Leadership Courage Series


#5: A Culture of Cowardice (part one)

Who are the exemplars of courage in our culture?  To whom does America look when seeking heroes to be our role models?  Lady Gaga?  Bill Moyers?  Dennis Kucinich?  Robert Downey Jr.?

It seems to me that the courageous have become an endangered species…and not just in society– but in the Church.

Think about it.

Wikipedia defines an endangered species as a population “at risk of becoming extinct because it is either few in numbers, or threatened by changing environmental or predation parameters.”  Can you see that all three conditions are true of the Church today?

We’re left with what I call a Culture of Cowardice.

Back in the early 1990’s Dr. Edwin Friedman described America as “a seatbelt society” that is oriented more toward safety than adventure.  In A Failure of Nerve he notes that America has become so chronically anxious that our society has gone into an emotional regression toxic to courageous, well-defined leadership.  One effect of societal anxiety is a reduced pain threshold.  The result: comfort is valued over the rewards of facing challenges.  A culture like this has no stamina in the face of difficulty and crisis.

How well does this describe the contemporary Church?

In our commitment to “being nice” we prioritize togetherness over actually making a difference. In our desire to feel good we bury our heads in the proverbial sand while the culture around us sprints toward its own destruction.  According to Friedman dissent is discouraged, feelings take precedence over ideas, peace over progress, comfort over anything new, and cloistered virtues over adventure.  The press within church for togetherness smothers bold, daring, world-changing action – like we see in the Book of Acts – and those who are courageous enough to engage it.

What emerges, stunningly, is a culture that is so “nice”, so fixated on empathy that it organizes itself around the most immature, most dependent, most dysfunctional members.

Or, haven’t you noticed?

The average church in America has fewer than 80 in attendance and has been in decline for decades, fewer than 5% of their members tithe and the majority contribute nothing at all, and most fail to see a single convert to the Christian faith a year.

Who has hijacked the agenda in most of America’s churches?  The least courageous, least responsible, and least emotionally and spiritually mature have taken most churches captive.

Courageous leadership, by nature, is decisive. And, the Latin root of decisive means “to cut”.   But, it is not “nice” to cut anything away, to cut anything off, to cut anything out—even a toxic presence that – like a parasite – survives by sucking the life out of those who are healthy.  To lead with heart is to stand for what’s best, simply because it is best—even when it is unpopular.  Even when it provokes opposition from misguided stakeholders within the Church.

Courageous leadership, by nature, is clear. Such a leader is unapologetically clear about who she is, the difference she is committed to make in the world, her values and priorities.  The clearer you are as a leader, the clearer people around you will be. And, therein lies the problem.  As pastors, we don’t always like what that clarity reveals.  As you become more and more clear as a leader, more and more people will decide they’re not “up” for going where you’re going.  Stay foggy and many will stick with you, wandering in impotent ambiguity.

Courageous leadership, by nature, is disruptive. Courageous leaders routinely disrupt dysfunction.  They regularly challenge their own preference for comfort—and that of those they lead.  Many interpret their leadership as crisis-inducing.  Friedman notes that crises are normative in leaders’ lives.  These crises come from two sources: those that just arise, imposed on the leader from forces outside that leader’s control and crises that are initiated simply by the leader doing exactly what he or she should be doing. Yet, how reluctant is anyone in church leadership to lead in such a way as to invite a crisis for long-standing church members?

As a leadership coach and consultant to pastors, my life’s work is to champion Christian influencers to find their hearts and to fully re-engage them in this great, important struggle to stir the Church from its slumber.   There is no altogether “nice” way to do this.

Just five verses into his story, Jonah is sound asleep below decks, aboard a ship imperiled in a brutal storm.  The terrified captain races below, is stunned to find Jonah asleep — in so important a moment – wakes him demanding: “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your God! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.” [Jon1:6]  Get this: it was not a follower of Yahweh who stirred Jonah from slumber—calling him to take action with God lest the “community” they were part of be plunged to ruin.

