Conflict in Leadership, Part III

3 05 2010


“For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.”[1]

             Let’s face it: nobody likes confrontation! Well okay, maybe somebody is coming to your mind right now who you could say without much hesitation loves a good fight. For instance, I have a family member who doesn’t typically hold much back. So let me rephrase that statement: most of us don’t like confrontation. The fact that a leader doesn’t like confrontation should never be allowed to dictate not confronting when necessary. The damage that can be done by not confronting an issue can often times be more detrimental to the person and to the overall organization than the results of actually stepping up and taking the initiative to confront. That is what confrontation requires: initiative. The first epistle to the Corinthian church is all about the apostle Paul taking the initiative to confront many different sinful problems and patterns that were taking place within this body of believers. Paul tackled the problem of cliques in the church, an incestuous relationship, Christians suing other Christians, and the misuse of spiritual gifts all in this one letter. The Corinthian Church was carnal to the core and Paul told them so (1 Cor. 3:1). That took initiative!

            Initiative is the opposite of complacency and apathy. Complacency rests on it laurels and waits for the problem to take care of itself. Apathy simply doesn’t care if the problem gets taken care of. But initiative takes action. Initiative cares enough to stand up and say something. Initiative cares enough to confront even in the face of potential rejection or turmoil in relationships. Initiative is what Paul was exhorting the Galatian believers to exemplify when he wrote, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”[2] Initiative is compelled by the love of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:14). Quite frankly there is not a lot of initiative in our society today. Most people would rather ignore problems and issues because it’s too dangerous or inconvenient to get involved in the issues of our brothers and sisters in Christ. How many times have we sat back and watched someone else’s child involved in destructive behavior and never got involved because we were afraid of how their parents might react? But the question for believers begs to be asked: If our brother drives his car into a ditch and is lying there do we care enough to get involved or do we just let him lay?

            It is true that taking initiative to get involved in another person’s life can lead to conflict. However, we must ask ourselves what the consequences of doing nothing will be both for the individual and for others around them. We must also remember that there is a prescribed manner in which we are to take initiative. We must consider ourselves. That is, we must examine ourselves first and make sure that we are on solid spiritual footing in Christ. There is possibly nothing worse in confronting a problem than someone engaging in confrontation who is guilty of the very same thing he is confronting or worse. Secondly, we must take initiative and confront in a spirit of gentleness. We must do our best to place ourselves in the other person’s position and seek God’s perspective on the issue at hand. We must engage them in a way that we would want to be engaged if we were in their shoes. Third, we must always remember that restoration is the goal of all confrontation. If we have the mind of Christ and we take the initiative in a spirit of gentleness having considered ourselves then we are acting in the prescribed Scriptural way of confronting. We have seen that initiative is a vital ingredient in dealing with conflict. Conflicts simply don’t go away on there own. However, there is an ingredient that goes right along with initiative. In fact, without this ingredient initiative will never be taken.


“If I perish, I perish”[3]

            What does it take to seize the day? It takes c-o-u-r-a-g-e! Whoever heard of a lion without courage? Well, Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz for one. You remember the lion in the movie. He was afraid of his own shadow. Whoever heard of such a thing as a lion not having courage? That’s an oxymoron! Lions are the king of the jungle after all. Well a leader without courage could also be said to be an oxymoron. A spineless leader is no leader at all. Leaders lead change! Leaders call for change! Pastors preach change: change in the church programs and change in the individuals who are the Church. The Christian life is all about change. If we are not changing then we are not growing! Therefore, leaders must seize the day and seizing the day requires initiative and initiative requires courage.

