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How You Can Prepare for the Coming Conflict

Tuesday Re-mix –

I have mostly tried to forget my early teenage years (from about age 12-14…the dreaded middle school years…every boy’s misery).  But aside from the many nightmares I have surely forgotten, there are still a handful which I remember as if they were yesterday: being spit on by Jimmy E. (7th grader) on the first day of 6th grade; being beaten up by Andy W. in the boys locker room; getting sick on the tilt-a-whirl on my very first “date” (so very sorry, Glenanne); and my illustration for this blog…trying to run the 440 yd. high-hurdles my 7th grade year.  Nightmare!

I was a low-hurdler.  Not the fastest in the world, but pretty well-trained and pretty well-equipped for my particular race.  My race was a quick 100 yards, with just a few hurdles to clear and then the race was over.  I liked it that way.  So when Brian W. had to pull out of the 440-yd. high hurdle race at one of our track meets, and the coach just needed a warm body to run the race (something to do with team points), I got picked…out of nowhere.  I won’t take you through the parade of horribles which ensued.  Let’s just say that, after not clearing the first hurdle and after basically running around the rest of them and then not being able to finish because of the unexpectedly long distance…well…it was a nightmare.  I was not ready for ANY of the obstacles that race held for me.  I had not trained for it, I had not studied it, I was completely unprepared for it.  I had not been given even the most basic, fundamental skills for running that race. I learned some things that day about preparation.

The more I work with conflicted congregations and the vocational ministers who find themselves entangled in those conflicts, the more I am convinced that whoever is supposed to be preparing our vocational ministers for the obstacles they will face while pastoring a church is, in many cases, not doing the job.  In some cases it is our seminaries, in some cases it is denominational entities, in come cases it is the churches themselves and in some cases it is the pastors themselves.  But in so many, many cases, the severe damage that is done to both the church and to the minister (and the minister’s family) could have been minimized with just some basic preparation and development in a single skill-set area: interpersonal relationships.

You see, leading a congregation requires a great deal more than just theological understanding, or even great communications skills.  In fact, I have yet to see the church conflict caused by a deficiency in either of those areas.  But mark my words, leading a congregation in today’s culture requires very strong (either natural or practiced) relationship skills.

And here is the thing about that.  It seems that “relationship skills” are something that everyone seems to think they are already good at….sort of like everyone thinks their jokes are funny or everyone thinks they can sing or everyone thinks people just like hearing them talk.  Somehow, it is easy to be blind (or deaf) to deficiencies in these areas.  Similarly, you can apparently be really horrible at relationships and still believe you’re a good pastor because you made good grades in seminary or because people compliment you on your sermons.  You can be completely lacking in basic relationship skills and not even know it.  For all you church leaders, I’m going to say that again: You can be completely lacking in basic relationship skills and not even know it.

When I talk about basic relationship skills, I am talking about basic character traits such as integrity and humility, but I am also talking about practical skills such as expressing pain, confession, apology, forgiveness, etc.  I have met with pastors whose families are littered with fall-out from their bad relationship skills but who think that, somehow, they are better pastors than they are husbands or fathers.  I have met with pastors who know they are “anointed” to preach but who feel no responsibility at all to actually better themselves in terms of relationship skills.  And I don’t have to tell you that our society is filled with former pastors whose ministries were cut short, often because of bad relationships within the church.

Pastors and church leaders do not often ask me how they can better prepare themselves for church conflict, but when they do, I always have the same advice: relationships, relationships, relationships. Anything you can do to get better at relationships will better prepare you for the long and turbulent race that is pastoring a church.

And may your race finish stronger than my hurdling did… you surely deserve it.

© Blake Coffee 


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