Warning: Trying to access array offset on value of type bool in /var/www/wp-content/themes/Divi/includes/builder/functions.php on line 2367
The Top 3 Reasons Why Going through Conflict Can Increase Your Leadership Impact in Ministry | Adam Hughes

Conflict is inevitable. Have you heard this before? Well, it is because it is true for all of life. And, it is certainly true for ministry and churches. Even the healthiest of churches have had to face some level of conflict. In the last church I pastored before I came to serve at NOBTS, I followed a pastor that had been in the church for 21 of the church’s 25-year history. I knew better than to attempt to change anything without a significant amount of time passing and without an extreme amount of caution. Normally, I do not make any changes when I become the new pastor or leader of a ministry for at least six months to a year, with few exceptions.

In the case of this church, I was planning to wait even longer. Therefore, programmatically I changed nothing. However, from the perspective of the congregation everything was changing simply because I was not the previous pastor. Our personalities, philosophy of leadership, and even preaching styles were different. So in a very real sense, nothing had changed, but everything had changed. And we had conflict as a result. Major conflict! It seemed to me as if an initial reaction from some groups of the congregation was denial. In other words, their position appeared to be that there was no conflict or at least not one that would amount to much. From other contingents, fear was the predominant response, although it was manifested in multiple ways.

Perhaps it is not only church congregations that have a tendency to mask the reality of conflict or cower at its existence. I believe pastors and leaders can fall into the same patterns and attitudes as well. I do not like conflict. As leadership styles go, I am a high “I” (Inspirational), and my natural response is to attempt to keep everyone motivated and happy. I especially do not like “putting out fires” that I did not start. I do not like putting out my own fires. At least in these cases, however, I know most of what is “burning,” so I have a better shot at managing them without being surprised by a “secondary explosion.” When I did not start them, and perhaps was not even around when they ignited, I feel much less invested and much less prepared.

However, I believe seeing these as potential opportunities can help us have a better commitment to taking on conflict with the right attitude. I know and have experienced that managing conflict well has the potential to increase my leadership capacity. This belief helps me keep my attitude right through unwanted and often feared encounters. In this article, I list the top three reasons why going through conflict can increase your leadership capacity in your ministry.

First, Managing Conflict Well Can Move You Through the Leadership Continuum.

Whether you want to admit it, believe it, or realize it or not, when you begin a new ministry, the majority of the people in your congregation or under your leadership do not know if they trust you enough to follow you. It is not personal. And, it is not they do not like you or think that you are an “untrustworthy” person necessarily. It is that you are new. They do not know you. Furthermore, they would be, and have been, this way toward any new pastor.

There may be many contributing factors, but they have not had the opportunity to see if you are genuinely a person of integrity or if you are competent to steer the ship, especially if the waters get rough, which they inevitably will. Translation, they have not yet observed your character and abilities on display in a consistent manner. You have not yet had time to display your character and competence in a consistent way over an extended period of time. And remember, trust must ultimately be given to a fallible human being from other fallible human beings because it can never be “completely” earned. Therefore, your congregation does not know if they want or are ready to give you this gift yet.

The fact is, every new minister will go through a leadership continuum or the “pastoral stages” of sorts. When you first arrive, you are essentially the chaplain. You get to preach, visit hospitals and nursing homes, and not much more. Next, you become the pastor. Here, people begin to trust you a little more with the intimate details of their lives. They still do not look to you for ultimate design making and leading, but they will invite you to be a part of significant events in their lives such as weddings and births. Finally, you become the leader. In this stage, you have earned enough trust to begin to make some decisions which will affect change and that people will follow. Everyone will walk through this process in some capacity. No one is immune. Furthermore, the bad news is it usually takes at least five years to reach the “leader” stage.[1]

Is there anything that can expedite your progression through the continuum and shorten the amount of time that is necessary for you to begin making leadership decisions? Perhaps not something that is completely in your control, but yes! In church conflicts, you may have the ability to “prove” that you have high character and that you are a competent leader in an abbreviated timeframe. The reason why is if in a very intense and focused setting, you show high integrity and strong leadership abilities, your people will see who you are and what you are capable of in every situation. They will begin to believe, and rightly so, that if you can lead through a difficult circumstance, you can lead through “routine” circumstances. This will often earn you the right to make decisions and move through the continuum faster than had you not faced this crisis.

Many times, leaders who navigate conflict the right way become more trusted and increase their leadership at a faster pace than those who never seem to face any crises. A conflict or a crisis may be God granting you a blessing in disguise. If you can remember this possibility and train yourself to have this perspective, you may find you are more willing to face these challenges head-on and that the circumstances increase your leadership capital in your ministry context.

Second, Managing Conflict Well Can Provide You with Leadership Opportunities.

