What words come to mind when you think of conflict? I recently asked a flower_on_the_streetgroup of a dozen church leaders. Answers ranged from anxiety, avoidance, and scared, to trying to keep the peace.

We are facing conflict in many ways in our world right now—national, political, ethnic, denominational, and familial. These conflicts heighten the tension in our churches. That can lead to some pretty bad situations.

Jesus offers some processes for dealing with conflict so that it doesn’t turn destructive. The Gospels say things like turn the other cheek, take another person with you when you have to call someone out, or forgive so that you can be forgiven.

But what if you can’t?

I want to introduce you to a process of self-regulation that will increase your capacity to follow Jesus’ counsel. In the world of emotional intelligence, self-regulation is the ability to master your emotions, responses and behaviors.   In other words, with increased ability to self-regulate, you can turn the other cheek instead of hitting back. You can have a calm conversation instead of stomping off and slamming doors. You can forgive instead of seething.

Self-regulation doesn’t make conflict go away. But it does give you the ability to avoid making things worse by turning your destructive reactions into productive responses. Click To Tweet

First, let’s take a look at what actually happens in a conflict situation: Conflict > Automatic Thought > Destructive Behavior.

An automatic thought is an unconscious assessment of what is happening. Automatic thoughts lead to generally destructive behavior. For instance, let’s say someone challenges me.   And that my automatic thought is, “He’s trying to make me look stupid!” In that case, I’m likely to get defensive and self-righteous. I’m going to want to prove my point instead of really listen to what he’s saying. The more I try to prove my point, the more I shut down any conversation. And the more likely he is to think, “#$%* She doesn’t even listen.” That will set up some destructive responses from him. See where this is going?

Instead of going down that path, here’s an emotional intelligence tool that will help you stay calm. In this acronym, each letter stands for an action to increase your self-regulation.

C: Calm yourself. For most of us this means pausing and praying. Or even simply breathing. Breathing gives us a chance to move out of fight or flight, and back into cognitive processes. In other words, it gives us a chance to access wisdom instead of simply reacting.

A: Assess your Automatic Thought. Tune in to your automatic thought. Bring it from the subconscious to the conscious realm. When you become aware of what you’re thinking, you’re on the road to choosing a new thought.

L: Listen to what was actually said instead of how you automatically interpreted it. Discover a new way of making sense of their comments. Listen both with your heart and your head.

M: Make a new response. Now that you have calmed yourself, assessed and listened, intentionally choose to make a new response. Think a new thought. Respond in a new way.

Conflict is a fact of life. At its best, it helps us clarify our values, articulate our needs, and arrive at new insights. At its worst, it tears us apart.

As stewards of the Gospel dream of the Kingdom of God, we owe it to ourselves to increase the love in the world, and not the anxiety; to increase the Kingdom and not conflict. That means we need to master ourselves. To practice self-regulation.

Ready to learn more about how to stay CALM? Join me for my upcoming Mastering Conflict workshop!

How do you know if it’s time for a new vision in your congregation? Or your denomination, for that matter? It’s not as hard to discern as you vision3might think. I want to share with you three tell-tale signs. And one important next step to take.

Watch for these three key dynamics first identified by church life-cycle specialist, George Bullard. If you see them at play in your setting, then it’s time for a new vision.

Blame: Watch for finger pointing. If it’s easy to identify the problem person, dynamic or influence that’s at fault—and it’s not you—then you are witnessing the dynamic of blame. Listen for statements such as: there aren’t enough young people coming to church; no one tithes anymore; we don’t have enough visitors and it’s all the pastor’s fault.

Sacrificial Commitment Required: Everyone is asked to give more, more, more. More money, more time, and more service to the organization. This would seem to solve the problem of waning energy and attendance. But the problem is lack of vision, not lack of commitment. And I suspect the actual underlying problem is something else.  There isn’t something big to commit to!

Nostalgia or Anger: Nostalgia about the way things were quickly turns to anger when it becomes apparent that the good old days aren’t coming back. And they’re not getting resurrected easily. Bullard points out that a focus on teenagers is a focus on the past. A focus on senior adults is a focus on the present. A focus on 25-40-year-olds and their kids is a focus on the future.

These three tell-tale signs are evident not only in individual churches but in denominations as a whole. Click To Tweet  I’ve spotted these three dynamics at play within the United Methodist Church. Consider that we have been in the blame-each-other mode for a while. Both progressives and conservatives point fingers at each other when it comes to church decline. In fact, many of our denominational fights have been framed as a lack of commitment. Some say that we have a lack of commitment to Biblical authority. Others say we have a lack of commitment to inclusivity. I suspect that the issue isn’t so much a lack of commitment as it is a lack of vision.   These fights are further fueled by both nostalgia and anger. Can’t we go back to the way we used to believe, used to organize ourselves, used to live? This nostalgia is countered with anger that our denomination isn’t more inclusive or farther along in the world.

