I just had a very interesting situation come up in which I had to deal with conflict that surfaced through a series of emails. Our group of children’s ministry volunteers was discussing how to deal with a particular concern that had come up and some unhappy words were shared by someone feeling frustration. What to do? We were all replying to the entire group, so everyone could see that things were heating up. It’s one of those awkward times when most people just want to turn around and start whistling, pretending they didn’t really hear what they just heard. As the leader though, I don’t have that luxury, nor do I think it’s healthy.
I recently was part of a group on Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. It was truly an eye-opening and life-changing experience for those of us ladies who participated. Painful and uncomfortable, but ultimately beneficial. I knew I should not take her words personally to heart; she was simply sharing her feelings on something she felt very strongly about. I had to decide if I was going to get my own feelings involved or not. The choice was clear–my feelings were not important on this issue. My role was to facilitate the working out of the issue by looking at our ministry needs, looking at ways to address them, getting peoples’ opinions, and finally deciding on a course of action.
The problem when you’re the one who is leading is that in the process of discussing and whatever your decision, there will be people who get offended. There will be people who say rude or hurtful things. There will be misunderstandings because of unclear or incomplete communication. There will be people who want you to act faster, choose their favored solution, do what others are doing, base your decisions on the wrong set of criteria, want you to operate based on feeling, or get angry because you are not catering to them. We live in a society (at least in the U.S.) where people feel entitled and they will move on to the next thing at the drop of a hat, when they feel their needs or wants are not being met.
How do I respond to that? I can’t be a people-pleaser; God has shown me the sickness of that disease. But neither do I need to be rude, arrogant, belittling, dismissive, or impatient. I want to hear what people have to say. I want to know their true thoughts and feelings, the good and the bad. If we can’t be honest, then we’re just fooling ourselves into thinking we’re operating as the Body of Christ. In that honesty though, there needs to be unity and a concern for the greater good of the body as a whole. I’m not just talking about our local congregation, but also the churches surrounding us and our global body. Those greater concerns need to be front and foremost in the decisions we make because our goal as a church is not to fill our coffers, fill the pews, or make everyone happy. Our goal is to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and to make disciples. It’s a messy business and some will leave when they see what it takes and the sacrifices that are necessary.
I have to make the decisions that are right according to God. I’m sorry when that causes others to be upset or walk away, but it is the only standard by which the church can function without losing its viability.
So…I chose to restate what I had heard and understood from everyone. I affirmed the volunteer’s feelings and how I could see why she felt so strongly. I tried to clear up a misunderstanding in communication which had caused some hurt feelings. And I reaffirmed my position, who I was working with, what we were trying to do, and that we would continue to discuss the subject and try to get to some real conclusions. I also stated that there was the need for face-to-face interaction so that we could understand one another better and more fully. Finally, I ended by stating that I am thankful for my volunteers and gave them an affirming word about who they are and how I feel about them. Despite our moments of tension, I do love them and feel so blessed to have each one of them in my life.
I don’t know if there will be any fall-out from the friction, but I know that I’ve done what God asked me to do. It is up to the others to make their own decisions about the way that they will respond. That is not within my control and it’s something that I need to hand over to God.