“If you find the perfect church, don’t join it; you will just mess it up.” It’s true.
Because we are flawed human beings, we take ourselves with us wherever we go, even to church. Given this reality, there is no way to eliminate all conflict from a church as long as it has people in it.

Sorry, there is no “magic bullet” for conflict elimination.

On the other hand, it’s clear that what we are doing when conflict is not happening is highly predictive and influential regarding what level of conflict will happen.

Effective conflict management happens way before actual conflict breaks out in the congregation.

Recently, I’ve given several presentations on emotionally intelligent leadership, driving me back to this fascinating view of leadership.

In so doing, I realized, again, how motivated and effective leaders prevent much conflict from even developing. Here’s how.

1. Effective leaders are consistently influencing the congregation’s spiritual and emotional field toward the mission.

All congregations are systems of people who develop norms, values, culture and worldviews. Every system is always in motion, evolving in some way.

Effective leaders are mission-focused, giving their greatest attention to that which advances the mission. They hold up examples of missional progress when they happen, illustrating for the congregation what it means to be disciples of Christ.

By thinking and perceiving their roles this way, effective congregational leaders are consistently influencing the gravitational pull of the congregation toward the mission.

2. Effective leaders are constantly developing relationships with key leaders (both formal and informal leaders).

This includes staff persons, lay leadership team leaders, ministry team leaders and those informal leaders in the congregation who influence many others. Effective pastoral leaders eat lunch with these people, invite them to coffee breaks and visit them at work or home.

They invest themselves in the lives of these people – listening to them, learning their stories and connecting as person to person, and pastor to Christian disciple.

When relationships happen, then missional ministry moves forward.

I know a very effective nonprofit organization director. We were discussing the upcoming vote in the imminent board meeting. This leader told me what the vote would be – nine “yes” and three “no.” I asked how he knew.

“I’ve been talking with each of them about this for weeks. I would never go into a meeting with an important vote like this not knowing our leaders’ perspectives on this.”

This effective leader consistently and regularly invested in relationships with board members.

3. Effective leaders are constantly taking the spiritual and emotional pulse of the congregation.

How? They listen. They ask questions and listen. They listen at deeper levels.

They listen to the tone and nuance of people’s descriptions of the congregation’s life. They make it their business to learn as much as they can, at all times, about how people are experiencing this congregation.

The goal of gaining an accurate understanding of the pulse of this congregation is not to keep everyone happy. The goal of this learning is to help us advance the mission.

When missional advancement is happening, the spiritual and emotional systems of the church will reflect this movement with heightened mood and morale. Many conflicts never even happen when effective leaders are at work.

Again, nobody can eliminate all conflict. And again, effective leaders are daily cultivating the spiritual and emotional field toward mission advancement.

A church on the move is using its energy proactively. These kinds of people are engaged, losing taste for the bitterness of unproductive conflict.

Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this column first appeared in Pinnacle’s May e-newsletter and is used with permission.

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