Conflict is inevitable. So is change. Many times, although not always, a conflict arises out of a person or a group within the ministry being dissatisfied with what or the way something is being approached currently – the status quo – or the fact that something is now being accomplished in a different manner – upsetting the status quo. Therefore, if a leader is going to face conflict, more than likely he must manage change. If you are a leader, this is not a choice you get. You will either manage change, or you will not be a leader.

Often, a good pastor does not get to pick which crisis he wants to respond to and thus what change he has to manage. But, he does get to decide how he responds and what strategy he chooses. Therefore, he can affect the outcome. Many times in my ministry, even if it was not a change that I thought was foundational, needed to occur, or was ready to take on at that point in the life of the organization, I approached conflict management as leadership opportunities. Not in a manipulative way, but I would attempt to find connections within the conflict to changes that did need to be made, even if small and simple ones. I never wanted the church to come out of a response to a conflict in the same or a regressed position. I always aimed for progress in ministry.

Therefore, if ethical and practical to do so, I intentionally built in change strategies and tactics to my conflict responses. The intent was for this process to land us in better positions than when we began and produce outcomes that I eventually wanted for the ministry somewhere down the road. A church conflict or crisis often necessitates your response and thus provides you with an avenue to lead, even if your congregation is not completely ready to follow you yet.

Finally, Managing Conflict Well Should Grow You . . . and The Church.

We have already affirmed that conflict is inevitable. The other side of that coin is that most normal people do not like conflict. They certainly do not like addressing and take the responsibility to lead through conflict. The natural reaction of leaders is to avoid conflict and the natural reaction of churches is to fear it. Therefore, the reality of going through a ministry conflict, whether successfully or unsuccessfully, alone can greatly impact a pastor’s leadership capacity in his congregation. This is true for at least two reasons.

First, it teaches both the leader and the congregation that conflict is survivable. It is a good reminder that everyone, including you, will face conflict. And, the amazing thing is, even if you did not handle every aspect perfectly or even well, you are alive on the other side of it. Ultimately it is a reminder of who is in control and who we should trust – God. Second, it teaches you and your congregation than not only can you survive conflict, but that you have the capacity to lead through it. This is a confidence and capability booster in ministry and leadership. It is a confidence booster for you personally and in you by the church. And, beyond this, whether you navigated the conflict “successfully” or “unsuccessfully,” you hone the skills which are necessary for leading through similar future circumstances even better the next time. You may even gain some new ones!

Therefore, we should not avoid or fear conflict. We should face it head-on. Again, a conflict or a crisis may be God granting you a blessing in disguise. Remember this possibility and train yourself to have this perspective. Yet again, doing so can put you in a position to face these challenges positively in the future and to use these circumstances to increase your leadership capital with your people in your ministry context.


As we have already stated and agreed to above, conflict is inevitable! And, leaders do not usually get to pick the conflicts in which they find themselves and therefore the crises to which they respond. Certainly, this axiom is true for the good pastors, the ones who actually have an impact and move the kingdom forward. Furthermore, going through a conflict and dealing with it the right way often put us ahead in our leadership, increases our ability to influence followers, allows us the ability to affect change and organizational direction, and teaches invaluable truths about ourselves and God. Many times over, my willingness to face and take responsibility for a conflict has moved my leadership forward in a way that never would have happened had I not had the “opportunity” to walk through the scenario.

Allow me to return briefly to the example of the conflict that arose in my last pastorate. I had no choice but to face the situation head-on. I will be the first to admit that I did not do everything, perhaps even most things, right. However, with a large percentage of the congregation, simply because I was willing to take responsibility and face the situation, even publically on occasion, I moved through the leadership continuum to the position of pastor/leader a lot faster. Moreover, it certainly provided the opportunity for me to implement leadership strategies and opportunities that led to some ministry “successes.” (One tangible example is that we went from one baptism in year two to nine baptisms by the fourth month of year three.) And, there is no question in my mind that I definitely learned that I can survive a major church conflict. I feel much more equipped now to lead better through a similar scenario in the future.

In no way do I mean by this article that we want or desire such crises for our congregations. I am not encouraging or suggesting that we ever start or intentionally create conflict. But, could it be that God provides these as “ministry” opportunities to fast-track our leadership? I believe that is precisely the case. Therefore, what I am not only suggesting, but actually strongly advising, is that as pastors who have been called by God to lead, we embrace and use these situations for our leadership. Above, I have provided three reasons how you can do just this. Perhaps these can help you as you approach the inevitable as well.

Pass It On

If you know someone who may benefit from this, please send it on to them.

[1]See Aubrey Malphurs, Being Leaders: The Nature of Authentic Christian Leadership (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 53–55 for a detailed discussion of the “three pastoral stages” concept.


And when you do, I'll keep you posted with regular articles to strengthen your preaching.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This