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01 Jan '15

Nine ways that pastors create conflict in the church

Posted by T.J. Addington
Senior leaders are fully capable of creating unnecessary conflict in their churches. There is enough opportunity for conflict in the church without pastors contributing to it. Here are some ways that pastors contribute to conflict and therefor ways we can avoid doing so.

One: Being defensive with staff and boards. Defensiveness shuts down discussion which inevitably creates conflict as real issues cannot be openly discussed and resolved. When pastors are insecure and therefore not open to robust dialogue, conflict becomes inevitable. The more open we are the less opportunity there is for conflict to germinate. 

Two: Making unilateral decisions without the input of stakeholders. Nobody likes surprises - not boards, not staff or congregations.When pastors do not engage stakeholders, whoever they are, they create the seeds of conflict. Key decisions need to be processed with those who are impacted.

Three: Being inflexible. We may be clear where we want to go but flexibility is usually necessary in order to get there. Often we cannot get everything we desire to get at once. Wise leaders are flexible in how they get to where they are going so that those we lead will actually go with us.

Four: Not running process. This is related to the above. All change requires a process in order to help those we lead go with us. When leaders make decisions that surprise stakeholders and do not run adequate process to explain their rationale for change, conflict inevitably occurs. Often we are too impatient to go where we want to go rather than take the time to run process and it results in conflict.

Five: Not being clear on where we are going and how we are going to get there. Ambiguity over direction and strategy creates insecurity and questions among those we lead. Clarity over both are critical to a healthy congregation. Often when these are absent dysfunction is the result.

Six: Marginalizing those who disagree with us. This is always a sign of poor EQ and insecurity but it is not uncommon among senior pastors. We too often equate loyalty with agreeing with us and when someone disagrees there is a tendency to see them as bad or disloyal or even "agents of the evil one." Disagreement is not bad but our response to it can be. When we marginalize those who disagree with us we naturally create conflict because we now have those who are "in" and those who are "out."

Seven: Using the pulpit to take shots at our detractors. All pastors have detractors - it is the nature of the job. But when we start using the pulpit (which is a powerful platform) we naturally create an us and them mentality. The pulpit is for the untainted truth of God from Scripture, not a platform for us to take shots at our detractors. They deserve our love and maybe our candid thoughts but not from the pulpit.

Eight: Dividing the board from the staff. I call this "leadership default." Pastors never play their board against their staff for it inevitably creates an "us/them" mentality and creates distrust between two groups which must work in coordination with one another. The senior team the pastor is on is always his board and it is his responsibility to create partnership rather than tension between his staff and his board.

Nine: Using the church for one's own agenda rather than for a corporate agenda that is agreed to by staff and board. Churches can be a platform for our personal agendas in leadership or they can be a platform for God's agenda which is agreed to by leadership, staff and ultimately the congregation. When we use it for our own agenda without the agreement of others who make up our leadership team and the congregation as a whole (remember the priesthood of believers) we will inevitably create conflict.

As leaders, we often are critical of those who create conflict in the local church. We need to remember that we can do the same - and often do if we are not careful.