We were created for community and called to the common purpose of sharing the Good News of God’s love to everyone, everywhere. Yet it is to imperfect people that God entrusts this most important message. At times, the greatest challenge we face is centred on the relationships we have with those on our own team. We are all uniquely designed with differing personalities, gifts and life experiences. While these differences are intended to be complementary, occasionally, they can cause conflict.
A friend who is an employment lawyer recently stunned me with this statement: “The messiest employment issues we deal with are those involving non-profits and churches.”
He explained that individuals tend to join non-profit organizations and churches because they have an emotional investment in the cause, the vision and the stated values of the group. They are willing to sacrifice their time by working long hours for which they may not be fully compensated. Additionally, they may be willing to serve at a lower pay scale to sacrificially benefit the organization. Consequently, when the stress increases, or they are downsized, or they are let go, these situations tend to be highly conflictual. The person often feels betrayed and the prevailing thought is, “I’ve sacrificed so much, and now I’m treated like this!”
Indeed, staff relationships can be tricky at times. We are currently experiencing a season characterized by downsizing due to shrinking church attendance and giving numbers. Balancing the books and paying the bills may come at the expense of much beloved staff members, and the ripple effect caused by this change can impact many congregants!
Our goal is a godly unity that invokes God’s blessing, as Matthew 18:19-20 states: “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."
With church brands and staff relationships in mind, a fellow colleague humorously paraphrases the passage this way: “Truly I tell you, that if two of you on earth agree about anything, I’ll show up to see it for myself!”
How do we maintain loving community in the midst of conflict and necessary change? Here are a few common concepts that serve as necessary reminders:
1. Trust is the foundation of every healthy relationship
My layman’s definition for trust is: an appreciation for proven character. Seek to be a trustworthy individual and align yourself with people who display character worthy of your trust.
2. Communication is at the centre of life-giving relationships
Surface communication focuses on the daily details of the ministry and event programming. Diving deeper, good teams discuss their common vision and shared goals. Even fewer teams go to the awkward territory of identifying the “elephant in the room.” Yet, when trust is extended, teams have the sense of safety that provides the courage to, as Bill Hybels says, “speak the final 10 per cent.” The unwillingness to address the “elephant issue” is often the cause of great stress and potential burnout!
Additionally, don’t forget the proactive benefit of affirmation. The use of cards, notes, small gifts, and the thoughtful use of public appreciation is a fantastic and productive communication tool for leadership teams.
3. Prayer is our secret weapon
My mother’s favorite hymn contains these familiar lyrics:
Oh what peace we often forfeit
Oh what needless pains we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer
Praying for God’s assistance in our challenging situations invites our Father to bring heaven’s wisdom, reconciliation, favour and resources to our aid. We do not need to shoulder these difficulties alone. We are reminded of the Scriptural admonition: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
4. Remember the One who called you!
In the midst of conflict we can easily lose sight of who we really are. Critical words and negative self-talk can attempt to erode our sense of self-worth and lead to a case of emotional “identity theft.” My identity as a Witmer was ensured simply because I was born into the Witmer family. Similarly, our identity as children of God is simply based on our new birth in Christ.
During conflictual times, we must recalibrate our thinking, aligning it with the truth of God’s Word, rather than succumbing to emotional or unbiblical ideas about our worth. Our identity and value is not tied to our title, role or ministry position. God has adopted us and we are beloved children!
Finally, let these comforting words, written to the Thessalonians, wash over your weary heart: “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-4a).
He loved you, He chose you, He called you, and because He understands the challenges we face, including staff challenges, He offers us His constant availability and the promise to help us in our time of need.
Steve Witmer and his wife, Becky, serve as contract retreat leaders with Kerith Retreats, a ministry of Focus on the Family Canada. For more information about our retreats, visit Kerithretreats.ca.
© 2017 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.