This fall I attended the Zoe Conference in Nashville and participated in the breakout sessions taught by Steve Joiner. He’s the Associate Director of Lipscomb University’s Institute of Conflict Management. He shared a statistic with us that’s been on my mind ever since. I can’t remember where it came from (either surveys or interviews) but somehow they determined that 50% of a minister’s time is spent in conflict management.
Wow! At the time that number sounded high. I couldn’t believe that half of my time was spent dealing with conflict?! But after a few months of pondering, I think the statistic is fairly accurate (if not a little low). I would guess that other ministers who read this blog could concur. It’s amazing to me how much conflict we deal with in a typical work-week. It’s even more amazing that few, if any, of us were ever formally trained in how to manage it. In grad school I had classes on how to exegete passages of Scripture and how to think critically about theological issues, but I don’t remember a single course on how to manage conflict. Yet, many weeks I spend much more time with conflict than I do with exegesis and theology.
Some of its major, some minor. Some is directed at me, some is directed at family or another member of the church. Some is theologically driven, some is emotionally driven. Some is serious in nature and some is downright petty. Regardless, most of it lands on my door-step. They either want advice, answers or ask “what are you doing to do about this?” To which I often want to reply, “what are you going to do about this?” It seems that too often we want our ministers to fix things for us. That’s why whenever someone in the church is struggling or caught in a sin we ask the minister to call them, yet we never think to call them ourselves. But I’m getting off point here.
The point is I deal with conflict all the time. All ministers do. I guess its to be expected with the nature of the job and number of people we come in contact with. But most of us aren’t very good at it (myself included). We feel unprepared to deal with much of the conflict that comes our way during the week. Consequently, it wears us out, stresses us out and sometimes makes it difficult to maintain the “heart of a pastor.”
I’m not really sure why I’m sharing all this with you or even how to end this article. I guess the conclusion would be that ministers need to invest more time and training into learning how to properly deal with conflict. The spiritual health of our congregations, and our own lives, depend on it. Another conclusion might be that people need to understand that not all conflicts need to go to the minister. Sometimes you need to deal with it on your own and sometimes you just need to drop it.
Disclaimer #1: If you spoke to me this week about conflict (and there’s a good chance that at least one of you have), this article is not about you.
Disclaimer #2: Don’t be conflicted about talking with me about conflict. I’ll still listen.