It’s time for the leaders of the denomination to muster a new vision. I am in favor of the One Church Plan. However, deep down inside I know that it won’t make much difference if we don’t have a new vision driving us. If the denomination were to split it would be worth it IF each new movement was led by a vision giving us fresh energy and leading us in new directions. A vision based on blame, nostalgia or anger, however, won’t cut it. We’ll stay stuck in the same old patterns of decline.

When you’re ready for a new vision, the most important next step you can take is to productively address blame, anger and nostalgia. This isn’t always easy.   However, I want to introduce you to an effective approach.   That’s why I’m inviting you to join me for my next Mastering Conflict Online Workshop, January 4 and 11, 2019. 

Violent conflict is all around us. Not only are we honoring Domestic Violence Prevention month, we have also lived through much recent church womanpublic conflict. This includes a contentious Supreme Court nominee proceeding further tainted by sexual abuse allegations, a terrifying mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and eleven pipe bombs sent to high-profile national leaders and philanthropists. Our country—publicly and privately—is beset by violent conflict. How are congregations to respond? Click To Tweet I’d like to name five kinds of congregational approaches. And to offer a bonus webinar on “Productive Conflict.”

As congregations do church in the midst of violence, we have a range of options.

1)  Insular congregations avoid naming conflict. Instead of acknowledging violent acts in the private or public sphere, they opt to focus on local activities and local concerns. These insular congregations preserve a sense of safety. But miss the opportunity to connect with larger movements of love, prayer, grief, and solidarity. They also impose an emotional cut-off for congregants impacted by these seemingly removed acts of violence.

2)  Harmony-at-all-costs congregations affirm love and forgiveness. But never name people, places or situations that cry out for either love or forgiveness. These congregations preserve a pseudo-harmony by not broaching topics that could divide. However, they miss the opportunity to model effective ways of dealing with conflict.

3)  Pastoral congregations name violent offenses while offering prayer and affirmation. As they bind up wounds, they connect the Gospel with our everyday lives.   These congregations run the risk of becoming Eeyore-ish, since acts of violence may always be found. Grief may eventually outweigh rejoicing.

4)  Prophetic congregations reflect theologically about acts that destroy domestic harmony or public civility. These congregations actively equip us with biblical language, metaphors, and approaches to the world around us. The risk here is that not everyone will agree with any given reflection. Pastors need to be prepared to lay out a biblical case for their reflections. And to offer pastoral care to those who feel slighted.

5)  Doomsday congregations encourage, or at least do not discourage, violence. These apocalyptic groups play into hopelessness and fear by proclaiming that the end is near. This approach denies God the power of resurrection.

As a Jewish Christian whose extended family is deeply involved in cultivating and preserving Jewish life, fear and anger gripped me when I heard about the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. The shooting offered cold affirmation of recent pronouncements that anti-Semitism is on the rise throughout Europe and the US. I dreaded going to church. Click To Tweet Will my pastor think it important to mention this? At times, this congregation has been very insular, and sought to preserve harmony at all costs. My expectations were as low as my heart. Yet, I was deeply gratified when the senior pastor took a moment to intentionally stand by the flag and offer a heartfelt prayer for the Jewish community and the victims of the synagogue shooting. “This is not who we are as a country,” she said. “It is not who Christ calls us to be.” It was a poignant moment. One this Jewish Christian needed to bring some healing to my soul, and to feel part of my congregation once again. In less than 5 minutes, she was both pastoral and prophetic; it was brilliant pastoring.

Conflict will always be with us. It doesn’t have to get violent. In fact, it can be productive. To help us navigate these times, please join me for a special one-hour bonus webinar on Productive Conflict: Making the Most of Bad Situations on Friday, November 9, 10-11am MT.  Send your email address, name, phone number and congregation/location to rebekah@rebekahsimonpeter.com to join in.

Thomasina stood up among a group of fellow pastors to tell us her vision for herself. “I am committed to self-regulation and to be the pastor impostermy people need me to be.” As we dived deeper into her vision, it became clear that she had a bad case of imposter syndrome. Highly successful in the world of education and administration, somehow her gifts had been unwelcome in the church. While she thought more self-regulation was the answer, I doubted that would solve the problem. Too much self-regulation translates into self-suppression. Then we can no longer express our gifts or passions.

I’ve seen imposter syndrome—the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved—afflict pastors all across the country. I think the core of the problem is bad theology. It’s time to break it.

