Written by: Rev. Nathan Hill
Conflict is never fun—at home, at work, at play…it is just plain terrible. Some people love a good fight. Others, like me, would prefer that everyone just play nice and fair all of the time. No matter our personality, however, we will all experience conflict and we will need to manage it or else it will manage us.
The specific request this week comes from a family where both the mom and the dad are involved in ministry positions and constantly feel as though they are in a spiritual battle. I gather from the email I received that pieces of their life are continually coming unglued despite their best efforts to put them back together.
Mandy and I have experienced difficult seasons of ministry along the way. Some have been longer than others, yet all have been incredibly difficult. The temptation in ministry is also that you never leave the office at the office—life, conflict, work…they all get mixed together. There have been a few occasions when I have been determined to go a different path—back to the med school pathway, or even a two-year B.Ed. to then teach high school physics, which would be amazing! Nevertheless, when I step back and look at life as a whole, I can see that this is where God has placed me for now, and he will sustain me throughout.
Now, this does not mean that we sit back and do nothing in the face of continual conflict. We have to pick our battles, but there is a time to do battle. In seasons of ministry where things are coming unglued all over the place, here are some practical questions to ask.
Who has my back?
You need to have people who believe in you and people who are praying for you. It is best if your lead pastor and the deacon/elder leadership at your church have your back. If the lead pastor and/or other leadership do not completely have your back, as a staff pastor you are navigating some difficult waters. Ultimately the lead pastor sets the tone and vision for the church, and if there are difficult dynamics in the deacon/elder leadership it is the lead pastor’s responsibility to right the ship, so to speak. As a staff pastor, you need to let the lead pastor do his or her job without overstepping your position, even if you have great things to offer. If things are not moving according to your liking, you need to seriously consider if you can submit to the leadership above you and work in these conditions for the present season…or if this is a Paul and Barnabas moment where the path will diverge. If you cannot minister within the parameters of your job description and under the covering of your lead pastor and deacon/elder leaders, it might be time to sail on to a new ministry context.
When are you off?
It doesn’t matter who you are, how much you love Jesus, how great you are at your job, and how much going to work feels like a hobby—you need time away from church conversation and even church people. Mandy and I have a date night every Tuesday night and we have a rule that we are not allowed to talk about anything to do with church. I cannot even so much as say, “Guess what happened today?” without getting completely shut down. (Mandy runs a tight ship in many areas, and this is one of them!)
When is your time off? If you are having difficulty or even hesitation answering this you probably could improve here. So, join a gym or a bowling league. Audition for a musical! Go see a movie. Do something that regular people do, or something that you used to do before ministry.
Can you survive?
If ministry next month is like ministry was this month, can you survive? If the answer is yes, I think I can do it for one more month, then put Ephesians 6 to work in your life, pull up your bootstraps, and step back into the battle. If you decide that you cannot survive another month like you just had, that is ok. But you need to do something about it. Take a leave of absence, take a sabbatical, speak to a life coach or counselor, take a vacation—take all of your vacation time at once even! Do something that will get you out of the rat race for a short time so that you can regain some perspective and balance. Otherwise you will be out of the rat race for a much longer time.
Everyone needs balance in their mental/emotional life, their physical life, and their spiritual life. When one area is out of balance it affects all of the other areas as they try to compensate for what is lacking. Ask yourself these questions and then be courageous to take big steps to greater/higher functioning.
Everyone will have conflict, but you need to manage it or else it will manage you. That is a fact!