            At the heart of most conflict is the need for one or more individuals to change their behavior. Therefore, conflict involves a demand for change. For the spiritual leader courage begins in the quiet places of life where solitude is found with God. In short, courage to confront is born out of a leader’s prayer life. Queen Esther gives us this example from her life. After much hesitation over whether to confront the King regarding Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews Esther sends word to her uncle Mordecai and says,

Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish![4]

 Esther understood the link between the power of prayer and having the courage to confront a difficult situation. As Andy Stanley states, “Courage to act defines the leader, and in turn the leader’s initiative gives those around him courage to follow.”[5] It was courage that fueled the shepherd boy David to take the initiative and confront the giant Philistine, Goliath. When leaders lack courage to initiate action they need a fresh encounter with the Living God. Take Moses for example. In Exodus 3, Moses is tending to the sheep of his father-in-law in the desert. The same Moses who once had a vision to lead the children of Israel out from underneath the rule of their Egyptian taskmasters is now shepherding sheep in the desert. God sometimes has special ways of getting the leaders attention when its time to initiate action. God appears to Moses from the midst of a burning bush and what followed resulted in eventual courageous leadership by Moses.

            The spiritual leader needs to exercise caution when it comes to this business of courage and initiative in the midst of conflict, after all, “fools rush in where angels only dare to tread.” It is possible for the leader to be overzealous in initiating confrontation and dealing with conflicts. There is a delicate spiritual balance that the wise spiritual leader will learn to tightrope walk in confrontation. Just as it is possible for leaders to sit in complacency or even apathy and hope a problem goes away, it is also possible that he would rush into a situation without having all of the information he needs or not having prepared his own heart. The traps in dealing with conflict are many and the leader must be fueled by spiritual wisdom from the Word of God and spending time in the presence of God.


“And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: ‘Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”[6]

             Having God’s perspective going into and in the midst of conflict is possibly one of the most difficult things for a leader to keep in his sights. In the midst of sometimes hurtful words we rush to our own defense. Defensiveness often leads to deeper conflicts and will fuel the flesh of others. A leader who acts without God’s perspective in the midst of conflict will often act in very short-sighted and selfish ways. After all, leaders are sinful human beings and our perspective is just as tainted by sin as another person’s perspective. A leader standing in the midst of the forest of conflict must rise above the trees of accusations, gossip, pride, and hurt feelings and see the big picture from God’s perspective. The wise leader will ask how God can be glorified through this conflict. The wise leader will ask what he can do to bring restoration and reconciliation. This is the ministry that God has called the pastor to: the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19-20). This is not always easy.

            For example, in the case of Esther she was initially concerned more about her own safety than the safety of the rest of her people. Fear can also grip the leader and hold him in its clutches and prevent him from acting in the way that is commanded by God. As was stated earlier, Esther only came to a big picture point of view when she committed herself to look to the Lord. At that point she did not count her life as dear unto herself. She counted the cost and boldly moved forward. In short, she had gained God’s perspective on her circumstances! This is so vital for every leader. How often do we enter into interpersonal conflict and lose sight of restoration in hot pursuit of revenge over hurts done to us. Selfish and defensive pride has brought to ruins many a man’s ministry. The prescription for confrontation as given in Matthew 18 is relevant to our day. Jesus taught:

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.[7]

 The goal in any conflict resolution is always restoration. However, restoration is not always possible because as much as we’d like we cannot control the responses of other people to confrontation. Let us commit ourselves to following the counsel of the Word of God when Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”[8]


            In this short essay our purpose was 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. Although space does not allow for a more in-depth and exhaustive study of all of the character qualities needed we have listed and expounded on several. For the leader to navigate the waters of conflict successfully he must have the mind of Christ, take initiative to deal with the conflict, find courage through prayer, and seek God’s perspective on bringing reconciliation and restoration if possible. It should be noted that success in conflict is not judged by whether or not the outcome is always reconciliation, but rather success is judged in our heart motives and our efforts to follow the mind of Christ and submit to His perfect will for our lives.

[1] 1 Corinthians 1:11, (NKJV)

[2] Galatians 6:1, (NKJV)

[3] Esther 4:16, (NKJV)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Stanley, Andy. Next Generation Leader. Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, 2003, 51.

[6] Esther 4:13-14, (NKJV)

[7] Matthew 18:15-17, (NKJV)

[8] Romans 12:18, (NKJV)



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