If a conflict does occur, that either breaks or leads to the breaking one of the rules, then a leader should be involved. How the leader is involved will determine whether the conflict will increase or decrease. If a conflict escalates, then it will become a fire that will spread, and the initial conflict will become a continuing problem, over a long period of time, among more and more people.
Expecting Unearned Respect/Obedience—Everyone has different ideas of how leadership should behave, and how to behave toward leadership. In some cultures, authority is to be respected without question. However, in other cultures, authority is only to be granted respect if they are deserving of that respect. This does not mean that the non-authoritative cultures disrespect authority, they just expect those in authority to earn their respect, through peacemaking. To act as if respect is to be deserved, not earned, is to set up a context in which a conflict of values is already present.
Escalating responses: “Don’t talk to me that way! Do you know who I am?”
Undeserved judgment—If a person feels unfairly judged, then conflict will be seriously increased. Not all judgments are considered unfair. If a person gets into a fight on church property and is asked to leave, they will probably accept the discipline. But if their side is not heard, or if they are given a discipline that is excessive to their action (permanent exclusion for a single event, for example), then the conflict will rapidly increase. Judging the wrong person, or for the wrong motives or with an excessive punishment, will encourage a person to act out against how they are being treated, because there is no reason not to. To avoid this situation, a person should be listened to carefully, and the viewpoint of the leader should be explained carefully, especially the reason for any discipline.
Escalating responses: “You obviously don’t know how to treat others with respect.”
Excessive demands—If a ministry has too many policies or requirements on their participants, mistakes will be made, for everyone is human. The participants may not understand which policies are more significant than others, and lines may be crossed. It is a mistake to take every bad situation in a ministry as an excuse for a new policy. Too many rules, and soon it will be impossible not to break a rule. Then there will be conflict at any correction, because the ministry will feel constricting. Along these lines, having an extreme punishment for an offense will make the whole place feel insecure. One ministry I know shuts the whole program down if one person gets out of line. So everyone is punished for the actions of one.
Escalating response: “Because you broke the rule of talking too loud, you’ll be excluded from the program for 30 days.”
Misdirected anger—Anger isn’t necessarily a cause of conflict. If anger is displayed against a common oppositional factor—such as an unjust system—then anger can be useful in building a bridge between ourselves and the one in conflict. However, if the leader displays anger against the one in conflict, then human nature demands that anger be reciprocated. The improper response to anger is anger, and this creates or increases enmity. As Christian leaders, we need to remember that the true enemy is not the person before us, but the spiritual forces of darkness that are causing strife.
Escalating response—“Get out of here, just don’t have anything to do with me!”
Disrespect—The very worst action to take is to disrespect any participant in the ministry. To speak disrespectfully to one in the church ministry is to shame them before others, and to make a judgment against them. Disrespectful speech include insults, snap judgments, or disregarding another’s concerns.
Escalating response: “What an idiot!”
Violence—The one thing that should never be done by church leadership is violence or threats against a participant. If this is activity that we do not want the participants to engage in, then the same rule must apply to the leaders. If violent action must be done for safety’s sake, then let the police be called (but first see the section on the police, part 6).
Avoiding all of these conflict escalators is especially difficult if these are the same attitudes and actions being used against the leaders. As mentioned above, the normal human reaction is to respond in kind. This is one of the joys of Christian leadership: that when despised, we will not despise in kind; that when persecuted, we will not persecute back. It seems impossible to endure this, at times—to be more than any human can handle. This is one of the reasons that Christian leadership is not for everyone. For the Christian leader must expect to be confronted wrongly, but to respond in peace and gentleness. This is difficult, but through dependence on the Holy Spirit, not impossible. (James 3:18; Galatians 5:19-26).