Staff Conflict: Why Can't We All Just Get Along?
One of my elders is famous for saying, “there is conflict because there is a devil let lose in this world.” [quote]There is conflict because there is a devil let lose in this world.[/quote] While I am not arguing all church conflict is rooted in satanic activity, we often do forget the input he likes to bring to the table. When I first was licensed to preach a pastor once told me, “Son when you grow up and become a pastor you’ll realize the devil joined the church a long time ago and he is often on the church staff or deacon board.” If we think that the principalities of the powers of darkness look at the church and say, “oh, they have a staff now, we better leave them alone,” maybe we should take another one of those IQ tests our friends keep sending us on Facebook. Despite that this point should be obvious to Christians it is often forgotten. Along with the spiritual conflict that happens daily we also can identify church conflict being rooted in but not limited to, backbiting, jealousy, and selfishness. In Numbers 12 the reader discovers that one of the very first “church staffs” felt the pressure of leading and attempting to do God-honoring ministry. In the heat of the moment the writer lets us peep into a staff meeting of all staff meetings where dissension is brewing and God is listening.
- Conflict is manifested in backbiting.
The chapter begins with Miriam and Aaron complaining about the Cushite woman Moses had chosen for his wife. Let’s set the record straight, if you and I work on staff together and you begin to talk about my wife, there will be conflict. The bible says that Moses was a meek man, which means he didn’t shout at his sister, send here a scathing email, or post an indirect message rant on Facebook. God didn’t allow Moses to respond but rather came right in and told them to get to the tent of meeting. Church staff conflict could be so much easier if every time we have conflict, God would just pull us out to the woodshed, deal with the issue and settle it. The Lord calls Miriam and Aaron by name and they step forward. He tells them that Moses is His man, his anger is kindled, and then He departs. What an awkward moment for the two of them! God says what He has to say, tells them they should have more fear, and then in anger just leaves them standing there. All this started with their backbiting. The text doesn’t say but a person could assume that they were not talking amongst themselves but it is possible they were saying this around others. But since the text doesn’t tell where this conversation is happening, we will assume that the discussion is just between the two staff members. As much as we would like to believe that staff squabbles only stay with the staff and never make it to the congregation, we cannot be so naive. The ONE who needed to hear the dissension heard and dealt with the issue. Whether you are the “meek victim” or you are the backbiter don’t think for one moment that the omniscient God did not hear the conversation! If one day every word and thought will come to light, it would be foolish to think our private staff rants will not be handled.
- Jealousy fuels the fire of conflict.
Not only is backbiting at the center of this conflict but the reader also sees Aaron and Miriam’s jealousy. Aaron and Miriam said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses?” Now as you read this think about two disgruntled people chanting this question together almost like a pep rally. They claim that Moses isn’t the better of us! They want equal rights, treatment, and glory. Aaron and Miriam want to be heard, noticed and remembered. For the two of them to hear someone say well pastor Moses said we should do this and not that, was like finger nails dragging across the chalkboard. They wanted to hear statements like, “Aaron led us this way and Miriam gave us this idea.” In Romans 13:13 Paul includes jealousy with drunkenness, sexual immorality, and quarreling and says we shouldn’t walk in them. In 1 Corinthians 3:3 he says that when there is jealousy and strife among us that we are walking in the flesh and behaving only has humans. By now you have figured out that Aaron and Miriam weren’t church staff but they were still accountable to God for how they lived, thought, and responded to life. Now thousands of year’s later things haven’t changed. We are accountable even in our jealousy and God makes it clear that we aren’t spiritual when we live jealous lives. If you are dealing with jealousy amongst your church staff you are dealing with men and women who are choosing not be spiritual people but rather are choosing to be flesh driven people. What would happen if God met us at the door and said, “you should have been more afraid than to have spoken against my servant in that way?”
- Selfishness turns conflict into disaster.
