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Category: Trust

Creating an Atmosphere of Constructive Conflict

Posted in Christian Leadership Matters, Constructive Conflict, Professional Church Worker Experiences, Team, Team Building, Trust, and Values

Concerned Member: “People are upset with some of the decisions you as a Board have made these past 6 months! A number of people have confided with me that if things don’t change, they’re going to leave the church!”

Faithful Board Member: “Who are those people? What, specifically, is their concern?”

Concerned Member: “Well, I can’t tell you because it was told to me in confidence, but they all want things to change!”

Most people are uncomfortable with conflict. I, too, am not a fan of high-level conflict and prefer to avoid it where possible. But conflict is all around us. Sometimes there’s conflict even when no one’s talking; and that can be the worst kind! In a culture that seems to relish “all-or-nothing” extremism; a culture that “knows” the position “I” represent is the right one (and “yours” is not just wrong, but EVIL), do we really want to invite conflict into our ministry teams and Boards?

And I say, “Yes, we DO want the right kind of conflict. It’s healthy, important, and will serve Christ and His Church in healthy ways.” HOWEVER, we need an atmosphere of Constructive Conflict.

What does this mean?

I believe, teach and confess that a leader of a ministry team or Board (or a business) must create an atmosphere of constructive conflict. The key word here is “constructive.” Conflict, by definition, is neither bad nor good. The “goodness” or “badness” of conflict depends on intent and outcome. The wise leader creates an atmosphere that encourages healthy conflict so that the mission of Christ can be more fully realized.

How would you characterize your ministry meetings? Are they: boring or exciting? . . . motivating or demotivating? . . . productive or a waste of time? . . . four hours long and nothing decided or 45 minutes and God says: “Well done thou good and faithful servants!”?

Four reasons Constructive Conflict is important:

  1. Constructive Conflict stimulates creativity by giving everyone a safe platform from which to speak. (People will be excited to serve.)
  2. Constructive Conflict creates Ministry momentum and group synergy. When done well, constructive conflict brings out the best in a group and creates intense camaraderie within the team.  (The ministry team accomplishes their goals.)
  3. Constructive Conflict allows important and stressful issues to be openly resolved. (Problems don’t fester.)
  4. Constructive Conflict establishes a more emotionally healthy and spiritually mature ministry. (Problems are dealt with immediately, honestly, and in Christ-honoring ways.)

Here is a quote from the Master Leadership Teacher, Patrick Lencioni about constructive conflict:

The Trouble With Teamwork (Lencioni) – “CEOs who go to great lengths to avoid conflict often do so believing that they are strengthening their teams by avoiding destructive disagreement. This is ironic, because what they are really doing is stifling productive conflict and pushing important issues that need to be resolved under the carpet where they will fester. Eventually, those unresolved issues transform into uglier and more personal discord when executives grow frustrated at what they perceive to be repeated problems. What CEOs and their teams must do is learn to identify artificial harmony when they see it, and incite productive conflict in its place.This is a messy process, one that takes time to master. But there is no avoiding it, because to do so makes it next to impossible for a team to make real commitment.”

Five Principles on creating an atmosphere of constructive conflict:

Principle 1: Create an atmosphere of TRUST!

There is nothing more important for a ministry team than trust. (This was a topic of a Two-Part Blog called Building Leadership Trust.) Unless the leader establishes genuine and deep organizational trust, constructive conflict cannot happen. You might have conflict without establishing trust, but not constructive conflict.

Principle 2: Understanding is more important than agreement.

Unhealthy conflict often begins because the real issue is not fully understood. The first objective in discussing issues is to understand the other side of the issue. Some people have difficulty outlining their ideas succinctly. Others have (what one professor of mine called) fuzzy thinking. Still others might have high emotional content but are low on factual data. To fully understand people we need to get to know them; we understand what they “mean” rather than what they “say.”

I had a Board member that would periodically summarize the issues being discussed. He did this for three reasons: First, to make sure he understood the real issue being discussed. Second, to help insure that everyone else understood the real issue the same way. Third, to help move the discussion toward healthy conclusion. I adopted that tactic when leading and have found it very helpful.

Principle 3: Be the “adult” in the room.