Look around you.  Is not the community around your church caught in a destructive storm?  A moral, ethical, spiritual, relational hurricane that wills to destroy the fabric of American society?  Don’t you see the storm buffeting the Christian faith—driving it to the nether regions of the culture?

To awaken the Church, her leaders must first rouse themselves. Then, embracing the opportunity provided by this life, they can stand clearly, decisively, and disruptively to awaken their churches to enter the glorious and dangerous fight for the redemption of the un-churched near them.

What else would a courageous Christian do?

Best Results from Problem Clients


I was honored to be interviewed by Dane Sanders on his live webcast a few weeks ago. His website, resources professional photographers to build and strengthen their businesses.

As Dane’s business coach, I was asked to do a show with him about working with difficult client situations– perspectives that are transferrable to most any occupation or calling. Plus, you can see how goofy I look on camera!!

Let me know how you find this helpful:

Leadership Skills Series- Being in Conflict


Principle #8- Who gets to choose?

This entry concludes the Being in Conflict series.  At least for now.  While there is much for a Christian leader to learn when in conflict — if you choose to apply it — today’s principle will keep you from falling into conflict, a great deal of the time.

So, if you’d prefer to minimize your participation in conflicts from now on, listen up!

As with each of the articles in this Leadership Skills Series, this principle will make a lot of sense to you… and I bet you rarely apply it.  And this you do to your own relational and leadership peril.

Here it is: Principle #8- Who gets to choose?

Who chooses your choices?

Who decides your decisions?

Who determines your attitudes, whether and when you forgive, when and why you finally get off some offense or other?

The answer is ridiculously apparent: You do.



“So what?” you say.

Here’s what: most of your conflicts erupt when you forget this simple, obvious reality:  You don’t get to choose anybody else’s choices.

Now now.

Not ever.

You never have and you never will.

And yet, in your most challenging relationships, you behave as if you do. Don’t you?

Think about it.

You imagine that you choose how much your daughter is online.  How much your wife spends on shoes.  How and when your son does his homework.  Right?  You say: “We have strict guidelines in our home about how much time Sophia gets to be online.  Susan has a strict budget—including shoes.  Bert knows he has to do all his homework before TV.”  And, you think that because these things are true, that Sophia, and Susan, and Bert are not deciding every single day whether and to what extent they live within these carefully-defined parameters?

I assert that they choose.  Every time. Just like you did when you were a kid.

Their choice is always theirs—just as your choices are yours.

Most of your conflicts erupt when you forget that you only get to choose your choices.  An autonomous human being does what every single human being does every single moment of every single day: she chooses. And you go berserk because you think somehow you’re entitled to choose other people’s choices. Don’t you?

Think about it.

Small things.

Dumb things.

Big things.

Important things.

Eternal things.

God, who is omnipotent, knows everything, is eternal and sovereign set it up that we get to choose all our choices. And, sometimes (maybe much of the time) God weeps over the choices we make.

I invite you to consider just how different your life could be if you lived as if everyone around you makes their own decisions—every time.  Imagine a life when you’re not manipulating, pressing, challenging, shaming, guilting, or being “so disappointed” in the decisions of those around you.

Imagine the impact on those you say you love. Consider their lives when out from under the weight of your expectations, disappointments, and judgments.


What if you trusted people to make their own decisions and to live into the reality that those decisions open and close for them? You could sorrow with them, without being ashamed of them.  The confidence you display in those near you might invite them to make great choices—surprising both you and them!

Leadership Skills Series: Being in Conflict


Principal #6- Consider Contribution

My mentor and hero, Dr. J. Robert Clinton notes that one of the five practices that distinguishes those who finish well is a commitment to life-long learning. If learning is central to life, it is critical in times of turbulence. Trouble is, the way most of us behave in conflict closes down the possibility of learning very much at all.