Thomas Merton writes that at the core, we are in deep and inescapable contact with the Divine. Paul tells us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. The Psalmist writes that there is no place we can go that God is not. The ancient writer of Genesis tells us that we are made in the very image and likeness of God.

Then came Augustine. We have him to thank for the gift of original sin. Original sin is the concept that while God made us good, we “fell” from that grace. Only something outside of ourselves can fix us. And only if we are somehow repentant enough. The question is how much is enough? Most of us deal with “never good enough.” You don’t even need to be Christian to absorb this theology. It’s part of our culture. It’s transmitted to us in silent invisible ways we don’t even know about. It eats away at our very bones like a cancer.

Here is the outgrowth of this bad theology: God’s love is conditional. We believe we are never really good enough. We are separate from God. We are on our own. We don’t belong. We are “other” to God.

Hogwash.

Thank goodness Jesus didn’t have to deal with this bad theology. He might have dealt with imposter syndrome too. Can you imagine? “Beloved son, me? Nah, not really. You’re well pleased? I doubt it. Don’t you think I need to do better first?”

As I teach apostleship to church leaders, it’s clear that Jesus wasn’t weighted down by any sense of original sin. More importantly, neither were the apostles. We see no hint of imposter syndrome in them. They were free to learn from Jesus, to try out the stuff that he taught them, to wrangle for first place, and to even develop the faith of Jesus so that they could perform miracles alongside him. Jesus would have had a hard time empowering and authorizing them—tapping into their sense of agency—if they had been hindered by a persistent sense of unworthiness.

We are called to co-create miracles with Jesus. To do that, we need a better theology. One that doesn’t trap us with the idea that we are never enough, or that we are separate from the very God who gives us life. Rather, one that empowers us to recognize our inherent goodness, the innate divinity within our humanity, and our essential oneness with God.

I’ll never forget the time I visited Miss Randolph, a homebound member of the church. As the associate pastor assigned to pastoral care, I made a point to visit this grateful member at least once a month.   One time, after I prayed for her, she asked me a mind-boggling question: “What do you do for work?” Click To Tweet

“Lady,” I wanted to cry out, “I visit you! What do you think I do for work?” Luckily, I held my tongue. Turns out she hadn’t realized the church had an associate pastor, since it was a fairly new position. But it reminds me of other mind-boggling questions asked by parishioners.

  1. Being a pastor is just a one-day-a-week job isn’t it? If you only knew, I have pastors are peoplewanted to say.
  2. What? You shop for food? This one always comes at the grocery store when I am pushing my cart down the aisles. I cringe as I realize I have thought the same thing when I’ve seen other high-visibility people in the grocery store.
  3. What are you doing for the holidays? Again, lady, I’m making sure you have holiday services to attend! Poor lady.

In this month when we intentionally appreciate pastors, I would like to de-mythologize a few not-so-obvious things, and recommend five tips:

1)  Insist on Time Off Your pastor is dedicated to you and to the life of the church. Their calling is more than a career choice. Most full-time pastors put in far in excess of 40 hours per week. Most part-time pastors work more than the 10 or 20 hours you are paying them for. They often work 7-days a week. Yes, they are over-working.   No, this is not healthy in the long haul. Make it do-able for them to take a weekly day or two off, annual vacations, and intermittent rest times away from the congregation.

2)  Recognize Their Humanity Your pastor is a person first. He or she gets hungry, angry, lonely, happy, tired, energized and excited just like you do.  Take them off the pedestal and recognize their humanity. Even as you acknowledge the mantle of authority they have received to lead the congregation. Click To Tweet

3)  Acknowledge Them on Holidays Your pastor likely doesn’t go away for the holidays. Putting together special services, writing sermons and developing worship materials intensifies at the holidays. That’s true not only of Christmas, but Easter and Thanksgiving, too.  Invite them for a meal or a party; or give a holiday gift or a card with money at the holidays. This will be appreciated.   Sometimes, creating space so they can enjoy their family at the holidays is also welcome and appreciated.

4) Celebrate and Pray Your pastor has been anointed, appointed, authorized and is an accountable ambassador of Jesus Christ in your community. Be sure to celebrate their contributions to your congregation and community, and to uplift them in prayer.

5) Don’t triangulate If there’s a behavior you don’t like, or a critique you must deliver, go directly to your pastor. Don’t triangulate by talking to everyone else about it first. Creating emotional triangles complicates things and won’t lead to quick or easy resolution. Have the courage to speak directly with them. Be kind as you do so. Be willing to listen to their response.

In a world of shrinking church budgets, pastors are an increasingly rare gift. Respect and appreciation go a long way toward creating cultures of renewal.