wolves, sheep and shepherds


Conflict at church.


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If Dr. Shelia Schuller Coleman Was My Client: One Question to Get Started (and maybe a second question for clarity)

 It is no secret that The Crystal Cathedral is in trouble.  A combination of money woes and interpersonal conflict has brought this once powerful, dynamic church to the brink.   The drama is being lived (partially) in public.  The future looks difficult.

 I am not connected with any person in leadership at the Crystal Cathedral.  I have enough experience to know that the media reports are incomplete at best and very often manipulated by one or more of the players for their own purposes.  So I hold no predetermined conception of their troubles, beyond that they have some.

 I help pastors deal with the conflict in their churches.  I help them restore relationships in their congregations.  I help them establish patterns that prevent and minimize conflict in the future. I help them move past the damage the conflict has wrecked in their own lives.

 If Dr. Coleman asked for my help here is how I would begin.   I want to know these things before we go through the details of the history of the conflict.  I want to know this before I know the finances of the situation.   I want to know the answers to these questions, before we go into a broader consultation.  These questions will let me know about the needs of my client.  These will let me know how to move forward.

How is this conflict impacting your life?

 In a conflict of this size and duration, each person involved will suffer in a number of ways.  This is natural and can be expected.   Each person will experience conflict differently.  These are some of the common ways people will experience.

I expect to hear that stress is taking its toll.  Trouble sleeping, gaining weight, new health issues (usually minor), decreasing sex drive and other physical symptoms are common.

 I expect to hear expressions of anger, frustration, anxiety and depression.  These can run the range from having an unusually short fuse to needing the medical help of anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications.

 I expect to hear that friendships are becoming more difficult.  Close relationships may become strained or more distant.  People may be viewed more critically, with more suspicion and less trust.   People my become a source of dread and lead to greater isolation.

 I expect to hear that praying and other spiritual practices may become more difficult.  God may seem distant, silent or unconcerned.   There may be deep feelings of betrayal that rise and fester.  Forgiveness may seem impossible, undesirable and foolish.

 There are a couple of things that might arise that will cause me to look at the conflict in a different way.  For example, if my client needs to infuse our discussion with blaming someone else for the situation, I will be concerned.  At first I will redirect my client to our more basic questions letting them know that we will cover the details of the conflict exhaustively.   If they continue to blame someone else for their situation I will treat that as a yellow flag.

 In this discussion, no one is important except my client.  How my client is managing the conflict and what toll it is taking on them.  But if my client is more focused on someone else, especially in blaming someone else, I will begin to suspect that my client is a high conflict person.

 High conflict people drive conflict.  This is because they are driven by deep compelling fears.   These fears create disturbing emotions and feelings for high conflict people and they must seek relief.  The most common way they seek relief is to blame other people for their situation.

 To test my concern that my client is a high conflict person, I will ask a second question:

 For the moment, without considering how others have behaved, how have you contributed to this conflict?

This one is pretty simple from my perspective.  If someone is unable to accept their role, no matter how small, in the conflict, then it is very likely that they are a high conflict person.   Knowingly or not, they are driving this conflict.  Knowingly or not, they are in the way of a reasonable resolution.

I can and often do work with high conflict people, but the process is different.  It is slower.  It is more difficult.  It is emotional, intense, dramatic and heart breaking.   There may be many tears, vitriolic anger and blaming.  Lots of blaming.

 Still with all of this, high conflict people can solve disputes and come to good, solid and workable solutions that they will honor.   It is worth the effort to go through the process with them. 

 Without an understanding of the high conflict personality your conflict will continue and escalate.  It will be costly in time, money and goodwill.   It can lead to a scorched earth approach of conflict resolution. 

 It is almost certain that high conflict people are driving the disputes at the Crystal Cathedral.  If I was working with Dr. Coleman, I would want to identify the high conflict people.  If that includes my client, that is okay, we can still move forward.  

 By identifying the high conflict people we can identify their real needs.  By identifying the real needs of the high conflict people involved we open the door to a solid resolution.

07:22 pm, by wolvessheepandshepherds

Recognizing High Conflict People

Learning how to recognize high conflict people in real time is an essential skill for pastors.  This page gives a good basic overview.

10:27 am, by wolvessheepandshepherds

The Dirty Little Secret of Ministry

Everyday more than 30 pastors leave the ministry, never to return.  They quit, retire early, take disability, are forced out or are fired.  30 pastors out of ministry for good. 