As humans, we want life to be tidy. Yet, life is seldom tidy—and conflict never is. To benefit from conflict—which I believe is always God’s intent – you need to take learning into hyper-mode. One almost-irresistible practice that undermines learning is to look to assign blame. Think about it: as soon as the culprit is identified, the energy is focused on building a case against the villain… proving just how wrong he or she is. Evidence is piled up. The case is closed. In this mode, learning shrivels.

The well-rehearsed cultural practice of racing to decide who’s at fault, who’s to blame, who is responsible for the breakdown ignores this startling reality: each person in the conflict has a contribution.

I challenge you to honestly review the details of any conflict you’ve been in to identify how you contributed – however small or great – to the breakdown. You may have contributed by not taking action that might have mitigated the hurt. You may have contributed by not being clear enough — however well-intentioned you may have been – such that the other party mistook your motives. You, like me, may not have cared enough to notice your impact on another, even when no malice was intended.

The opening provided by a conflict is to learn: to discover what you didn’t know beforehand. Get this, and you’ll never be in a conflict the same way again: there’s a gift in every breakdown; it’s the opportunity to learn what you don’t know you don’t know!
Failing to learn from your conflicts keeps you vulnerable to stumbling in the same ways again. Stumble into conflict often enough and you’ll see your impact diminished… greatly. Maybe worse, you’ll find people avoiding you, rendering you alone.  As a leader, you cannot afford to be alone. Leaders champion those who welcome their influence to agreed-upon greatness. So, ignoring the provision of God to discover the ways you invite conflict and misunderstanding is deadly.

When you are called upon to referee a conflict, employing the concept of contribution can have dramatic results. For one, when everyone has agreed to banish the idea that one person is to blame, both parties are freed to look—really look — to see how they played into what didn’t work. When it is agreed that each party to the breakdown has a contribution, the judgmentally arrogant posture so common the “innocent victim” is stymied. At the same time, the self-deprecatory, subservient attitude of the identified wrongdoer is also thwarted. What results can be an honest inquiry into the nuances that provoked, cultivated, and prolonged the standoff.

When the community views conflict as a problem, a failure, or a sin, there is scant willingness to dig into the details to optimize learning. No, the press is to quick-fix it, with a rush to judgment, the dispensation of consequences, and far too often, the distancing of the designated scoundrel from the community. So seldom have the specifics been sufficiently studied, that any distinctive discoveries are embraced.
Frame a conflict as an opportunity for each participant to learn, and you’ll set the stage for real repentance and change.

Note: For more on contribution, I recommend the fantastic book: Difficult Conversations, by Stone, Patton, & Heen.

Leadership Skills Series: Being in Conflict


Principal #5- Who, before What and How

Thus far the focus of this Leadership Skills Series has been to resource you, as a Christian leader, when you’re in conflict.  The first four distinctions, plus those remaining, will support you becoming skillful when you’re in “deep weeds”, as my pal and mentor Gary Mayes often says.

You, like me, are also called on to referee when other people are sideways. ‘Who,before what and how’ is the principle I employ virtually every time I get to help broker a breakdown.

It is grounded in the notion that God is committed to make us like Christ.  To my clients who are Christian, I say: God’s trying to make a Christian out of you!

God is so committed to transforming us into the likeness of Christ, God will allow conflicts to surface the selfishness, judgments, entitlement, and arrogance that undermine our effectiveness as witness to the world.

God is so interested in our being authentic, that God will let conflict expose the manipulative game-playing and con-artistry each of us has mastered over our lifetime.

Said another way, God is more interested in the Who: the kind of person you are as you move through your life and relationships… than he is aboutwhat needs to be done to resolve the conflicted mess you’re in, and how you and the other party are to move on with your lives!

Got it?  “Who, before what and how”.

The rub is, as humans we want to get out of the tension, out of the frustration, out of the discomfort of the conflict right now!

