Conflict - wouldn't it be great to avoid it all together?
That may not be possible, but there are a few simple steps you can take to resolve it before it starts. But first, you need to look at the issues from their perspective.
How they see things
You’re asking your church to do something difficult. Something that’s contrary to human nature. They know it will require sacrifice.
You know they need to do it. Jesus is calling them to do it. But it hurts.
You’re asking them to change.
If you prepare them first, and address 5 typical "show stoppers," there's a good chance you may resolve most of the conflict before it breaks out! No guarantees, of course. We are, after all, dealing with human beings. But the following suggestions will certainly minimize most of the conflict.
Resolve conflict ahead of time by preparing for change
You’ve got a lot of work to do before they’ll entertain the idea. In a way, you have to do for them what you’ve already done for yourself:
- Open their eyes to see the hard reality - it's change or die.
- Help them “unlearn” a few ideas about the church.
1. Open their eyes with story
The first step is fairly straightforward and simple. Use the drip method to slowly dissolve their resistance to change. Begin introducing facts and anecdotes about what's happening to the church and in the community that will startle them - but without calling for major change until the time is right.
One pastor spent the better part of two years simply telling stories and citing facts about the dreadful spiritual condition of the city - the percentage of unbelievers, woeful state of most churches, the dreadful condition of family life in the surrounding neighborhoods, people groups that were underserved by the local congregations. In time people began to clamor for change - they wanted to play a role in addressing these problems. A congregation that had been in decline for almost 20 years (from 900+ to 200) turned the corner because the pastor told stories that opened their eyes.
2. Help them unlearn
Most church folks need to unlearn a few things about themselves and their church. The spirit of the age - consumerism - shades everything they see. You need to teach them a new, better way to see themselves and their roles in God’s mission.
How? There are three simple steps to help them unlearn old ways of thinking and learn new ways:
- Preach the mission.
- Preach the mission.
- Preach the mission.
This will be hard work for you and the church. You need a plan to preapre them. You need a plan because of the complexity of the issues led to the plateau, the personalities and sensitivities of the people involved, and the need to move quickly lest you fail to achieve momentum.
Resolve conflict ahead of time by eliminating the 5"show stoppers"
I've seen that most pastors fail to lead change effectively because they overlook five problems that will stop them in their tracks.
If you address these "show stoppers" you're far more likely to lead effective change plans. Again, no guarantees, but we're talking about percentages of likely success here.
Most pastors will need to address these issues in anticipation of a major change initiative:
- ISSUE: You’ve been focusing on what’s not working. This is why you see the need for change! But harping on the negatives won’t win people to the cause. CORRECTION: Stop talking about what’s broken. Tell stories that picture the congregation’s potential and cultivate an atmosphere of confidence. (Remember the famous line from Apollo 13 - “What do we got on the spacecraft that’s good?”)
- ISSUE: The people you need most have no idea how to lead change. RESPONSE: Prepare staff, church officers, and key influencers to give solid spiritual leadership. This may take quite a while; you need to win hearts and minds to your side before you can launch a major change initiative. If you don’t, you’ll be easily sunk.
- ISSUE: Most folks’ default response to change, especially in church, is set to “No.” RESPONSE: Prepare hearts. You have a variety of tools already available for this important task: sustained prayer initiatives; modeling evangelistic passion; gripping stories about community needs; testimonies from those who are active.
- ISSUE: Most people have no earthly idea why they should change or why their church should change. RESPONSE: Prepare minds by preaching the mission of God, his love for the lost, the church’s privilege, and how the church exalts Jesus when they proclaim him.
- ISSUE: You’re about to go into battle (so to speak) alone. Don’t do it! CORRECTION: Recruit a team! Ask people with influence to begin telling the story about your church’s success. Recruit them to offer words of encouragement and exhortation to others before and after services or during the week.
Preparing you congregation well is no guarantee that your change initiative will succeed. But failing to prepare them almost guarantees that church conflict will sink your change initiatives!
With a little foresight, some reflective planning and ample prayer, you may just resolve church conflict before it starts.