3 Thoughts on Conflict in Ministry

April 9th, 2017

Recently, I got into a pretty heated argument with someone in our church. The tension had already been mounting for the past few months, so it was simply a matter of time before it all exploded. Still, it caught me off guard when it finally blew up.

I was walking out to my car, late for a meeting, and he came running after me. From my perspective, he simply started verbally attacking me. He accused me of things, assumed reasoning for some of my actions and behaviors, and just made me feel defeated and demeaned.

So how did I respond?

With vengeance.

Probably not the best idea in any situation. In the moment, however, I just wanted to fight back. Maybe some of it came from a good place, but the way it all came out of my mouth was angry, hate-filled, and wrong.

To me, this wasn’t a conversation. It was a fight, and I wanted to win desperately.

After 30 minutes, nothing was resolved because both of us weren’t truly taking the time to listen and understand each other. So things just kind of…ended. There was no resolution. There was no forgiveness. It was simply a nasty fight with no forward movement.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had a conflict with this person (or other people for that matter). If you’re a human being, you’ve had conflict. As youth pastors, we can often feel a rub in our relationships with people. Whether it’s parents, students, family, or your senior pastor, conflict is unavoidable.

  • Maybe you feel like you have some insight he/she doesn’t.
  • Maybe you feel like you could do a better job.
  • Maybe you feel like you’re not being heard.
  • Maybe you feel wronged by him/her and haven’t forgiven them.
  • Maybe you don’t feel valued by them.

The list could go on.

Typically, when conflict comes up it can feel confusing as to how we should respond. Questions like…

  • Where are my boundaries?
  • Can I actually say what I feel?
  • Will I get fired?

…pop up in our heads.

As I’ve processed my latest conflict this past week, three thoughts kept reoccurring in my mind as I poured my heart out to God.

1. The Other Person Has Insecurities, Too!

Some of you may be able to recognize this immediately. However, there are others of us who tend to forget that. In the ministry world, many people feel like they have to have it all figured out and have life completely put together, even when they don’t. When conflict arises, perhaps something that’s happening has less to do with you and more to do with the other person. We tend to take things personally and accept a majority (or all) of the blame for the conflict. That’s not always helpful or healthy. Before assuming any of the guilt for what’s going on, stop and ask what’s going on underneath the surface.

I once heard a speaker say, “Hurt people hurt people.” When we feel broken or wounded ourselves, we have a habit of causing lots of damage around us.

So what’s this person going through? Is there something within his/her life or work that’s causing disruption that you’re possibly not aware of? Have you asked? What might shift in your dynamic if you opened that door?

2. Conflict Isn’t Bad

Most of the time, if I’m honest, I want to live a life without conflict. I just want life to be one happy, awesome, peppy experience day after day. I mean, who doesn’t want that? Except…do you really want that?

Conflict is what drives us, as humans, forward. Without conflict, there would be no growth. We learn and develop from these moments. I believe Scripture talks about perseverance in James 1 to point out that life requires…wait for it…perseverance! If there wasn’t conflict, perseverance wouldn’t be a necessity for our lives and our maturity.

While we may hate the moments of conflict we experience, think about who and what we might be able to become on the other side of them. What might God want to teach use through this moment of hurt, pain and struggle? The theme of God’s story is one of death and resurrection over and over again. To me, this means we must have moments that feel like death so that something (or someone) new can be birthed.

3. It’s Okay To Not Be Okay

This is something I tell people all the time but rarely live out myself. You have zero reason to feel shame for feeling the way you do. Your feelings are valid. They may not be based in truth, but your emotions are there to grab your attention and tell you something. If you’re angry or sad, that’s completely fine. Own how you feel.

However, don’t stay there. If you dwell in a constant state of anger or frustration then you’re not actually dealing with the issue. You’re feeding a monster that will only get bigger. Instead, acknowledge how you’re feeling and what you need in order to move on.

If the other person doesn’t care how you feel, maybe that’s a sign it’s time to move on. You’re a human being and you experience emotions. That’s normal.

Conflict will continue to creep up in your life. These aren’t the only things to keep in mind when dealing with these situations, but I’ve found them to be helpful in my own processing and hope you’ve found them helpful as well.

Ryan_Schmall-819x1024RYAN SCHMALL is the Student Ministries Pastor at Redding First Church of the Nazarene in Northern California. He is married to his wife Jeanette, and together they have three amazing girls. Ryan is passionate about creating experiences and environments for people to encounter God in new and unique ways. You can follow him on TWITTER or read his blog over at IAMRYANSCHMALL.TUMBLR.COM.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.