We don’t care much about the character of Christ being formed in us– we want the no-good bum to pay!  We’re not all that interested whether the fragrance of Jesus is so evident that people around us begin to re-think what they’ve decided about Christ — we want to win!

Invite the battling parties to temporarily suspend their press for what and howAsk them to consider what, in their own character, God is addressing through this upset.

As a human being, I prefer that my life be a certain way.

So do you.

Each of us has a “preferred version” of life and each of us has our ways and means to try to get life to behave the way we prefer.  Trouble is, there are people in that life of yours, and each person has their preferred version of life, too… and their own ideas about the territory where your two lives intersect.

So, your preferred version of life has at least three committed opponents: reality, other people’s preferred version of life, and God—who is massively committed to developing you into the kind of person who lives an exemplary life.  Your leadership development.

When your preferred version of life bumps up against reality, against other’s ideas about how life is supposed to be, or against God’s character-building designs for you— friction results!

Can’t be helped, ‘till something gives.

And, have you noticed: reality doesn’t give.  God, thankfully is more committed to your development than you are.  He rarely gives.  So, rather than surrender your fantasy about how your life and the people in it should be, your “ways and means committee” goes to work on the people near you.

In dozens of creative, bullying, cunning, unrelenting, manipulating, shaming, fear-inducing ways you labor to undermine their commitment to their fantasy of life, so you can have yours!

All the while… God is after your heart.

Who, before what and how.

What would love do?

Leadership Skills Series: Being in Conflict


Principle #4b- contender, know thyself!

Last time I introduced the idea that you’re enormous advantaged, as a leader, when you’re honestly aware of your vulnerabilities. Ignorant of them, you undermine your own effectiveness.

These blindspots lead directly to conflict. Sometimes you’re aware of the row they produce. If you’re like most pastors I know, you hate when somebody brings a complaint about you to you. Don’t you?

The conflicts you never become aware of are far more dangerous. They’re the “sleeper cells” of terrorist activity hidden in the seemingly benign everydayness of your life and ministry.

In these conflicts, those you offend just move on, usually taking friends and family with them. So, you’re perpetually re-building your team, your staff, your leadership core, your congregation.

Rather than seeing conflict as an opening for intimacy and learning, you push back. Maybe, like most, you think that conflict means something is wrong… with you, with it, or with them.

Allow yourself to consider that conflicts are an inevitable and necessary part of every honest, committed relationship. It is impossible for you to know enough to not need other people: their ideas, perceptions, feedback, and experiences.

What if their disagreeing with you does not diminish you at all? Could it actually serve you? Could it serve whatever it is that the two of you are endeavoring to do?

In this blog, I’ll introduce you to a second area, regarding conflict, where it’s supremely important to “know thyself”.

How have you trained yourself to respond when you’re in conflict? What are your patterns, when it’s “on”?  As humans, were predisposed to fight or flight. Some leaders I know do both.

What’s the problem with flight or fight?

When you’re fleeing or fighting, you’re not learning.

And, if you’re not learning any more about the conflict you’re in, about it’s genesis, about your part in its escalation, and about the clues you may have missed along the way—you’re setting yourself up to repeat this over and over.

So, when the impulse is to escape or to dominate in order to be right, my invitation is to get inquisitive. Imagine a crime scene investigator
who interprets every case as something “bad”
, something to do away with as quickly as possible… something to ignore (flight), or to conquer(fight) with great haste.

How many cases would actually get solved?
How much
real justice would get done?

When you’re presented with another’s complaint about you, become a CSI agent: perceptive, curious, patient, attentive. Suspend the very natural impulse to get out of this—quick. Challenge yourself to learn as much as you can, and to model a way to respond to conflict.

