Navigating Conflict in Worship Ministry
Great numbers of churches are sensing God’s leading to lay aside *ageism in order to seek unified, multigenerational and perhaps multiethnic congregational worship. Often the result is conflict caused by people who are unwilling to sacrifice preferences for biblical unity. Will Whittaker has some good advice on dealing with such conflict in a healthy way. Read on.
*Ageism manifests itself in churches dividing their worshipping congregations into age groups particularly to serve personal preferences, perhaps offering various styles of worship.
Conflict- a difference of opinion involving strong emotions
Dealing with personal conflict is something all church leaders must navigate throughout their ministry. Conflict resolution begins with your own self-awareness and how you, as the leader, can control your behavior when conflict happens. It begins with a humble attitude.
If you’re like me, my instincts are to respond as quickly as possible to someone who confronts me personally or through electronic means. This is not always wise, friends. No conflicts are ever won through electronic means. You must stop, pray, and calm down. However, sometimes people confront you personally, and you must learn not to react aggressively. My friend Jane Bishop is a Professional Coach for businesses and individuals. She has developed a valuable technique called SSR for helping leaders learn to respond rather than react. I challenge you to practice this technique when your emotions are triggered to RESPOND rather than REACT.
STOP – take a breath, do not speak, quiet your brain
SHIFT – make a physical shift. i.e., if you are standing, sit. Move your hand, wiggle a finger, etc.
RESPOND – in the split seconds that you have stopped your brain and made a physical shift, you have created space to respond rather than react. At times, the response may be to simply walk away. [i]
Music and worship style is often a hot topic in many churches as music tends to be an emotional subject for many. Since music is such a large part of what is altered during a merger of multiple styles of worship, you can expect to have to do more than just educate people on the merits of intergenerationality. There will be skeptics, and there will be those who are vehemently opposed to change. Some will send you emails or confront you personally. How you respond is crucial.
When I’ve had conflict that wasn’t immediate confrontation, I’ve asked myself a few questions first:
- What is the root of the conflict?
- Is the issue at hand really just an outgrowth of a deeper issue with them?
- If the issue is an attack on the music I’ve picked or the people I’ve chosen to use in worship or any other decision I’ve made, how do I separate my personal feelings of offense or embarrassment that someone doesn’t like what I’ve done from the root of the actual issue?
- If the problem is a personal attack on me or my family, how do I respond with grace and humility without getting angry?
- How do I navigate this conflict so it’s a win-win for both sides?
Here’s what I suggest doing when confronted with conflict:
- Pray! Seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Remember the goal is always unity.
- If the confrontation happens through electronic or written means, ask to meet personally with them and another person on your staff or leader. Meet in a neutral place and sit comfortably and relaxed. Your body language is important.
- If the point of conflict is clear, begin looking at it from their point of view. Seek to understand the root of the problem and why it means so much to them. Always remember to attack the problem, not the person.
- Do your homework. If you’ve made a change, you better know why you did and be able to justify it in humility. You need to be able to share calmly that you considered every possible angle you could before making the change. If things seem to be going well regarding the change, you can highlight that as well.
- Do not interrupt. This can be difficult if you’re feeling attacked. Let them finish.
- Paraphrase as you go along. “What I hear you saying is…,” or ask questions to provide clarity.
- Be open to suggestions. Often people who confront you just want to be heard. Seek to understand before being understood. They may bring some suggestions or points that you had not considered when making a change that affects them or a group of people. As the leader, you may decide that you need to modify something you’ve set in place.
- Be humble and full of grace, even if they are very angry.
- Try to end on a positive note. Be aware though, that some people cannot be educated enough, heard enough, or pacified enough for you to make any real difference in their opinions. You must thank them for sharing with you and tell them again why you made the change and leave it alone.
[i] Jane Bishop, Leadership Coach, Take the Next Step, “SSR Technique,” 2010.
This post was reprinted with permission from Dr. Will Whittaker’s blog, Intergenerational Worship.