Tag Archives: conflict

Navigating Conflict in Worship Ministry

Conflict- a difference of opinion involving strong emotions

Dealing with personal conflict is something all church leaders must navigate throughout their ministry. Conflict resolution begins with your own self-awareness and how you, as the leader, can control their behavior when conflict happens. It begins with a humble attitude. 

If you’re like me, my instincts are to respond as quickly as possible to someone who confronts me personally or through electronic means. This is not always wise, friends. No conflicts are ever won through electronic means. You must stop, pray, and calm down. However, sometimes people confront you personally, and you must learn not to react aggressively. My friend Jane Bishop is a Professional Coach for businesses and individuals. She has developed a valuable technique called SSR for helping leaders learn to respond rather than react. I challenge you to practice this technique when your emotions are triggered to RESPOND rather than REACT.

STOP – take a breath, do not speak, quiet your brain

SHIFT – make a physical shift. i.e., if you are standing, sit. Move your hand, wiggle a finger, etc.

RESPOND – in the split seconds that you have stopped your brain and made a physical shift, you have created space to respond rather than react. At times, the response may be to simply walk away. [i]

Music and worship style are often a hot topic in many churches as music tends to be an emotional subject for many. Since music is such a large part of what is altered during a merger of multiple styles of worship, you can expect to have to do more than just educate people on the merits of intergenerationality. There will be skeptics, and there will be those who are vehemently opposed to change. Some will send you emails or confront you personally. How you respond is crucial.

When I’ve had conflict that wasn’t immediate confrontation, I’ve asked myself a few questions first:

1) What is the root of the conflict?

2) Is the issue at hand really just an outgrowth of a deeper issue with them?

3) If the issue is an attack on the music I’ve picked or the people I’ve chosen to use in worship or any other decision I’ve made, how do I separate my personal feelings of offense or embarrassment that someone doesn’t like what I’ve done from the root of the actual issue?

4) If the problem is a personal attack on me or my family, how do I respond with grace and humility without getting angry? 5) How do I navigate this conflict so it’s a win-win for both sides?

Here’s what I suggest doing when confronted with conflict:

  1. Pray! Seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Remember the goal is always unity.
  2. If the confrontation happens through electronic or written means, ask to meet personally with them and another person on your staff or leader. Meet in a neutral place and sit comfortably and relaxed. Your body language is important.
  3. If the point of conflict is clear, begin looking at it from their point of view. Seek to understand the root of the problem and why it means so much to them. Always remember to attack the problem, not the person.
  4. Do your homework. If you’ve made a change, you better know why you did and be able to justify it in humility. You need to be able to share calmly that you considered every possible angle you could before making the change. If things seem to be going well regarding the change, you can highlight that as well.
  5. Do not interrupt. This can be difficult if you’re feeling attacked. Let them finish.
  6. Paraphrase as you go along. “What I hear you saying is…,” or ask questions to provide clarity.
  7. Be open to suggestions. Often people who confront you just want to be heard. Seek to understand before being understood. They may bring some suggestions or points that you had not considered when making a change that affects them or a group of people. As the leader, you may decide that you need to modify something you’ve set in place.
  8. Be humble and full of grace, even if they are very angry.
  9. Try to end on a positive note. Be aware though, some people cannot be educated enough, heard enough, or pacified enough for you to make any real difference in their opinions. You must thank them for sharing with you and tell them again why you made the change and leave it alone.

[i] Jane Bishop, Leadership Coach, Take the Next Step, “SSR Technique,” 2010.

Church Music Students Need Local Church Worship Leaders to Model Effective Communication and Conflict Resolution

This semester I’m teaching Introduction to Church Music Ministry at Truett McConnell University. My students are church music majors and this class is a required overview of what to expect in local church ministry. One of the assignments I have the students completing are interviews with worship pastors and/or music leaders already serving in local church ministry. In preparation for these interviews, I had the students bring in 8-10 questions they wanted to ask these leaders so we could share ideas and suggestions on which questions might be the most useful for them to ask. The questions they brought in were really great questions. But, what stood out to me was that every student had one or more questions related to resolving conflict and how to have good working relationships with their pastor and staff.

If my students are any indication of other church music students getting ready to head into local church music ministry, then I think we better equip them with conflict management and relationship skills in the best ways we can. But honestly, these students need to start seeing these skills demonstrated as they are growing up in their own local churches. My point is: our church music graduates entering the local church need to be ready to handle the relational side of ministry on par with the development of their musical skills and their worship leaders growing up need to model it for them early on.

Everyone reading probably agrees with what I’ve said. Yet, our time of investment with young people called to the ministry is largely spent on crafting musical skills and platform presence, not the relational side of ministry. This is a mistake!

I’ve asked several pastors over the years the biggest reasons why worship pastors are terminated and very few of them revolve around lack of musical skill. Among the results are the following:

  1. Lazy and unorganized
  2. Cannot communicate effectively
  3. Cannot get along with volunteers, staff, etc.

Since not every local church worship pastor/leader has the opportunity to teach in an academic setting, we local church worship leaders MUST invest in those emerging worship leaders in our congregations who feel called to vocational ministry. As a musical leader, you will naturally pour yourself into helping with them understand the musical and technical aspects of worship ministry, but don’t stop there. Spend time talking with your budding leaders about how to develop good working relationships with your pastor, other staff members, and volunteers. Show them how resolving conflict is done in a Christ-like manner. Below are some ideas.

Conflict resolution is important; solid communication is important. These things are taught, yes, but they are more likely caught as your emerging worship leaders are in your music ministry. Model excellence in effective communication and conflict resolution while investing in them one on one to help shape our younger worship leaders into pastoral musicians.

a few ideas (not exhaustive) to consider when confronting someone with the goal of resolving conflicts:

  1. Effective Communication is the key to resolution
  2. Search for the central issue to the conflict. This is key to understanding and resolving
  3. Search for win/wins. Compromise if needed
  4. Conflict resolution happens better face to face and not electronically
  5. Seek to understand before being understood
  6. Don’t meet alone to discuss issues if possible
  7. Don’t interrupt the other when meeting with someone
  8. Ask yourself- Am I truly the reason for the conflict? Am I difficult to work with or selfish? Unyielding or uncaring?
  9. Be gracious/try to love/apologize where YOU might be wrong
  10. Don’t reason with irrationality-sometimes the conflict can’t be resolved
  11. Don’t take everything personally
  12. Ask for outside counsel before you meet
  13. Choose your battles carefully
  14. And always PRAY for a soft heart, wisdom, and encouraging speech