Have you ever had a conflict become an explosion? . . . or a team member have an emotional break-down? . . . have you experienced uncontrollable emotion (anger-to-rage, tearful frustration, expressed your seething resentment) as the leader? We are emotional creatures and for some, exercising emotional control is difficult.

Several thoughts:

1) It’s not helpful to view this as a moral problem. It could be and must be addressed if it is. But often there’s something else going on. I’m an huge advocate of Christian Counseling; a good counselor can help you understand what’s going on that makes emotional control difficult. It can REALLY HELP! Just as you are a professional in your occupation, so is a good therapist (call your District or denominational office for a referral).

2) We all “blow-it” sometimes. When you do, “own it,” apologize, take steps to rectify where possible, and move on. Do NOT allow mistakes to define your future; this is where confession/absolution is immediately practical. Model the behavior you as a Christian leader seek to cultivate in others.

3) Practice emotional distance regarding strongly felt issues. Keep your passion, but as much as possible separate how you feel from what is right and good. This takes practice. Sometimes how we feel is not the same thing as what is right. Be mindful of your feelings and lead according to rational plans and objectives (rather than leading with feelings). I am NOT saying feelings are bad (they are, in fact, a phenomenal blessing of God!). Feelings are like potential energy; our rational mind directs that energy toward healthy objectives. Without that mindful directive, our emotional energy can get out of control. (Believe me, I know this from experience!)

4) Work with a Coach. A Coach is NOT a psychologist or therapist, but with your Coach you can establish goals, discover new approaches for healthy leadership responses, and find an encouraging accountability partner for a time. I have several tools we can use to help you establish healthy leadership skills, and we can work together toward accomplishing your objectives.

Principle 4: Keep the “main thing” the main thing.

Your objective as leader is to create an atmosphere of constructive conflict. You WANT people to voice disagreement, share contrary ideas, ask for details and pick apart plans. BUT, you want the conflict to be CONSTRUCTIVE to your objectives. You want what is BEST for your Church or School or Business. Therefore you want every possible solution to be laid out on the table so you, as a group, can make informed and wise decisions about how to proceed. The “main thing” is NOT the conflict but the solution. The “main thing” is NOT “your way” or “my way,” but discerning what solution will allow us to achieve the goal for which we were called heavenward in Christ. As the leader (or in a vacuum of leadership, I urge you to take the lead in this), keep the discussion (and the conflict) constructive, always moving toward accomplishing the mission of your organization. Too many people have an emotional need to win even if it means the organization loses. Christian leaders create an atmosphere that to win means to move the cause of Christ forward. Keep your eyes on the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)!

Principle 5: Discern the real issue.

Good leaders create an atmosphere of constructive conflict. So, if you’re going to generate conflict of any kind, make sure the conflict is focused on the right thing. It’s your job as the leader to guide the team through constructive conflict. This is especially true in an organization that is new to constructive conflict or that show signs of organizational dysfunction. Start, of course, by building trust (see Principle 1 and Building Leadership Trust).

Principle 5 is about the importance of discerning the REAL issue(s). I suggest taking things slowly, especially at first. Before you encourage creative and constructive conflict, make sure you have the right issue on the table. WRITE IT DOWN. Make the topic visible to everyone (via powerpoint or white board). Modify what’s written as the discussion evolves. Always make sure people are on topic, everyone is heard, their opinions valued, and the conversation is directed toward resolution.

If “off-topic” issues are raised, establish the agreement with your team that a record is kept and those “off-topic” items will be a topic on a future agenda. It is of paramount importance that teams accomplish everything possible on the previously written/approved agenda. To do otherwise will be a recipe for chaos.

What is the “real issue”? In medicine, a patient’s symptoms could be a lot of things; there might be an 80% chance it’s the flu, but there’s a 5% chance the symptoms point to Malaria. So, the good doctor starts asking questions and running tests.

The issues being brought up at a meeting might be the “real” issue, but it’s also possible that the presenting issue might be a symptom. The wise leader asks questions and runs tests to discern the real issue. And this sometimes takes time, but it will be time very well spent!

As you can read above, I highly respect Patrick Lencioni and his leadership approaches. This blog article is the third of what will be 6 or so articles applying Patrick Lencioni’s principles from his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. If you haven’t read my first two blogs, please do so as they will be the foundation of all the other articles in this series. TRUST is the most fundamental principle for building strong teams. Trust is in our wheelhouse as members of The Church.

