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Posts Tagged ‘books for pastors on church conflict’

There are times in our lives when a situation arises and we have no idea what to do.

We’re confused … upset … off balance … and despairing.

Believe it or not, there are times when pastors … no matter how well-trained or experienced they are … don’t know what to do, either.

In my own 36-year ministry, I needed more help when conflict surfaced than at any other time.

A conflict could occur through a phone call late on a Saturday night … at a staff meeting during the week … through an anonymous letter … on the church patio after a Sunday service … or from an unexpected visitor to my church study.

Much of the time, I was pretty sure how to handle matters.

But there were times when I didn’t know what to do or say … and I didn’t always handle matters calmly or wisely.

A pastor’s responses to conflict primarily come from his temperament … his experience … and his training … especially his training.

And since seminaries fail to prepare pastors for managing conflict in any meaningful way, pastors must rely upon mentors … and books.

For example, if someone criticizes the pastor severely in a letter, and the pastor doesn’t know how to reply, he might grab a book on conflict from his study bookshelf and formulate a reasonable response.

But if the pastor is sitting in a board meeting, and he’s unexpectedly criticized, he can’t excuse himself, run to his library, select a book, and read about what he should do or say.

In fact, the pastor should be so familiar with this scenario that he instinctively knows how to respond … and that can only occur if he’s already read and assimilated lessons from the best Christian authors on conflict.

Let me share with you the names of five crucial books on pastor-church conflict … and in no particular order:

1. Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What by Peter L. Steinke.

I first discovered Steinke’s writings when I was doing background reading for my doctoral project on antagonism in the local church using family systems theory.

Steinke’s book makes great reading for any Christian … lay people, board/staff members, or pastors … because he’s grounded in both Scripture and reality.

There are ideas in this book that I’ve never read anywhere else.  For example, Steinke doesn’t believe, as many pastors are taught, that unity should come before truth, but that truth should come before unity.  That single idea is worth the price of the book alone for me.

Later on, he tells the story of a pastor accused of child abuse, and champions an approach that calls for a fair and just process to play out before exonerating or condemning that pastor.  (The charges were dropped before the pastor ever stood before a judge.)

Steinke’s postscript, called “People of the Charm,” is about narcissism in the local church, and is so good that I practically underlined the entire 11 pages!

Last summer, I had the privilege of attending Steinke’s annual training on conflict management called BridgeBuilder, and I can still see him speaking with perverse delight about various conflict interventions he’s engaged in over the years (more than 200 as of last August).  He is a rare gift to the body of Christ.

This book is available on Amazon in both paperback and e-book editions.  If you don’t have it, grab it … and devour it.

2. Moving Your Church Through Conflict by Speed Leas.

Speed Leas used to write for Leadership Journal, which still publishes articles and books for pastors.  And out of all the authors who wrote on conflict, I felt that Leas was the most practical and insightful.

Eighteen years ago, when I was at a career crossroads, I was reading an article by Leas in Leadership, and I noticed that he lived about an hour away from me … up in the mountains.

So I contacted him and asked if we could get together.  He kindly invited me to lunch and we spoke for several hours.

During our time together, he showed me a closet where he kept copies of many of his writings.  I bought everything he had, and I absolutely loved his manual Moving Your Church Though Conflict.  It’s a masterpiece.

In fact, I so valued his manual that I made several copies of it and put it in different places so I’d always have one in case I misplaced or lost the original.

In his manual, Leas presents his Five Levels of Conflict, for which he is justly famous.

Most churches can handle conflicts at levels one and two.  With level three, positions begin to harden and groups begin to form.

In level four, people begin to say … usually to the pastor … “Either you go or we go.”

In level five, an individual or a group in the church engages in destructive behavior, attempting to destroy the position, reputation, or career of someone else … usually the pastor.

Leas says that when a conflict reaches levels four or five, the leaders must call in an outside party like a mediator, an interventionist, or a conflict manager or the conflict will spin out of control.

Thankfully, when I experienced a horrendous conflict five-and-a-half years ago, I remembered some of Leas’ words at critical junctures, and tried to behave as he instructed.

I bought an e-book copy of Leas’ manual several years ago on Amazon, but noticed that it’s temporarily out-of-print.  Scour the internet and see if you can find one … it’s worth its weight in gold.

3. When Sheep Attack by Dennis R. Maynard.

I used to see this book on Amazon but figured it was lightweight because of its cover, featuring a cartoon of two giant sheep ready to pounce on a fearful minister.

But I’m glad I finally relented and bought the book, because even though it’s relatively brief, it’s full of wisdom and truth.

Maynard states emphatically that there are dysfunctional personalities in our churches … that these people want to hurt clergy … that their methodologies follow a pattern … that their impact is devastating … and that they can be thwarted if the people in a congregation work together.

Based on surveys he took with twenty-five pastors, Maynard states that these pastors were bullied and forced out of their congregations even though their churches were growing and making an impact for Christ.

As one pastor told him, “I still don’t know what I did wrong.  Everything was going so well.  Then a group of no more than a dozen people brought it all to an end.  I just don’t get it … I feel like I was punished for doing a good job…. Please, somebody tell me what I did wrong.”

While the stories in this book are priceless, I also noticed that I marked up nearly every page.

4. Pastor Abusers: When Sheep Attack Their Shepherd by Kent Crockett.

Of all the books I’m recommending, this is the one I wish I had written myself.  In fact, I think so highly of this book that I wrote a review of it on Amazon and gave it five stars, as did almost everyone who has reviewed it.

Having been through forced termination himself, Crockett’s chapter titles include:

“The Secret Church Scandal”

“Satan’s Strategy to Expel the Pastor”

“Do Demons Attend Church?”

“Showdown with the Abusers”

“Life After Leaving: What Do I Do Now?” (This is the best chapter on finding a new ministry/job for pastors that I’ve seen in print.)

Kent is a great writer … he’s written many books, and has an insightful blog … and I’m proud to call him my friend.  In fact, the first time we spoke on the phone, he exclaimed, “Churches are sick!”

You gotta love a guy like that!

In fact, if you look at my book Church Coup on Amazon, there’s a place on my page where it says that my book and his book are frequently bought together … and I’m honored to be mentioned in the same breath as Kent.

5. Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict by Kenneth C. Haugk.

I’ve used this book so much that the binding has loosened and many of the pages have fallen out.

Haugk is the founder of Stephen Ministries.  For years, he’s conducted workshops in churches dealing with antagonism in churches.

The chapters are brief but full of insights.  For example, Haugk says that if a pastor is in his church office, and an antagonist comes by and demands to speak with pastor immediately, the pastor should calmly tell the antagonist that he can’t speak with him now and that he needs to set up an appointment.

This might seem like a small matter, but when I tried this suggestion one time, a man who was gunning for me was so offended that he left the church … thank God … and never returned.

A unique feature of this book is that Haugk collects all the relevant New Testament texts on antagonism in churches and briefly explains each one.

For around $50, pastors and church leaders can purchase five incredible books on pastor-church conflict, and by reading them carefully … marking them up appropriately … and incorporating their insights into everyday church life … a pastor can be well-armed to defuse, manage, and resolve the conflicts that inevitably arise in a local church.

 

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