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Insights from a “Chief Conflict Officer”

Insights from a Chief Conflict Officer

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This is a guest post by Nik Schatz, who serves as an Executive Pastor and as a “Chief Conflict Officer.” You can learn more about him below. To submit a guest post for consideration, learn more here.

The morning unfolded with the intrigue of an anonymous letter in my mailbox. I soon found out why: it was a complaint about my leadership. The day’s drama continued as I opened two separate emails from ladies on a leadership team, both resigning from their roles because of conflicts with one another. A subsequent phone call delved into interpersonal disagreements among two individuals in a different ministry. Lastly, the day concluded with a meeting where a volunteer expressed difficulty working with a staff member, prompting an intervention. 

In the corridors of our church, I was once dubbed the CCO, or “Chief Conflict Officer.” While not my preferred title, I have learned to embrace conflict as a regular, integral aspect of church leadership. It is also a crucial component of the discipleship process. How we deal with conflict has the potential to shape us more into the image and likeness of Jesus.

I’m no expert in conflict management, but let me tell you: I have experience. Below, I share six lines that have proven effective in navigating conflict – three for managing conflict directed at you, and three for mediating conflict between others.

Three Lines for Receiving Conflict

1. “What I’m hearing is… and that made you feel…” This is reflective listening. Summarize the accuser’s points in your own words and express your understanding of their feelings. This approach communicates that you heard them, and naming their feelings makes it easier to empathize with them. 

2. “You may be right, but here’s why I made this decision.” This statement is disarming. It provides a way for you to explain yourself without defending yourself. Acknowledge the possibility of other solutions while asserting your confidence in the choice you made given the available information.

3. “You don’t sign it, I don’t read it.” I have received countless unmarked notes and letters griping about my leadership. Reading them always triggers unhelpful speculation. The best practice is to just throw them away without dwelling on the contents. If you don’t want to have a real conversation, I don’t want to read your criticism. 

Three Lines for Mediating Conflict

1. “Have you told them about this problem?” Scripture teaches us to air our grievances directly with the party involved (See Matthew 18). Taking the time to articulate your frustration or hurt to your offender can be so beneficial. In many cases, the offender is completely unaware, and feels terrible about it.

2. “Do I have your permission to contact this person?” It is unfair to take action on hearsay. The quickest way to reconciliation is transparency and accountability. If they refuse to offer the offender their name, I’ll provide advice for what to do next; but I will not jump in and fix the problem. The exception to this rule, of course, is an allegation of abuse.

3. “What did you learn?” An offense is rarely one-sided. In most cases, both parties involved have lessons to glean. And if you are in the business of making disciples, you need to recognize conflict as a means of discipleship.

Do your volunteers need some coaching as they work with others? Timing is critical when it comes to coaching them and setting them up for success.

In leadership, conflict is inevitable. Navigating it well is a great tool for discipleship, teaching people how to love and challenge one another. Avoiding it creates pockets for bitterness, hostility, and contempt.

About the Author: Nik currently serves as the Executive Pastor at Hershey Free Church in Hershey, Pennsylvania. He holds a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary and D.Min from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Alongside his wife of fourteen years, Anna, they are the proud parents of two lively and energetic children. His deepest loves include his family, Tex Mex, chess, and the local church.

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