The Conflict That Was Resolved By Looking in the Mirror
Let me start out by saying that on my worst days, my preferred style of conflict resolution is to avoid the conflict altogether, to sweep it under the rug, and to hope that it never rears its ugly head ever again. I like people to like me, and I like them to be happy. I know a handful of ministers who are better at conflict resolution than myself, but I would guess that most ministers are in the same boat as me. Ministry could be likened to customer service. In other words, my paycheck is dependent upon if people like me and like what I’m doing (Perhaps that is why so many ex-pastors go into sales or insurance?). Don’t get me wrong,I love what I do, and I love the church where I serve. However, I have thought about the fact that if I make too many people mad, or if too many people think I’m not doing enough, or if too many people don’t like my shirt; my job, my career, my calling and my livelihood could be at stake. Therefore, my default is to avoid conflict.
So what happens when you have a major conflict with your co-workers, fellow ministers, shepherds or leaders of the church? I have been at my church for three and a half years now. It has been a great fit for me and my wife. Part of our conversations during the interview process was about mission, evangelism and serving our community. My wife and I were so excited to bring a local mission trip experience, that we both had been a part of, into this new context. It seemed that this church was all onboard as well. They were even currently participating in a similar, community-wide event, and had a history of serving their neighbors in similar ways in years prior. So, after a year and a half of learning, listening, waiting and hoping to launch this local mission initiative, a door finally opened for implementation. We did a soft launch in the middle of summer. It was a fantastic week with about twenty percent of our church engaged. We talked to and served our neighbors. My wife and I ended that week and that summer feeling excited, accomplished, and hopeful that this would continue and grow more and more into the fabric of this church.
Fast forward to the next year. I had put it on the calendar, dedicated time and space to this effort, talked to the staff about it, and thought I was doing everything in my power to make it bigger and better this time. After all, the church already knew about an people who participated gave me good feedback. For sure they were talking it up to their friends, our staff and leadership. Everyone had a better understanding of the local mission experience. Right? Not necessarily. When we arrived at the weekend leading up to the event, only twenty who had registered. A number significantly less than the year before. The Friday night before it launched, my prayer and hope was that people would just show up the next morning. People already knew about it. Right? Not necessarily.
The next morning, after delaying our start time by fifteen minutes, still waiting and hoping that more and more would walk through the door, it finally dawns on me, they aren’t coming. I’m the only staff person present. In fact, I’m the only person from our entire office and leadership present. I try to keep it all together as everyone is looking at me for instructions. I am hurt, frustrated, confused, angry, disappointed, and upset. Still, I have to lead. That evening, I write an email titled, “An Open Letter to My Fellow Co-Workers.” My plan was to read this to them Monday morning and let them all have a piece of my mind (Luckily, my wife is amazing and talks me down from that plan after she reads the letter). We go to sleep and I try to forget about it.
The next morning, as I am getting ready to leave to go to church, I start thinking about what I would say and how I would respond if people ask me “How did it go yesterday? Sorry I had to miss.” I wanted to respond coldly so that they would feel my hurt and disappointment by responding with something like, “You know, I’m disappointed you didn’t come.” However, I didn’t get the opportunity. No one asked me that question (perhaps by coincidence or perhaps by divine working)! As I make it into worship, the congregation is singing “It is Well.” I found myself dwelling on Matthew 5:21-26 and unable to sing those words. Then, to top it all off, our Lead Minister gets up to preach and has at least five, if not more, connections to mission, evangelism and serving our neighbors. I’m waiting for him to connect it to the effort we are working on. He never does.
I left the auditorium, furious. For the first time, I question if this is the church that I am supposed to be serving. If I’m so passionate about this specific mission opportunity and they seemingly are not, is this where I am supposed to be? I was so disappointed with our staff and leadership for not engaging in it. I was hurt by the participation of the church overall. If the church has supported other similar efforts prior to this, why would they not support this one? I worked so hard to make the ‘ask’ of our members as easy for them as possible. I made it as cheap as I could so money wouldn’t be an issue for anyone. So if they didn’t participate, does that mean they just don’t like me?
I ended up calling a mentor of mine and explained the situation. I explained how frustrated, disappointed and hurt I was. I explained how I might need to find a new church and a new church family. After I vented for about fifteen minutes, my friend paused, affirmed my anger and disappointment, and then turned it back on me. He said, “How did you lead this?” I didn’t want to hear that or take any of the blame myself, so I tried to shut it down. He insisted. “Things succeed and fail because of leadership. How did you lead this?” he said. We talked for awhile about this, and then I reflected for the rest of the day on that question. I began to realize that although I didn’t want to admit it, I could’ve led it better in a lot of ways. I wanted to blame everyone else and everything else, but I first had to look at myself. I was drawn back to Matthew, but this time to 7:1-6. Dang it.
I set up a meeting with our Lead, Executive and Family Ministers for the next morning. I walked into that meeting with a prepared list of thoughts, but not the open letter that I had written two nights before. I explained that I was frustrated, hurt and disappointed by their lack of participation as well as our church’s lack of participation. But then I explained that I was also sorry for how I led the effort. I should have and could have led it better in many ways, and admitted my failure. I then apologized for the thoughts I had of these three in my times of deepest anger that previous Saturday.
I am by no means an expert at conflict resolution. I still would rather run from conflict than confront it face to face. But this was a huge growing experience for me. A growth both my personal and professional life. I wanted to escape any and all of the blame. It is much easier to place that blame on other factors and/or people. However, I had to look in the mirror at my own lack of leadership. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I am thankful. I am still at this same church, work with the same staff, and I love each of them deeply.
I am reminded of the truth of Kid President when he says, “Sometimes people can be really peopley, but we need each other. Life’s better with people in it.” People will let you down because they are “peopley.” Conflict will come from that, but growth comes when we can talk, listen, and reconcile.
Written by Wes Rasbury | Instagram: wesraz
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.