Conflict in Leadership, Part I

30 04 2010


It is said that there are two things in life that are sure things: death and taxes. While it could be argued that there are many other things in life that could be added to the short list of sure things in life I would simply add this one thing: every leader will at some point collide with conflict. Conflict among people, even in the Church, is inevitable. It is a sure thing! It is as sure as death and taxes. Show me a person in a leadership position who has never faced conflict with others or had to work to resolve conflict between others and I will show you a person who isn’t leading. For example, leadership by its very nature demands calling for people to change and many people in our churches don’t want to change. Whether it’s personal change or organizational change many people simply resist and stiff-arm any change.

Consider some of the great leaders who are set forth as examples in Scripture. Moses, possibly one of the greatest leaders in history, faced all sorts of conflicts. He had to confront Pharoah, the leader of Egypt, multiple times and rebuke him as God pronounced judgment upon the Egyptians. When the Lord ultimately triumphed over the Egyptians and the children of Israel were set free from their slavery Moses was left wandering the wilderness with ungrateful people who constantly opposed him and ultimately God. King David is another example from the Scriptures of a leader who faced conflict. Note that even before David held the position of leader he was confronted with decisions on how to handle conflict with Saul. David’s confrontations with King Saul bear forth a noble record of handling conflict and adversity. Consider Queen Esther who was faced with the decision of whether to keep silent and save her own life or speak out to the King and risk her own life to save the lives of her people. Esther shines forth in the Old Testament as a glowing example of handling crisis in leadership. Daniel is another fine example of how a leader must take courageous stands in the midst of strife and conflict. Multiple times we see him courageously walking by faith in the midst of the existing conflicts between his own convictions and the demands that his captors placed upon him.

Then in the New Testament we have fine examples such as Paul and Stephen. These are men who did not shrink in their leadership in the face of conflicts all around them. The apostle Paul faced confrontation and conflict at every turn during his missionary journeys. Paul chronicles some of the results of his conflicts in 2 Corinthians when he states,

Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.[1]

 Not only did he face personal conflict, but he also intervened to encourage those in the Church to settle their conflicts in a spirit of Christ-likeness (cf. 1 Cor. 5ff; Phil. 4). Stephen is noted in Acts 7 as we find him standing and preaching the Word of God and in an uncompromising way confronting the sins of his hearers and paying the ultimate price with his life.

            From all of these examples and from many others we can readily see that conflicts in leadership come in many different shapes and sizes. As Jeff Iorg states, one thing is certain, “God’s best leaders seem to go from crisis to crisis.”[2] We can conclude from all of this that it is futile for God’s leader to try to live and lead in such a way as to attempt to avoid both interpersonal and interchurch conflicts. Indeed, conflict is a sure thing. My purpose in writing is to set forth, with Scripture as our final authority, the character qualities that are necessary in the life of every leader to successfully navigate through conflict in the ministry. Stay tune for the next section dealing with the attitude of the leader.

[1] 2 Corinthians 11:22-28, (NKJV)

[2] Iorg, Jeff. The Painful Side of Leadership. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009, 31.



One response

30 04 2010
Eddie Buford

Very good Jeff. It’s sad but true, churches are not exempt from conflicts:)

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