We are all familiar with the stories of scandal.  The pastor who cheats on his wife with his secretary.  Or a choir member.  Or both and more.  The payoffs to keep things quiet.  Pedophile priests, hands in the till, skimming the collections, cooking the books and more.  Much more.

But, in truth, few pastors ever commit such acts.  Few ever experience these types of moral failure.  The truth is pastors leave the ministry for very different reasons.

High Conflict People

Pastors leave the church and ministry, often never to return because of aggressive, personal attacks.  The attacks can take many forms.  They can be open or covert.  They may not even look like an attack from the outside.  Sometimes even the pastors and their families don’t recognize them.   But the pastors start to feel stressed, angry, burned out, unable to please, discouraged, isolated, afraid to be transparent, and depressed.   They struggle with too few resources, low pay, too many hours at work, whisper campaigns, rumors, cliques and factions, and unfounded accusations.  The common denominator to all of this is the high conflict person.

High conflict people are often the center of the reasons why pastors leave the ministry.  Their whole lives are organized around deep and compelling fears in others simple find difficult to imagine.   And when these, often unacknowledged, fears are triggered, they go on the attack.  All of the fear, anxiety and desperation that they are feeling athe the deepest level must be relieved.  And their first choice is to make someone else take responsibility for the way they are feeling.

Pastors are very vulnerable to high conflict people because of how they approach their lives and ministry.  They are open to all kinds of people and often have a poor understanding of personal and professional boundaries.  They are seen as authorities, examples and held to different standards than the rest of us mortals.

Some high conflict people are too dependent on their pastors for assurance, validation and salvation.   They expect their pastor to take away all of those deeply troubling feelings and overwhelming fears.  And of course, as a pastor, you can’t.  So in the end you disappoint them and their unrealistic demands and expectations.  Maybe you will eventually trigger their deepest fear without meaning to or even knowing how you did it. 

In a effort to stop feeling what they are feeling, high conflict people blame others.   When they are blaming, they feel better.  They have separated themselves from their feelings.  They aren’t responsible.  Now it is the pastor’s turn to feel bad.  To carry the weight of the high conflict persons burdens.  Pastors can be blamed for anything and the blaming can be ruthless.

It is worth noting that sometimes high conflict people are poor, dysfunctional and obviously troubled.  But there are others who are not so easy to identify until they begin to act in high conflict ways.  They can be educated, successful, leaders, and professionals. They can be on staff, on the church board or ministry leaders.  Of course, this makes them all the more dangerous when they are triggered and move into blaming the pastor.

Eventually these attacks wear the pastor and his family down.  It tears at their soul, spirit, mind, emotions, health and relationships.  They become separated form those who love them and are isolated.  They lose hope.  And 30 a week leave the ministry each day, for good.

The Dirty Little Secret of Ministry

The dirty little secret of ministry is this: more pastors leave or are forced out of ministry because of high conflict people than all of the seven deadly sins combined.

09:52 am, by wolvessheepandshepherds11 notes

High Conflict People in Church

Some people are just drawn to conflict.  They seem to need it, even feed on it.   They are driven by deep compelling fears that push them into conflict.  We know them as high conflict people.

Most of us rather not be in conflict with others.  We are looking for ways to get along, cooperate and build mutual, respectful relationships.  It is hard for us to understand why other people seem to need conflict in their lives.

Pastors are particularly vulnerable to the attacks that come from people who are drawn to conflict.  One reason rests in the extraordinary demands we place on our pastors.  We expect them to do more  for longer, with less than mere mortals.  We expect them to be better than others, more than human.  We ask too much.

In conflicts, pastors are often at a disadvantage because of the demands we place on them.   When treated unfairly we expect them to turn the other cheek.  In fact, we might find any other response unacceptable.   It doesn’t matter if the attacks are completely unfounded or only half truths.  Their hands are often tied.

This leaves our pastors in the crosshairs.  They suffer personal attacks in our churches and often it doesn’t go well.   The part of our population that is drawn to conflict finds them easy targets.  And our pastors suffer, their families suffer and our churches suffer.

High conflict people are an ongoing challenge in our churches.  They are here among us already, but we don’t often recognize them.   Most experts in church conflict don’t recognize them.  We are here to help.

08:53 am, by wolvessheepandshepherds3 notes