Leaders Can’t Avoid Conflict

Conflict is no stranger within the local church.

Different opinions, diverse perspectives, and opposing priorities can cause your best leaders and staff to experience conflict with each other.

This is normal and virtually unavoidable amongst leaders. Leaders cause motion and motion causes friction!

The goal is not to practice avoiding conflict, instead we all need to become good at resolving conflict.


In order to be good at conflict resolution, the first step is to know the primary internal causes. When we understand what causes conflict, we can begin to recognize and deal with it before it gets the best of us.

7 primary internal causes of conflict:

  1. Immaturity
  2. Self-Centeredness
  3. Insecurity
  4. Pride
  5. Controlling nature
  6. Fear (Fear of loneliness, rejection, abandonment, being manipulated etc.)
  7. Broken trust

An unmet expectation is often the core issue underneath conflict, but the bottom line is that you don’t get what you want.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

James 4:1-2

We all wrestle with some of these internal causes that lead to the more visible expressions of conflict.

7 primary external causes of team conflict:

  1. Unhealthy culture
  2. Unclear or misaligned vision
  3. Lack of communication
  4. Unclear expectations
  5. Territorial attitudes
  6. Unhealthy competition
  7. Ineffective systems and processes

5 Guidelines to Conflict Resolution:

1) Give the benefit of the doubt.

My personal frame of reference is that our staff is made up of really smart people who are committed to the vision and work hard to do the right thing.

So when something seems odd my first reaction is to assume the best.

When I choose to give the benefit of the doubt and seek to understand, it’s amazing how quickly conflict dissipates. When this practice begins to seep into the staff culture, the moral rises noticeably.

2) Extend trust.

Your teammates need to earn your respect, but it’s important that you give them trust up front. Trust is the oil that lubricates the relational operation of your team. The higher the trust, the stronger the culture.

If and when someone violates that trust, that’s a different story, but until then operate in an environment of mutual trust.

3) Get the issue out on the table.

Don’t hold back. Polite harmony never advances the vision or accomplishes meaningful success.

If there is a problem, get it on the table. Be candid, speak truth, but do so with kindness and honor. Have the full and honest conversation. Don’t say things in the hallway that you wouldn’t say face to face.

Seek to understand, listen carefully, find common ground within the vision, and make a commitment to work toward a healthy and productive solution.

4) Set your agenda aside.

James 4:2 is a truth we can’t escape. We get upset when we don’t get what we want.

Maybe it’s a bigger budget, or more staff, or greater recognition… and the list goes on. But mature teammates don’t insist on getting their way, or everything they want.

The Devil loves it when we fight like that. However, when we rise above our own agenda, personal ambition, and seek the best for others and the church overall, everyone wins!

5) Forgive and move on.

You may have a good solution, and the team moves forward, but it doesn’t always work out happily-ever-after. Sometimes people are hurt and they need time and grace to heal.

Forgiveness from both parties is a critical part of healing and any healthy staff.

It may take time and God’s peace to help you through the process. But in the end, restoration needs to be realized so that you may continue to model the kind of relationships that honor God.

6 thoughts on “Leaders Can’t Avoid Conflict”

  1. Critical post, Dan (no pun intended). Years ago a speaker at the Christian Management Association conference, a business consultant, said that church staffs were some of the most difficult groups he worked with. Sad. Too many “silos,” too many “elephants left in the room” after staff meetings, too many hallway/parking lot gripe sessions…and often unrealistic expectations just because you’re working in a Christian ministry. We are human, subject to our frailties…and our flesh. How we deal with those frailties is incredibly important. Thanks for pointing us in the right direction.

    1. It is sometimes ironic how much conflict there is, but as you said, we are human. I remain encouraged to be a leader who does everything possible to keep the team healthy and handling conflict in appropriate ways. Hope you are doing well Don.

  2. Thank so much for this article.God bless you.The best counsel I have received to handle a conflict that I’m praying about how to approach it, in the best interest of God’s vision for the church(local).

  3. I work for a Christian non- profit ministry (21 years) and have been a chronic ‘conflict avoider’ for years.
    But the Lord has been teaching me in many difficult workplace situations that avoidance only complicates and delays resolutions.
    This article addresses these issues in very helful ways.
    The enemy is persistent in causing division, disruption, deceit, & discouragement.
    I’m thankful the Lord hasn’t allowed me to continue being a ‘conflict avoider’ but continually prompts me to keep learning some of the very helful suggestions your article remind and teaches me.

  4. Dan,
    I can relate to this teaching on conflict in leadership. Recently, experience it. This smooth the pain.
    Dan. You are a leader of leaders than you for writing about the truth about conflicts among Christian leader and how to resolve and restore. Grace!

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