Everything is built on Trust (Week 1 and 2). This week, Constructive Conflict. Next week I’ll write on the importance of Commitment over Consensus . Next, the topic of Accountability (which is more important than Ambiguity). And finally (in this series of articles) creating a Results Oriented organization.  

If you have suggestions, stories, or would like to engage in constructive conflict, please do so!

Until next week. . .

Dr. Phil Pledger is The Higher Calling Coach and writes a blog entitled Christian Leadership Matters each week. Through his blog and coaching practice, Dr. Pledger seeks to help Professional Church Workers discover and enhance the leadership skills needed to make positive changes in their lives and in the ministry they serve. The goal is to find new ways to meet challenges, overcome roadblocks, and to find joy in serving Christ and His Church.

Click to sign up for Christian Leadership Matters.  If you would like to set up a no-cost/no-obligation consultation or would like to ask a question, email Dr. Phil at:

Christian Leadership Matters; Building Leadership Trust (Part 2 of 2)

Posted in Christian Leadership Matters, Coaching, Team, Team Building, and Trust


Part 1 of this blog HERE.

Trust is the foundation of leadership. It is difficult to imagine that anything good or lasting could happen in your church, school or organization without an environment of trust. Trust is the foundation of great ministry teams, congregations, families, and societies. “Teams that lack trust waste inordinate amounts of time and energy managing behaviors and interactions within the group (Patrick Lencioni from his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team). [This book is a “must have” in any leader’s library!]

Last week I listed the first three steps toward building leadership trust. They are: 1. Lead By Example, 2. Trust Others, 3. Consistently Communicate. You can access part 1 of this blog here.

Now, (as Paul Harvey use to say) the rest of the story. . .

