There was once a town that sat on the top of a large beautiful cliff. The only problem was that sometimes the children would be playing outside, and every once in a while a child would slip and fall off the cliff. The towns’ people decided to do something to solve this terrible problem. They decided to build a hospital at the foot of the cliff so that when the children fell off, they could be picked up quickly and have immediate care. Farther up the side of the mountain there lived an old wise miser. When he heard about the town’s problem, and what they had done to solve it, he asked the people, “Would it not be a better solution to build a fence at the top of the cliff to prevent the children from falling off the edge and getting hurt in the first place?”
Managing conflict is similar to the story above. Some of the key principles that stood out from reading “Managing Conflict Creatively” by Donald C. Palmer were first of all that “Conflict well managed is conflict that is managed continuously and in its early stages.” In the story, the town had a problem, but instead of addressing it at its source or root, the people tried to fix the problem after the damage had already been done.
Another foundational principle is realizing that conflict itself, is not sinful or wrong. Conflict is not only natural, but can be healthy and is a catalyst of growth when handled correctly. The caution here is to not fall into sin when disagreements arise. “Whenever love is lost to hatred, gentleness to maliciousness, truthfulness to dishonesty, humility to selfishness; it is sin.” Like many things in the Christian walk, conflict management is predominantly about finding a balance between extremes.
One of the major causes of conflict in ministry specifically, is poor leadership. The roots of conflicts with leadership vary, but one of the most prominent is miscommunicated expectations. A practical principle to actively help prevent conflict in ministry is to simply communicate expectations clearly. For example, if a missionary talks to his mission board and understands that he is expected to spend so many hours a week networking or raising funds then he can be held accountable to do so. If however, this expectation was not clearly understood by the missionary because the mission board had not clearly communicated, it could be the beginning of a conflict that, if not resolved, could result in the missionary getting frustrated and leaving the field. Sadly, situations like the example above are not uncommon. That however, should only encourage seeking to solve conflict more, before it becomes a problem, and ultimately hinders God’s Kingdom moving forward.