People work for churches because they are passionate about their Mission and feel called to help. These dedicated employees have the best intentions and want to make a difference.
However, whenever you get more than one person in a room, there is a potential for conflict.
Church staff conflict? Sounds like an oxymoron, right?
We often think that working for a church eliminates the conflict factor – because we’re Christians, right? Wrong!
People are people, and whether they work for the insurance company down the street, the local hospital, or the church – conflict is inevitable.
Why? Well, we are all different, and we all come from different backgrounds, which contributes to how we respond to the work environment.
Churches, in particular, are susceptible to conflict because they are often left to do countless responsibilities with limited resources.
Think about it – how many businesses use predominately volunteer labor to provide a service?
This pressure to get more done with less (paid employees) can result in staff disputes.
When communication and interactions become toxic, it can be a symptom of an unresolved issue.
There is a theory in conflict resolution that the longer a conflict festers, the less likely it will be resolved.
The further the conflict goes down the time continuum, the less likely it will be to be resolved and return to the way things were. And this tension does not foster a healthy work environment.
Sometimes, a manager gets pulled into a situation where the conflict among staff members has gotten so pernicious that it interferes with how work gets done.
This is particularly troubling when the church is in the midst of planning or facilitating a big event.
Church leaders need to know how to respond when conflict seems to be getting in the way of the Mission.
6 Tips For Resolving Conflict Between Church Staff
1. Study the Word
As Christians, we know that the best way to deal with conflict is to see what the Bible says about it.
There are lots of scriptures that teach us how to resolve conflict.
Take a few minutes to read what God says about conflict; you will be well prepared to confront a festering conflict.
2. Ensure All Roles Are Clear
Conflict sometimes surfaces when employees are unclear about their role or the responsibilities of a coworker.
Ensure that all employees have a detailed and accurate job description.
If employees work on a team, ensure all roles are clearly defined in the team charter.
Discuss changes or variations of roles during team meetings and assign responsibilities for team tasks at the close of each meeting.
Make task assignments an item on all team meeting agendas.
3. Set Expectations For Resolving Conflict
Not everyone has a natural ability to get along with others.
Sometimes, it’s personality; sometimes, it’s simply ignorance of appropriate behavior.
Help staff understand the importance of the team working toward the common goal.
Set the expectations for maintaining a healthy workplace by demonstrating healthy communication.
For instance, if you observe inappropriate staff behavior, pull the employee aside and coach them on a better approach to responding to others.
For instance, one ground rule might be not to discuss issues related to a team’s work outside team meetings where all members are present.
Hold team members accountable for those behaviors.
4. Confront The Issue
Often, conflict carries subtle symptoms that can undermine a team.
- Avoidance – walk the other way when someone is coming down the hall;
- Deliberate neglect of responsibilities – I’ll show them how much I do;
- Talking behind a team member’s back – trying to gain support for their cause;
- Public outbursts of anger or overreacting.
When these symptoms are present, it is time for an intervention.
Call the employees into a room and simply talk about the issue.
While uncomfortable at the start of the conversation, teach them to talk to each other face-to-face about the issues.
Ask both parties to share their perspective. This will help them learn to communicate and share their perspective on the situation.
Typically, both employees will learn something from the other person’s perspective, which will often defuse the situation and help heal the conflict.
End the session by asking both employees to commit to not discussing the issue with anyone but each other.
Employees will learn from this experience that if the manager observes conflict, they will be forced to discuss it. This will teach them to resolve their own issues.
5. Drill Down On The Source Of The Conflict
Churches operate with limited resources, and when there is a war over those resources (people, time, or money), staff can become territorial and possessive.
Identify the source of the conflict using the 5 Why problem-solving model. Once you recognize the source, help staff brainstorm ways to fill the gap.
For instance, if a staff member needs more volunteers for a large event, assist them in identifying potential volunteers.
6. Plan Fun Interactions
Teams bond when they work on projects together, but they really bond when they get to play together. After a big project, plan a play day.
For instance, cater lunch, set up games, or simply shoot hoops at the local basketball court. Include team-building activities that foster team bonds.
The goal is for staff to interact socially and help to build those valuable relationships that can carry an employee through a challenging time at work.
Show Employees The Way
No one likes to deal with conflict. Lead employees toward a healthy workplace by studying the word, setting expectations, and teaching your teams how to work together.
These are valuable life lessons, and you may be surprised at how productive they will be!