The final conflict characteristic in this story is Aaron and Miriam’s selfishness. God’s redemptive plan was never about Moses, but Aaron and Miriam sure seemed to think Moses was at the center of attention. We don’t know who led the conversation but we do know this wasn’t a pastor appreciation dinner where the leader is politely being roasted. Rather this is a tantrum that the two of them are throwing and can be summed up in the desire to be noticed, wanted, and appreciated. They didn’t want it to be all about Moses, because they wanted to be included in on the recognition. In case Israel’s history gets published, Moses’ name might be on the cover but Aaron and Miriam’s name better be in small print too. They were convinced that when the Torah was complete it was going to have a title page that read, “a synopsis written by Moses in partial fulfillment of the whole Bible.” Being self-focused is being self-destructive. In sports no one likes a ball-hog and in life no one cares for a know-it-all. People cannot handle being around someone who is selfish and self-centered. James said, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” God says that a focus on self is nothing more than disorder and vile.
I didn’t write the article as a “how-to” model of dealing with the issue of church conflict. I think you can find enough of that in leadership books, blogs, and articles. Sometimes we run too fast to the “how-to” section of life and forget the spiritual aspect of leading church life. We are spiritual people! Until I give my staff reason to think I am in the flesh or before I think that my staff is in the flesh we should start the day, meeting, retreat, conversation, and so on with the understanding that we are spiritual people! Not just any spirit! We have been redeemed, therefore Christ in us trumps the backbiting, jealousy, and selfish ambition. We are not our own, we’ve been bought with a price. Since this is the case, don’t make the price cheap!
- How not to handle staff conflict.
I’ll leave you with two stories because that’s usually what we are looking for in an article like this. I worked as a youth pastor for three different churches before I became a pastor. In my first setting I was an intern so there was never conflict because we wanted to get paid. I was in college and needed to eat! The second job was horrible. The pastor was an angry man, who would lash out at the church and the staff. He embarrassed me in front of the church, by calling me out from the pulpit moments before I was getting up to preach for senior day. I could have responded to his words during the sermon but stuck to the script and had my Aaron and Miriam conversation with the worship leader after the service. Instead of dealing with the conflict I simply ran three months later, resigning, and never dealing with the issues. The final church was a situation where I was the associate pastor and had served for over a year without a pastor because the pastor who had hired me ran off with a choir member. Once the new pastor came in he had his way and I had mine. You guessed it, we didn’t see eye to eye. I tried to submit to his leadership in every direction, even though I felt as if I was not doing it joyfully, nor was I supportive of him. It came to a halt when he called me into his office with his “twenty rules for the youth guy” speech. During this conversation he told me what I was to do from eight to five every day. He let me know what ministries outside of the church that I could take part in and what he expected of me from Sunday and Wednesday church services. These new guidelines were not difficult to maintain. Whether he knew it or not I looked at leadership biblically, which meant he was in charge and I needed to submit. I look back now and think I wasn’t dealing with jealousy, backbiting, or selfish ambition but I was dealing with a lot of anger. So I did the only thing I could do, I hit him. Ok just kidding. I resigned. I gave him my two weeks and once again I ran from the issue. The only conversation at that point was how he would not pay me for my final two weeks. Neither of us acted spiritually in those moments but rather conducted ourselves as two men who knew nothing of redemption.
So what did I learn from those situations? The same thing I learned in two future predicaments when I had to force a secretary out and fire my youth pastor. Be spiritual! Don’t run from the conflict. As Paul said in Galatians, those of you who are spiritual, do some checking up on yourself before you go knocking down the walls. Ask yourself some easy questions. Is this conflict rooted in my sin, such as jealousy, bitterness, and selfish ambition? Can I walk into the situation and deal biblically with the issue at hand, even if I am the one who is at fault? Am I going to sit back and do nothing and hope God give my staff leprosy like he did Miriam? As we tell our kids in our house, always shoot straight with us, and our relationship will forever be strong, even when it hurts! If you love God, you’ll love your staff. If you love your staff, you’ll deal with sin, theirs and yours. [quote]If you love God, you’ll love your staff. If you love your staff, you’ll deal with sin, theirs and yours.[/quote] When you do this you will get back to the work, seeing people saved from sin, darkness, and an eternity in hell!