  1. Build substantive relationships outside the Boardroom. Christian leaders don’t lead in a vacuum. People want and need to know the “real you;” they want to know your motivation for life and leadership. People are anxious to see how you talk with your spouse and kids or how you act when things go terribly wrong. Leadership is tough because a good leader is always acting in the role of a leader, even on the golf course or at the restaurant. Want to be considered a great leader, a leader that engenders high-level trust? Dine with people as friends and colleagues, have coffee “just to chat,” go to a ball game and don’t always talk business. Be genuine. Allow people to know the “real you.” Get to know your people as people; know their kids, their likes and dislikes, what motivates them.
  1. Provide Honest Feedback. For many people in ministry, this is very tough. But learning to provide honest feedback — even negative feedback — is critical to establishing organizational trust. When you have an underperforming Board member (or Elder, Youth Volunteer, Parent helper, etc.), it is the leader’s great privilege and responsibility to help the organization succeed by providing honest feedback. If someone or some group is NOT performing adequately, others on the ministry team will learn and imitate the “acceptable” behavior. If the leader accepts poor behavior (or bad attitudes or substandard work) you will inadvertently set a new LOW standard for everyone else and your ministry will suffer. Honest feedback doesn’t have to be harsh or particularly confrontational, but it does need to occur. Check out The New One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard for help in providing honest and effective feedback. Much more fun and perhaps even more important is to celebrate good behaviors, excellent performance, and stellar attitudes. Your ministry team will, over time, avoid what the leader reprimands and imitate what the leader celebrates.
  1.   Orchestrate Success.  It is not possible in our sinful world to always and only experience “success.” (We do have the ultimate success in Jesus!) To orchestrate success in this world means: lead intentionally, using well-thought-out plans, so that milestones can be celebrated. There is nothing more de-motivating for a ministry team than a leader who ignores their sacrificial efforts merely because we’re not “there” yet. A good leader orchestrates success; Orchestrating success creates energetic teams who trust their leader who led them to those successes. For example: Let’s say you want a hugely successful VBS this year. OK, create realistic goals but make sure you build in some “successes” such as: Fully Staffed (doesn’t happen every year); Best worship in VBS EVER; three Baptisms resulted; 15 kids from the community we’ve never before met; . . .  Build into your VBS planning the high likelihood of successes you can celebrate as a ministry team AND that you can celebrate with the whole congregation or school or ministry. This builds leadership credibility and engenders trust in you as a leader.
  1.  True Love DOES Say Sorry. The saying (from 1970 movie Love Story) “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” never made sense to me. I love God and I’m always saying “I’m sorry!” I suppose that if we were perfect leaders among perfect people in a perfect world, that saying would be true. But we’re NOT and it ISN’T. A leader, when wrong, MUST be able to apologize. Apologizing is NOT a sign of weakness, but it IS a sign of strength. Nothing breaks trust faster than wronging a person (or a group) and NOT humbly owning up to your error. If you expect other people on your ministry team to apologize when appropriate, you must do likewise. It is not possible to establish a community of trust if the leader cannot be honest with him/herself and with the community.
  1.  Coach. Number eight is near and dear to my heart! Coaching is about: focused conversations that support, encourage, and empower those you lead toward high-performance achievement. When a leader invests him/herself into those they lead with the goal of helping that person reach their highest potential in Christ, high-level trust is created. Help each person on your leadership team become the best they can be; help them become THE expert in their area of ministry or service. Empower those you lead that they might more fully embrace their own calling and become all that God has blessed them to be. That will make you a leadership superstar! For (a LOT) more information about Coaching and/or if you would like to try out Coaching for yourself or your team, visit the website:
  1.  Create Synergy. Ministry should never be siloed. An extreme example of ministry siloing too often occurs when a congregation has bilingual services and neither “congregation” knows anything about “them.” This can even happen when the first service is “traditional” and the second is “contemporary.” One can legitimately ask whether there is ONE congregation or two (sometimes more). Is God’s Word not God’s Word in every part of His Church? Is the Church ONE or are there many “bodies” in the Church (please read 1 Corinthians 12). The leader creates higher level trust when he/she creates ministry synergy; the Adult Bible Class ministers to the primary students. . . who sing in the Traditional Service . . where the contemporary band plays the offertory and leads the closing hymn. . . then leads the contemporary worship in the traditional hymn during second service. . . where the Spanish-speaking service gives testimony via a translator about great things happening at the bilingual Saturday morning men’s fellowship, etc. Synergy is “together energy,” or “shared joy.” A leader will create higher-level trust when they can demonstrate leadership in the Grand Divine Plan rather than “just” a small subset of that plan. God’s plans are always bigger than ours; our opportunity is to share the BIG picture of the great things God is doing!  Use real-life examples of what God is doing in the lives and families of the Sunday School. . . Retell a story told by one of the mid-week attendees. . . create an atmosphere of community wherever possible.
  1. Be Consistent. Few things can destroy trust faster than being inconsistent. Even if you are the GREAT AND MIGHTY LAST HOPE for your organization, inconsistency will be your undoing. We’re not talking about “perfection” or times when mistakes are made. This is about emotional maturity. If you run GREAT and productive meetings but lose your temper when you aren’t getting your way, you will break every bond of trust very quickly. If you are excellent in the public execution of your leadership but have moral failure, you WILL ultimately fail in your leadership role. If you are sometimes kind and forgiving BUT other times harsh and critical, your unpredictability will prevent you from establishing the kind of trust you need for Christian ministry. I knew a leader of a rather large Christian ministry that would, for no apparent reason, blow-up at one of the employees for minor infractions (and do so publicly). But that same person would allow others to get away with consistently unprofessional behavior. He ultimately lost his leadership. To be consistent means to act like the adult in the room even if others are not. Consistency means being the non-anxious leadership presence, being the “reliable one” who inspires confidence in those you lead as they live out their calling.

What has God taught you about building and maintaining organizational trust? Please share! What was your favorite of the ten I shared? What would you like to add? I would LOVE to hear or read your stories of successes as well as those times where you learned a powerful lesson (and would love it even more if you give me permission to share your story with others).

And, if you would like help in establishing trust with your ministry team, contact me, The Higher Calling Coach.

Until next time. . .


Dr. Phil Pledger is The Higher Calling Coach and writes a blog entitled Christian Leadership Matters each week. Through his blog and coaching practice, Dr. Pledger seeks to help Professional Church Workers discover and enhance the leadership skills needed to make positive changes in their lives and in the ministry they serve. The goal is to find new ways to meet challenges, overcome roadblocks, and to find joy in serving Christ and His Church.

Click to sign up for Christian Leadership Matters.  If you would like to set up a no-cost/no-obligation consultation or would like to ask a question, email Dr. Phil at: