Friday, August 30, 2013

Healthy Conflict Resolution


Conflicts occur in some of our best-run organizations. Christians and Christian organizations experience conflict likely at the same rate as any other group or organization.   Resource allocations, communication deficiencies, economics, environmental stress, confusion over roles and responsibilities are just some of the likely reasons for conflict and each can damage an otherwise healthy organization.

While Christian organizations are not exempt from conflict, there certainly are more reasons to quickly resolve these conflicts amicably and hopefully positively in Christ-centered organizations.  Our mission, purpose and calling are more important and the work that we are called to is truly life giving.

I have found through experience that conflict is likely not entirely preventable.  Since it is not preventable, it is actually much healthier for us to understand it is natural and expected.   This is particularly true when the stakes are high and when people need to work together in order to accomplish the mission.

There are strategies that can be employed in order to resolve conflict however most approaches taught in seminars and by experts typically start after the conflict has escalated to antagonism and beyond disagreement to collision.    A better approach starts earlier in the process.  As conflict is expected, learning how to navigate through conflict in a respectful and positive way is a primary management tool if we are leaders in an organization.

Smile-Pause and Listen

I’ve read a number of books and articles that say, “Don’t react, respond” but they all miss the point.   Our initial reaction is critical in dealing with conflict.    By definition our reaction to confrontation is immediate and it tells much about our attitude towards our ability to be open-minded, humble, honest, selfless and kind.  

Here are a couple of hints on how to react to an initial conflict or complaint:  

1)   Smile – there is an old saying that if you are happy, be sure to tell your face.  Maintaining eye contact and smiling will encourage the person to finish their statement, complaint or report and realize that we are at a minimum open to their comments.  
2)   Pause – Abraham Lincoln likely paraphrased Proverbs 17:28 when he said, “it is better to be quiet and be thought of as a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt”.    Pause, take a breath and allow the mind to be open to what needs to be communicated.
3)   Listen – Effective listening is a process that is an acquired skill.   Jesus said in Matthew 13 that people hear but don’t listen.  According to Jesus this is because people have hardened their hearts, closed their eyes and stopped up their ears.  Failure to listen is a horribly limiting management flaw.  Habit 5 of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  Effective communication starts with listening and listening is a good way to react in conflict.
4)   Pray – 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says simply, “pray continually”.   There are lots of opportunities to pray throughout the day.  When conflict arises there is actually no better time to our mind and heart to turn to prayer.  In just a few moments and without words being spoken there is an opportunity for Godly wisdom to guide and direct the conversation.

Respond With Kindness

The biggest advantage Christian leaders have in resolving conflict is in knowing that God is always bigger than the problem.   In addition, because all good things are from God and the wisdom that is needed to resolve any conflict is available to anyone that asks, our response should always be positive and constructive.

One of the most important things we can do in giving a response is to remember to be kind.  Kindness is how we express our love.   The words we use the can heal or destroy, they can demonstrate our interest in reconciliation or they can push any wedge of division down even further.

Here are some simple things to remember:

1)   Ask clarifying questions.  Active listening actually starts in the first step, in our reaction.  As we respond we need to find ways to use clarifying questions to help both parties understand what is being said.  It begins with a positive and engaged attitude and an interest in truly understanding.    It’s been said that active listening is being ‘other-directed’, a quality that is consistent with the Biblical encouragement of our character development.
2)   Use inclusive and positive comments and statements.  We can always be positive that there is a resolution even if at first the solution isn’t readily apparent.   Own the fact that somewhere there has been a break-down and even if we are a small part, we are still a part of the problem.
3)   Keep the door open to future dialogues.  Often time is needed to be able to research and identify the actual problem.   The true problem is often disguised and leaders need time to sort through the symptoms in order to get to the heart of the issue.

Review and Reflect in order to improve

Finally, resolving conflict is not about winning and losing but it is certainly about improving processes in order to improve the results.  It’s been said that our processes are perfectly designed to achieve the results they are producing.    We need to review the dialogs and conversations we have with our colleagues and partners to make sure we are making progress to resolving conflicts and improving processes.

When we reflect on the challenges and opportunities that we have, particularly when it comes to resolving conflict, we actually can start to vision the opportunities for the future.    The outcome of conflict should never be ‘business as usual’.   Conflict is actually an opportunity to learn and to grow and to change.  Good leaders manage conflict; great leaders see conflict as an opportunity for improvement.










Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Substance Over Form

I’ve dedicated much of the past twelve years to ministry but also to the history of the Church.  You see I love talking about history because it brings so much hope, so much clarity.

It all started, the Church that is, on the day of Pentecost.  Now this was 50 days after Passover, the day that our Lord had his Last Supper with his disciples that we celebrate as well every time we take communion.  On the feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on 120 men and women that were the faithful few.  Tens of thousands had followed Jesus for over three years but when he was arrested, he was left alone.  Now, on the feast of Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes like a mighty rushing wind and it is recorded that tongues of fire danced on the heads of those present in the upper room as their fears were replaced with Faith: faith in God, faith in their mission and faith as well in the resurrection from the dead.

You see, Jesus rose from the grave after three days and appeared to many.  The Bible says that he was present with over 500 at one time.  Jesus walked and talked with his followers as a resurrected-man for 40 days and then he ascended into Heaven.

Peter brought this message of a risen Savior out to the crowd gathered below that were in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost.  They had heard the noise and were able to hear shouts of praise to God in different languages.  Languages what were unknown to the 120 but recognized by those in the crowd that had come from diverse places all over Europe, Africa and Asia.

That Pentecost day the Church took off….3,000 souls were added to the church and the word about Jesus rising from the dead was taken back to various places including "Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and even Rome"

These early Christians had no buildings, no ceremonies or customs that we are so accustomed to now.  Truth be told (I told you I was an historian) at the time there were no priests, no liturgy, no agreement on how often they were to celebrate communion or the prayers that were to be prayed.

The one thing that they all had was the knowledge that Jesus was raised from the dead.  That which was dead and buried was more alive than ever before.  The promises of the Old Testament had been fulfilled and their Messiah had come.

Then, the Christians were persecuted and many became martyrs.   New believers were called Catechumens and these were those that were new to the faith but had not yet been baptized.  History tells us that many, many of these new believers also ended up in the coliseums and were martyred by the Romans. These new believers, while yet unbaptized marched into the coliseums fully confident that because they had placed their trust in Jesus Christ, God would accept them and they too would ultimately be raised from the dead.

Jesus had promised that he was going to prepare a place for his followers.  He said it was certain and that where he was going, we would be there too.

Within a hundred years, the leaders of the church came up with that which was lacking and substance gave birth to form.   Baptism, the sacraments, clergy, duties and responsibilities were all debated and many adopted but the church also became divided.   The biggest division was between those that spoke Greek and those that spoke Latin.  Also, many debated who Jesus really was.  Was he truly God or just a good man, sent by God?

The Emperor Constantine comes to the throne in 312 AD and Christianity was legalized,  In fact in a 70-year period it becomes the official and only religion of the Roman empire. 

Constantine wanted his church to have one doctrine, he wanted one church for the Roman Empire not many.   There were many questions at the time that were being debated including prayers.. were they to be in Latin or in Greek?  also whether the sacraments that had been dispensed by clergy that then had lost their nerve and denied their faith were still valid.   Constantine calls the Bishops together and about 275 bishops gather together in Nicaea. These questions of Constantine were asked but these bishops surprised everyone.

Instead of talking about form….the bishops spoke to substance.  Out from this council we have to this day the Nicene Creed.  I call this simple Creed the "Gettysburg address of the Christian Faith". In it these early Bishops told us what we need to believe.   Let me show it to you:
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen. 
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only son of God,
Eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
True God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father.
Through him all things were made. 
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man. 
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end. 
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son].
With the Father and the Son
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. AMEN.     

Just 36 lines that define the substance of our faith.

What does it take to have faith?  What does it take to believe in the resurrection of the dead and to be able to know that we will see our loved ones again in the future?  It’s not about form….but about substance, about belief.

What do we believe? We believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Born of a Virgin to die for our sins.  It was for our sake that he was crucified. It was for us that he was raised from the dead.  

In the book of Acts, Paul and Silas are preaching in Philippi and end up getting thrown into prison. Something like this happened often to Paul.   In jail, they begin to pray and to sing and suddenly a violet earthquake shakes the prison and the jail cells all burst open. 

The jailer is about to kill himself when he sees all the doors open but Paul shares the Gospel with him.  The jailer says, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?  Paul replies Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”.   Substance over form.

What is it that you believe today?   You see, this substance that I talk about is a relationship with Jesus Christ.   Christianity is really not a religion but a relationship. This relationship is with God, made possible because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

My mom and dad live here in Florida.  If you asked me how my relationship was with my dad you would be listening to clues about when I had last visited him, when we had last talked, when we had last eaten together.  If instead I told you that I was born into his household, that we had lived in Detroit back in the 1980’s and that his name was Bill you would wonder what kind of a relationship is that?

The proof of a relationship is not the form but the substance.   God wants a relationship with us that is living.   He has much to teach us, He longs to fellowship with us.   In the Book of Revelation Jesus says “(He) stands at the door and knocks.  If anyone would open the door he would come in and have a meal with him.”

Substance over form.  Our faith is evidenced by our relationship with God as well as in things like attending church with others that share our faith.  It is evidenced by our prayers for our families and our dependence on God that gives us hope.

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