If you’re like me, you have an Achilles heel in this area as well. As a child and teenager, I was about as likely as anyone to occasional bone-headedness. I was probably as vulnerable as the next guy to forgetting something I’d said I’d do, impulsively leaping before thinking things through, and failing to consider who else might be impacted by something I did or left undone.  Rarely did I intend evil toward anyone, and when I learned of my mistake, I tried to repair the breach.

Yet, one of our family dynamics was that it was assumed that I meant to hurt or embarrass or slight another.  So regularly and forcefully were my motives impugned that I became unsure of them, myself. I developed a hyper-sensitivity to accusations about my heart and intention.

To this day, I’m vulnerable here. When we disagree over tactics, over ideas, over differing ways to accomplish things, I’m fine. But, when you accuse me of intending evil, of purposing to hurt someone, of premeditated unkindness… my auto-pilot switches on:

I freeze.
I flush.
My heart races.
My mental mechanisms seem to seize up.
Instantly, I’m 11 years old again and I’m caught: my cruel, malevolent heart has been exposed and I didn’t even know it. In this condition, I’m lousy in a conflict! Fight and flight appear irresistible.

Because I’ve studied my vulnerabilities (with the help of a coach and counselor), I’m able to get altitude in real time … when it counts most. I’m able to coach myself in the moment, interrupt my emotional machinery, and return to the here-and-now:


Leadership Skills Series: Being in Conflict


Principle #4a- contender, know thyself!

It’s been playoff time in the NFL.  The Saints, my Saints, with Purdue Quarterback Drew Brees just tonight won their first Super Bowl.

Ever wonder how teams prepare for these one-and-done contests?  Obviously, they study their opponent’s moves and strategies, personnel, and predispositions under various game conditions.

The best teams also study themselves. Where are we vulnerable?  What’s our Achilles heel?  How might this opponent take advantage of our weaknesses, quirks, and blind spots?

Like any pro ball club, you have vulnerabilities, susceptibilities, and blind spots, too. Think about the last major conflict you were in… or the last several contentious situations that had at least something to do with you.  What was it that made you a target?

Do people experience you as impulsive?  Unapproachable?  Self-absorbed?  Distant?  Uncaring?  Ambivalent?  Irresponsible?  Controlling?  Unprincipled?  Judgmental? Lacking boundaries?  Mercurial?  Rigid?

What are the complaints people have about you, when you’ve been sideways with them?

If you don’t know, you’d be well-served to seek out some honest feedback – quick!  Ask your siblings, your spouse, co-workers (but not your subordinates), and anyone you’ve offended, ever.  Ask them how they experience you?

What’s it like to be in relationship with you?

What is the impact you have on others that you’re largely unaware of?

Then… listen!

Years ago, a dear friend gave me a great gift.  We’d been planting a church and starting a business together at the same time.  The gift?  Tim “felt more like a project than a person” when around me.  I was completely unaware that I impacted people that way. Tim’s honest feedback launched me into an intentional process of seeking help, requesting feedback, learning, and self-discovery that’s continued to this day.  Along the way I learned that I’m often experienced as detached, unaware of my own emotions, and blind to the distress and sadness of others… even those closest to me.

Seventeen years of counseling, coaching, character-development work, and fairly fearless accountability commitments have brought growth and satisfying fruitfulness.  Still, I continue to miss my impact on others.  My failure to attend to my impact has landed me in hot water with a number of folks on several occasions. This, for me, has been an Achilles heel.

What’s yours?

Leadership Skills Series: Being in Conflict


Principle #3- Get to neutral

Ever met a powerfully influential person who was great in conflict?  They are a rare breed, and have intentionally developed the disciplines and rigor to effectively govern themselves when they’d rather just react, explode, shut down, counter-attack, or evaporate.  Yet, they don’t, more often than not.

The Christian leader, at any level, can benefit greatly from skillfully navigating situations of conflict.  We’ve already pointed out, conflict is common to the Christian experience. The ministry of reconciliation, to which every believer is called, demands that it be so.

So, how can you become great in conflict?  A third principle is this: Get to neutral.

