Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher had a complicated relationship according to most historical accounts. Born just six months apart, these two women are an example of female leaders with great influence but very different personalities. They both served England simultaneously for more than a decade, and their roles required them to work together. Though the queen traditionally remains neutral on governmental matters, the Sunday Times made a sharp disagreement public in 1986. The report cited their different opinions regarding sanctions on South Africa’s government during apartheid, revealing the queen’s view that the Prime Minister was uncaring and divisive. Despite the palace’s statement to diffuse the conflict, it was a distraction and disruption between two powerful women. As an avid fan of the Netflix series The Crown, this particular point in history was played out in the fourth season. In the episode, one realizes that conflict doesn’t just affect the two parties involved, but it has a ripple effect.
Two other influential women in the New Testament are also known for their conflict in the book of Philippians. While we don’t know a lot about Euodia and Syntyche, Paul’s account of them in chapter 4 reveals Paul’s plea for them to reconcile as sisters in the Lord. Many translations use the word agree, but I like the New American Standard’s translation: urging them “to live in harmony in the Lord” (v. 2). I can’t help but wonder about the details of their conflict, but, apparently, that didn’t make the pages of Scripture. The more important detail was that they were instrumental partners in the gospel, and Paul knew the importance of pursuing unity between two church leaders. He knew that their disagreement would not only affect others but also the growth of the early church. Paul, himself, wasn’t immune from conflict. His disagreement with Barnabas over John Mark in Acts 15 caused such a sharp disagreement that they parted ways for a period of time. Maybe he had a personal understanding of what these two women were experiencing and wanted to encourage them to resolve the conflict for the sake of the gospel.
So, if the pages of our Bible contain narratives of conflict between church leaders, it’s not a surprise that you might encounter some conflict with a church leader today—even when you are both serving on a church staff together. And while much has been written about handling conflict, all of us can learn some practical ways to face these situations with grace and with a goal of striving towards unity.
First, consider the log in your own eye. In other words, examine yourself. If you find yourself in a disagreement with a ministry leader, consider any sin that is keeping you from pursuing peace. Spend time asking the Lord to reveal any sin or impure motives in your own life. Confession is good not only for your personal spiritual journey, but it can help you align the difference between your personal agenda and kingdom work. All of us must take responsibility for our own contribution to conflicts that may arise.
Second, address the other person one-on-one with humility and respect. Submit to your leaders when appropriate. Stay calm during the conversation and listen more than you speak. James 1:19-20 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” If the conflict cannot be reconciled between you and the other person, seek a neutral mediator who can help you work through the conflict together.
Third, avoid gossip that will lead to outside opinions and favoritism. If you have a conflict with someone else on staff, the last thing that needs to happen is for members in the church to begin taking sides. Not only will this cause the conflict to escalate, but you can often expect that people will not hear both sides of the situation or have all the information. Proverbs 16:28 warns, “A contrary person spreads conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.”
Fourth, examine your motive to win at all costs. My competitive nature rears an ugly head when I’m faced with a conflict and become more adamant about winning than solving the conflict. I still remember working through a conflict with another church staff member and being told, “You need to let this go. You are not going to win this one.” It was an insignificant conflict, and it would have been resolved more quickly if I had submitted to my authority and not let my pride or preference become the main issue.
Fifth, is the conflict a catalyst that is releasing you from your current assignment? While I do think it’s important that people be reconciled over the issues of conflict, the Lord may use a particular conflict to give you the direction or nudge that it’s time to leave. Just as Paul and Barnabas went separate ways, the Lord used the conflict to multiply kingdom efforts and spread the gospel. If you sense this direction, I would urge you to pray earnestly and fervently about the situation. Seek guidance from God’s Word and don’t leave a ministry assignment without seeking peace with the person you have a conflict with. The way you leave a ministry assignment is just as important as how you start it. Leave with grace, humility, and relationships intact.
Above all else, ask yourself, “How will this situation glorify God”? Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, says, “The Bible teaches that we should see conflict neither as an inconvenience nor as an occasion to force our will on others, but rather as an opportunity to demonstrate the love and power of God in our lives … look at conflict as an opportunity to glorify God, serve others, and grow to be like Christ.”1
Kelly D. King is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for Lifeway Christian Resources. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide for Leading Women in the Local Church. You can hear Kelly at Lifeway’s You Lead events that are held in several cities around the country or listen to her co-host the Marked Podcast with Elizabeth Hyndman.
1. Ken Sande, The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (BakerBooks: Grand Rapids, MI, 2004), 31.