Conflict is coming. Tension, strain, and pressure are coming. Disagreement is coming. Conflict between leaders is a reality in the New Testament letters.
Conflict can turn teams to custard. Conflict can also strengthen, deepen, and sharpen teams.
What makes the difference?The complexities of the ministering in the season ahead will confront leadership teams with numerous challenges. Each challenge can easily grow into conflict. How can facing these lightening rod issues actually strengthen your team's leadership?In his letter to the Philippians, Paul names a conflict that could consume the church. It’s significant enough to have come to his attention. It’s serious enough for him to address it. It’s grave enough for Paul to ask for help.In Philippians 4:2 Paul writes:
“I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life".In the middle of this conflict Paul pleads for these leaders to be of the same mind in the Lord.
This isn’t an invitation to decide the issue via a debate. As Annette Griffin writes, it is an invitation, “to lay down their right to be right, and take up the cross of Christ”. It’s an invitation to share the mindset of Christ in the middle of conflict.
Paul deliberately takes them back to Philippians 2:6-8. In the heat of conflict with evil Christ empties himself and humbles himself, and takes up the cross. Paul shows them that the character of our conflict is shaped by Christ and the cross.
The cross of Christ shows me conflict is not an arena to get my own way, but to become more like Jesus.
The grace of Christ displayed in others compels me to listen and learn.
The love of Christ to us helps me see that me and my perspective are not at the centre.
The humility of Christ implores me to understand other perspectives more than I want mine to be understood.
The servant heart of Christ calls me to create more space for others to be heard and have their views validated.
The emptying of Christ encourages me not to “spit the dummy” or throw “my toys out of the cot”.
The sacrifice of Jesus leads me to be willing to lay my own ideas down for the betterment of the team.
The death of Jesus reminds me those who disagree with me are not my enemy.
The exultation of Jesus reminds me that as consuming as difficulties are within teams, they too will pass.
The weakness of Jesus reminds me the world's way of winning is not mine.
Conflict often escalates from discussion to deliberation, to decision, to difficulty, to distress, division, dissension, and disaster. The further it escalates, the deeper my commitment needs to be Christ; his character, his cross, and his community.
One of the most precious and practical books I own is Making Peace: A guide to overcoming church conflict by Jim Van Yperen. If you or your team are facing conflict as you navigate this season, I warmly recommend it to you. The best time to soak in this book is either now, or before conflict happens.
Our encouragement to you remains the same: Before the creation of the world God knew you and your fellow leaders would be working together to shepherd his people through this season. He is holding all things together and working according to his perfect will.
You are the right people at the right time. God will provide you with the wisdom and resources you need to lead in this season. By the Spirit's work you are able to lead together through this.
Do not be afraid, God is with you.