The Walking Wounded

How to avoid destructive conflict in women's ministry

Personal attacks, difficult people and heated conflict are all inevitable in ministry. No matter how great your church's women's ministry is, it won't be the exception. Because of this, it's imperative that you equip yourself and your team to lead women who wound. Here are some ways you and your team can be prepared to handle the hurting.

Understand what's at stake. Healthy teams are composed of people who trust their teammates and their leaders. They know that their leaders won't tolerate one team member bad-mouthing another. This confidence cultivates trust, creating a place where women can dream big, work passionately together, and be real with each other. Healthy teams are founded on trust.

Require a "peacemaking" covenant. A covenant is a formal, solemn written agreement or promise between two parties relating to the performance of some action. When team members sign a peacemaking or conflict-resolution covenant, they are promising to manage conflict according to set guidelines and principles.

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Provide quality instruction. Effective leaders are constantly building into their teams. Pepper your gatherings with instruction, case studies and discussions about pertinent topics. Share the teaching with team members who exhibit ability as teachers and trainers. Include conflict-resolution training in your regular team retreats.

Model peacemaking skills. Peacemakers must practice peacemaking. A master peacemaker does not fear conflict but sees it as an opportunity for growth and understanding. She lives out peacemaking skills in her personal life, with family, friends and co-workers. Matthew 18:15-17 is second nature to her, applied consistently without thinking.

Create the right ethos. As you, the leader, become increasingly skilled at peacemaking and effectively train your team in this, you will create an ethos where peacemaking is the norm. Team members will discuss their differences respectfully and without overreacting. If they are offended they will know how to proceed privately, following Matthew 18. This is the ideal, and you won't ever "arrive," but you will cut down on destructive conflict and know what to do if it erupts.

Know when to intervene. Ask your leaders to inform you of potential out-of-control conflicts as soon as possible. Leaders should strive to be fair, wise and neutral as they interact with the parties involved, helping them to make peace for the good of all. And only those directly involved should know about the dispute (see Matt. 18).

Consider who's in charge. As a leader, you want power to be in the hands of women with positive motivation, women you select and who answer to your authority and the authority over you. You want the women who serve on your team actually to be the women who call the shots. You want your organizational chart to reflect what really goes on in the ministry.

Invest relationally in your team. When destructive conflict erupts, you need a team that will walk beside you and pray with you. But the team won't be there for you unless they know your heart, dreams, flaws and strengths. They need to trust you, and they won't if you have not invested in personal connections.

Invest in your team and you'll reap a variety of benefits, including shelter from women who wound.

SUE EDWARDS is assistant professor of Christian education at Dallas Theological Seminary, where she is leading the development of the Women in Ministry concentration and has been awarded for her excellence in education. Adapted from Leading Women Who Wound, Moody Publishers, (c) 2009 by Sue Edwards and Kelley Mathews.

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