Curbing Conflict Within Your Ministry

In high school, there was one class that I looked forward to more than any other (besides gym and lunch, of course): Mr. Moore's Earth Science class. Now, please don't jump to the conclusion that I know much about science. I don't. What I loved about that class was how much time we got to be outside, in nature. And that was something I loved! Through this class, I was chosen to be a part of a program called Down to Earth. For one week we would leave school and go on various adventures. We did a low and high ropes course, and we even did free-fall rappelling off of a train track bridge. The climax of our week was a hike in the woods and an overnight camping trip. One of the things I learned through Down to Earth was to prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. Little did I know, this principle would change my perspective later in life. In my first year of youth ministry, we went on an international mission trip. During the trip, I began to hear chatter about "Drama Wednesday." During the beginning of the week, they kept saying things like,

"Drama Wednesday is coming," "You know what happens on Wednesday," "Save it for Drama Wednesday." And then, sure enough, when Wednesday came, there was drama.

When something negative would happen, or when students would get into an argument, or act cliquey on that day, they would say, "Yep. It's Drama Wednesday." Based on past experiences, they had resigned themselves to the fact that one day on a mission trip was going to be filled with conflict. It was like they had given themselves a Hall Pass to vent and argue and gossip on Wednesdays; to get it all out of their systems so the other days would be peaceful and unified. This was one of those ministry culture things I knew had to change. And, of course, the way of change itself brought on more drama. But a shift in thinking and attitude was needed. In his book Boundaries for Leaders, author Henry Cloud says, "Put some boundaries on the negative thinking, and you create an environment where negativity [can] no longer live" (p. 108). Somewhere along the line, this group of students started living with the philosophy: Prepare for the worst, and then expect the worst. My task was to help them shift their mentality to the Down to Earth philosophy I had been taught:

Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

It wasn't easy, but over the next few mission trips, we raised the bar, and eventually, the culture changed significantly. There was no more talk of “Drama Wednesday.” Issues and challenges are inherent when humans are involved. But rather than expecting the worst is inevitable, we believe for, pray for, work for, and expect the best. As a youth ministry, we have a philosophy of ministry that guides how we approach people and handle situations. When the best doesn't happen, we aren't necessarily surprised or caught off guard. We try not to freak out. Instead, we aim to deal with drama and challenges with a Biblical view (Matthew 18:15-17): relationally healthy, God-honoring, restorative, and redemptive. It might seem subtle, but I believe this shift makes a big difference in the culture of our ministries. Here are a few questions for you to consider and discuss with your leaders:

  1. In what ways have you set the bar too low and merely expect problems? How can you raise the bar and change your ministry culture to expect the best?
  2. What is your plan for dealing with problems in a "biblically-based (Matthew 18:15-17), relationally healthy, God-honoring, restorative, and a redemptive way”?
  3. What is your philosophy of ministry that guides how you interact with people and handle situations? If you don't have one, set a time to get together with your team and create one.