, cover it, and put it in the corner of your courtyard. The next morning, when you come to the church to set up for the pool party, you notice bright colors all over the parking lot. Someone has taken the balloons and thrown them all over the lot. Not one balloon is left for the preschoolers. And you suspect the children from the neighborhood across the street.
This is a wonderful example of a conflict that doesn’t need to be dealt with. You may’ve heard the phrase, “Pick your battles.” This is definitely not the one to pick. The worst thing you could do at this point is to walk in anger across the street and accuse different children you’ve been trying to invite to church of breaking your balloons. The preschoolers are getting ready to come and they don’t have water balloons, but they do have pools, water guns, sprinklers, and food. Never fear…they’ll still have a great time.
2. Conflict to Deal With… Eventually Some conflicts just aren’t that pressing. At the start of this article, the scenario of the co-leader speaking poorly of you and your ministry is a perfect example. While there’s absolutely no question this situation does need to be dealt with, it may be better for you to take 24 hours to talk with your senior pastor to ask for advice on how to handle the problem before diving into the conflict.
3. Conflict to Deal With Now Take a look at this scenario: The mother of a 4-year-old comes to you after church and shows you a circular bruise on her child’s upper arm. The child has informed her the bruise came from, “My teacher grabbing my arm too hard when I jumped out of line.” The mother is crying.
Without question, this type of conflict needs to be dealt with immediately. A child in your ministry has been hurt and it’s now your responsibility to find out exactly what happened. In fact, the best solution to a situation this serious is to make sure you deal with this issue prior to any of the involved parties leaving the church.
When a conflict arises, quickly assess the situation and determine which of the three ways you should deal with it. The way you deal with it may not necessarily be the way that’s most comfortable for you but the way that’s right for the children in your ministry.
3. MEMORIZE A “KEEP COOL” PHRASE
Memorizing a phrase for various conflict situations can help you keep your cool in very sticky circumstances. In the bruising incident above, silently repeat your “keep cool” phrase while immediately getting the teacher, teacher’s assistant, and parents together to talk. For example, repeat, “There are two sides to every story. There are two sides to every story.” This will keep your mind focused and allow you to maintain an open mind toward what might have taken place.
Here are keep cool phrases you may want to memorize to use in a sticky situation:
- “This person is obviously hurting.”
- “I’m wearing my armor today!”
- “Satan is not going to win today!”
- “You are just one person. Most people think I’m wonderful.”
- “Tomorrow will be a better day.”
- “Consider it pure joy when you face trials. Joy! Joy!”
- “What can I learn from this?”
- “I will never please everybody, and that’s okay.”
Keep cool phrases can be lifesavers.
4. HANDLE CONFLICT BIBLICALLY
The Bible is clear about how to handle conflict. Matthew 18:15-17 says, “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.”
Try not to involve anyone else in your conflict until you’ve handled things one-on-one with the other party. Many ministers make the mistake of “sharing their frustrations” with a good friend, their spouse, or their leadership and exacerbating the conflict. Many times a conflict can be resolved with a simple one-on-one meeting.
Encourage your teachers and parents to handle conflicts in this same manner. If an upset teacher comes to you with a complaint of how another teacher acted, encourage that teacher to go directly to the person. You may offer this help, “If the situation is still occurring after you’ve met one-on-one, I’d be happy to go back with you to speak with her.” Employing this policy in your ministry will save you time and help weed out matters that are serious enough to justify your involvement in the confrontation. If a conflict is minor, your volunteers are faced with the choice to confront or forget. Most will choose to forget and will quickly realize you won’t step in and mend every situation. Eventually they’ll only come to you with major conflicts, which is what you want.
Ministry is hard. You have stories about conflict from your ministry — perhaps even one you could look back on and laugh about. I once had a parent call and yell at me on my answering machine because he said I called his son a chipmunk in front of all the other elementary kids. That I can look back on and laugh about. Other conflicts still make me sick to my stomach when I think about the words so hatefully spoken. It’s hard to get over stormy situations in your ministry, to forget about hurtful words, or to forgive divisive attitudes. No matter, what, though, never ever forget your call as you take time to prepare your heart before conflicts arise.
Jennifer Brackemyre is the author of On Target (College Press) and lives in Wilmington, Ohio. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.