A few days ago, my wife was looking through some files. She found a folder that contained some documents from when we were at seminary. This was when we were just beginning our ordination process. We were in the Presbytery of Philadelphia, and their Committee on Preparation for Ministry had us fill out some forms.
There was one that asked about our challenges / weaknesses. I wrote something along the lines of needing to be more assertive, especially in situations of conflict. That was 1994. Twenty years later, I think I might say the same thing. I realize that it’s still something I need to work on. I have made some progress in being more assertive and a less anxious presence in the midst of conflict, but I know that I have a long way to go.
In his book, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, Peter Steinke speaks about courage in the midst of conflict. He acknowledges “the unnamed congregational leaders and members who have influenced my thinking through their wisdom, counsel, and especially courageous action. They deeply cared for their congregations in such a way that they were willing to risk the displeasure of others, even to the point of being demonized… They resisted giving in to the pressure of the moment if it meant forsaking their integrity.” (p. xv)
That’s what I mean by being more assertive and a less anxious presence.
Steinke also says, “Some leaders patiently and calmly stayed connected to people with opposing viewpoints and to those known to be troublesome… To their credit, they did not regard their own judgments as placing them on higher moral ground. They simply could not set aside distressing circumstances or avoid a difficult decision even if it meant individuals would be hurt or the congregation would suffer. They spoke ‘the truth in love’ (Eph. 4:15) so that the truth could set people free (John 8:32).”
That’s the challenge—and reward—of keeping calm while in conflict!