Think about a transmission for a moment.  With your car in drive, you’re “in gear” ready to move forward.  In this posture you’re ready to attack your adversary… or, to flee the scene.  Putting your car in reverse is analogous to being poised to quickly back-pedal, loading all the blame on yourself, caving-in to escape the discomfort that being in conflict represents to you.

Most of us have trained ourselves to almost immediately “throw ourselves” into drive or reverse when a controversy arises.  Postured in this way, I assert, you are prematurely predisposed to action, when learning would serve you far more effectively. There will be a time to take action, but this isn’t it.  Not just yet.

Now think about it.  How many times have you burned yourself by assuming you understood a conflicted situation and reacted too swiftly, or too harshly?  If you’ve left a wake of broken relationships in your past, I guarantee you’ve done this. Repeatedly. Maybe habitually.

A car in neutral isn’t going anywhere.  Not just yet.  So, when you get yourself to neutral, you’re resisting the impulse to move.  That’s one thing.

Here’s another.  Switzerland considers itself a neutral country.  That means that in a conflict they’re not taking sides.  They declared it up front.  They have no dog in the fight, no horse in the race, no prize-fighter in the ring.  When you’re neutral, neither do you.

Now here’s where it gets tricky.  ‘Cause in conflict, a normal, healthy person will immediately take sides with herself.  The occasionally unhealthy person might automatically knee-jerk to side with his accuser.  Sounds odd, but it does happen.  The mischief is that as soon as you lock in on one particular outcome, your humanity begins to narrow your focus. You lose objectivity and begin to collect evidence in support of the side you’re pulling for.  And, you find evidence to oppose the other side.  Trouble is, this evidence collection is not impartial.  Your humanity will cause you to ignore, overlook, to actually not see evidence that contradicts your chosen position.  It’s not that you’re dishonest, necessarily.  Your desire to be “right” trumps your objectivity.  You can test this the next time you watch a sporting event involving one of your favorite teams.  You’ll identify un-flagged fouls against your team, and scarcely notice those against their opponent!

Getting to neutral means choosing to embrace AMBIGUITY.  Entering into the discomfort of not deciding who’s right and wrong—even when you are “on trial”.

Getting to neutral allows you to stay curious, to return to a learning posture.  And, in any conflict, learning is the key to an honorable, rewarding resolution.

Leadership Skills Series: Being in Conflict


Principle #2- Go for altitude

There may be no more essential skill than successfully handling yourself in conflict.  Many a career has been ruined when executives mishandled themselves when mired in an important disagreement.  Mike Leach, the very successful head coach of the Texas Tech football program, is but one contemporary example.  As I write this, he’s unemployed.

As a leadership coach, I’m frequently invited to help pastors or executives when they’re in conflict.   One of the first, most important techniques is to invite my clients to go for altitude.




When you’re embroiled in a conflict, it’s natural to get tunnel vision.  All you can see is your adversary, their claims, and your defenses.  And, because you’re human, you’re probably focused on your defenses most of all… or the fastest way out of the room!

What you don’t see is what’s going on between you, inside each of you, and often what’s driving both of you.  Imagine the two of you, standing toe-to-toe, in boxer’s stance, locked in conflict.  Just a few feet away is a staircase, leading to a balcony.  From the balcony, there is much you can see that you just can’t see down on the floor…

I invite you to climb the stairs, up to the balcony, and look down… observe the two of you. The beauty of the balcony is that almost immediately you’re able to access resources (perspective, objectivity, even clarity) that eludes you down on the floor.  Up there, you’re a safe distance away from your adversary.  They’ve not bounded up the steps after you, in a bloodthirsty rage.

Cooly and dispassionately, from up there you can observe yourself and the other person.  You can replay the videotape in your memory of the last interaction, or of several of them.  Eventually you’ll even be able to identify the missteps that landed you in this mess.

