Conflict—dreaded and hated! But for leaders, it’s unavoidable. Since that is true, what can we do to avoid excess conflicts and better deal with differing opinions as we make decisions?
- LISTEN AND WAIT
At the top of my list is to be careful and cautious before making your own decisions, anticipating that others may, and probably will, disagree. Instead of rushing into them, take time to get input and ideas from others in advance. You will achieve two great outcomes: first, you see perspectives that you failed to take into account; and second, you show value to others’ opinions when you listen to them.
It can be difficult for me to accept a decision made at the top and handed down as a done deal. I am a big picture person, and I immediately see ramifications and problems that stem from the decision. In response I begin to ask questions—a lot of “what if’s,” not to necessarily undo the decision but to verify that the issues have been considered. There are people like me in your area of responsibility. Getting input in advance helps you make a wise decision and assure others that you value their input, even if you disagree as to which option to choose. Such involvement and respect goes a long way toward unity.
I have to add that it is often easy to identify those who ask for input verbally and yet already have their minds made up. That way of handling things is devious and unworthy of God’s leaders.
- SEEK BALANCED PERSPECTIVES
To make wise decisions, we must seek out those who come from a variety of perspectives—gender, socio-economic, educational, age, life stage, church history, and gifting—to name only a few.
I have seen leaders make major missteps early in a new ministry because they only gathered around those who look and think as they do instead of including people who know the history and culture of the group, or those who have more life and/or ministry experience. In fact often leaders decide how to change things before they step inside the group at all. Their decisions may be right, but their method of decision-making may lead to disastrous and unnecessary conflict.
One important way to obtain a balance of perspectives is to deliberately include people with a variety of spiritual gifts in the decision-making process. Spiritual gifts, given by God to all believers at the time they trust in Jesus, provide each of us with a specific perspective of church, ministry, and life. It is one of the lens through which our world is colored. Unfortunately, we tend to impose our gift on others, thinking that everyone else should see it our way and do what we do. Those with the gift of mercy want all of us ministering physically to the ill, hurting, and suffering. If you have the gift of evangelism, you likely think that is the only mission of the church. A teacher like me feels that knowing God’s Word is the key to a life well-lived. All of these perspectives are necessary for the church to be what God calls it to be. To make wise decisions requires us to consider more than our personal gifting. Evangelism must be followed by good teaching, discipleship, and community, and paired with meeting real physical and emotional needs of others.
As decision-makers, we must include as many perspectives as possible. We have limited views from our own gifting, and must find those who see ministry from a different place.
- SPEND MUCH TIME IN PRAYER
Truly, God alone can lead us. We may have great ideas of our own and even listen well to those of varying views, but without finding his direction, we can easily move the wrong way. Only listening in solitude and silence guided by the Word of God can we move forward in full assurance that God is in the decision. We will never please everyone and there may be conflict, but the investment we make in people and their feelings and perspectives does pay dividends, whether or not we come to a united agreement.
What have you learned about decision-making that helps you avoid conflict?