From up there, what can you see that could be motivating your adversary?  When you separate out their tone and method and manner, what did the person actually say?  What can you agree with?  What can you discover that could be behind their words?

From up there, what do you notice that you may have done, or left undone, to contribute to the breakdown?  Now, I didn’t say you caused the breakdown.  Yet, you have a contribution.  From up there, what can you see?

From up there, what do you notice about how you’ve responded to the accusation so far?  What do you notice about your mood, your tone of voice, your posture-of-heart? How well would you say you’ve handled yourself?  What might your response have communicated, that you did not intend?

Give yourself permission to actually do this. Stop defending yourself, pleading your innocence, or attacking the other person long enough to get up to the balcony… pause, and look.  Be curious about what you’ve overlooked so far.  Allow the balcony to resource you.

This isn’t just theory.  I use the balcony when coaching myself.  I encourage you to do the same.

Let us know how it goes!

Leadership Skills Series: Being in Conflict


Principle #1- Focus on you

There may be no more important life skill than successfully handling conflict. For a leader, it’s essential that you govern yourself well in conflict. More than anything else, this can affect how you’ll be keeping good, healthy people on your team. And, every leader knows that the best determinant of the quality of what your organization gets done is the caliber of the people you have around you.

If you’re in Christian ministry, as I am, you’re very familiar with conflict. You may be a person with an abnormally robust commitment to harmony, (some consider you a “peace at any price” sellout!) yet conflict seems to dog your path.  See, like it or not, conflict is a staple in the Christian diet.


Because it’s in conflict that we get to do our best ministry! There are very few things Jesus claims to have given his disciples. But, one of the things he’s given is the ministry of reconciliation [2 Cor 5:18]. The thing about reconciliation is it’s only needed where there is conflict, enmity, discord, and strife. So, if you’re a Christian, conflict is as normal as a kitchen is to a chef. Let that sink in a little. Conflict for the Christian is as normal as the operating room is to a surgeon. It is where we get to do what we do!

For the next several weeks, we’ll look at principles and practices that will serve you well in conflict. Let’s get started.
Principle #1: For once, focus on you. Good leaders are great at setting up the people around them to win, and stepping back just as the spotlight comes on and confetti fills the air. Your ministry leaders get the lion’s share of your focus and attention; you make sure they’re recognized, appreciated, and honored. Yet, when you’re embroiled in a conflict, this is a time to lock your focus on yourself.

I know this flies in the face of our natural, human tendency to fixate on the role the other person has had in creating or embellishing the conflict you both are in. It takes almost no effort to uncover the contribution another has had to a mess you and they are in. Recognizing your contribution to the breakdown, articulating it honestly, and owning your part (and just your part) is much more challenging for most of us. I’ll let you in on a secret: if you’re in a conflict with anyone, you have a contribution! Small or great, you have played a part in the breakdown.

Years ago, I was in a conflict with a couple with whom I worked. From my perspective, I’d been victimized by an avalanche of unwarranted distrust. Over and over in my mind I rehearsed the selfless and faithful ways I’d served them. Then, a friend challenged me to identify how I had planted the seeds of distrust in this relationship [based on Gal 6:7]. To my surprise, I remembered that even before joining the ministry I had judged them as un-trustworthy! This I compounded by repeatedly ignoring the Lord’s urging to pursue relationship with one of them, in particular. My contribution: at minimum, I’d entered the relationship distrusting them and I allowed the distance between two of us to grow unabated.

Your contribution may be something you’ve said or done. It may be a judgment you have of that person or a less-than-charitable attitude you’ve indulged. Your judgments and attitudes always find a way to leak out. People can tell when you judge them—even when you’ve never mention it! Your contribution might’ve been something you left undone, something you failed to do, something you might have done, but didn’t.

Allow yourself to consider how your attitudes, actions, or inactions have contributed to the breakdown. This will prepare you for principle # 2, next time.

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