LEADING IN TIMES OF CONFLICT
When facing conflict, take the high road: It seems as though there is far too much conflict in leadership today, so I’m hot on the trail to do my part to help. It is my desire to bring both practical and redemptive remedies to help strengthen the local leadership. If you have read much of what I’ve written, you know I love the leaders and the reason we exist. So it is my prayer that God will use these writings to make a difference. Have you ever served under a leader who treated you unfairly? Listen to this story from the bible.
The Dad tried to kill his son’s best friend, more than once. (I Samuel 20:33) In return, the son’s best friend spares the father’s life, when he could have easily taken it. The first attempt is when Saul throws a spear at David and tries to pin him to the wall. But David escapes the spear twice that day. (I Samuel 18:10-11) Next, Saul tries to trick David to fight the Philistines, promising his daughter, Michal, to be David’s wife. Saul intends for the Philistines to kill David, but instead, David kills 200 Philistines as a dowry for Michal. In Chapter 19, Saul commands his servants to kill David. At this point, Jonathan begs his father not to kill David and Saul swears that he won’t be killed.
But three verses later, Saul throws another spear at David, following another victory with the Philistines. Again, David escapes. The next morning Saul sends his messengers to kill David, but Michal helps David flee. Chapters 20-23 are the accounts of the places David stops while he is being chased by Saul. In Chapters 24:4-10 and 26:5-11, David has two opportunities to kill Saul, but he spares Saul’s life both times. David restrains his soldiers, saying, “I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.” I Samuel 24:10 “Who can stretch out his hand against the Lord’s anointed without guilt?” I Samuel 26:9
The final scene of this terrible conflict is when the Philistine archers wound Saul and he takes his own sword and falls on it. Saul kills himself so that the Philistines can’t torture him.
Compared to your leadership, this may seem like an unfathomable tabloid account, but we all have much to learn from David’s steadfast conviction to honor God by taking the high road when he could have easily justified killing the King. Unfortunately, in too many leadership places, interpersonal conflict rages and threatens the health of the institution. There may be no spears thrown, but gossip and slander is hurled without remorse. There may be no physical war, but the emotional battles are abundant. There may be no suicide, but many leaders quit just to escape the pain.
I know all too well that many staff and volunteers have served under jealous and insecure leaders. This article is dedicated to those of you who have not been blessed with a trusted and secure leader, with hopes of encouraging you and challenging you to do right even when others do wrong to you.
David was so confident that God was in control of this situation that he could trust God with his reputation and future. When he had the opportunity to kill the King, he didn’t take it. He knew God was in control and had a different plan.
Second, don’t believe that you can’t accomplish meaningful purpose under a difficult leader. David was living proof that you can accomplish much under a jealous and insecure leader.
Find your niche, excel, and stay connected to the team as a whole. Don’t give in to the temptation to withdraw and do your own thing. Do your very best and give your ministry your all, but don’t buy into the trap that says, “Just stay in your little area, do your thing, and let others deal with the mess.” That only promotes the problem. Those near you will sense your withdrawal and though you may never say a word, they will sense your distance and lack of team interaction. Do your thing, and do it well, but stay connected to the big picture and the team as a whole.
Be prepared that success may bring you difficulty.
“Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” (I Samuel 18:7) As David returned to town after killing Goliath he was honored and praised. He had come from a peasant background in Bethlehem, as a shepherd boy, and the youngest of seven brothers to become the hero of the day. I Samuel 18:8-9 reads: “Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him: ‘They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed only thousands.’ Now what more can he have but the kingdom? And Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on.”
The situation gets worse. Read what I Samuel 18:12-14 reveals: “Now Saul was afraid of David, for the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. Therefore Saul removed him from his presence, and appointed him as his commander of a thousand; and he went out and came in before the people. And David was prospering in all his ways for the Lord was with him.”
King Saul was jealous of David. He likely gave this military assignment to David because he was hopeful that David would be killed in battle. But David acted as an honorable and successful soldier, even in the midst of difficult circumstances. It doesn’t always work well, and fairness went out the window long ago. But like David, do the right thing anyway.
If it’s time to leave, then leave, but do it in a way that honors your leader.
Understand that it is not your job to fix your leader. If he or she needs to change, that’s between them and God. Situations may use you to influence your leader and you may be a valuable instrument of change in your leader’s life. However, that is extremely different than spearheading an effort to force them to change because you think that someone must do something. I promise you, taking on your leader will not result in the good of the institution.
If your inner person directs you to say something to your leader, then say it in private. If he or she chooses not to accept what you have to say, drop it. It is not likely to be your job to take matters into your own hands. If after you have spoken the truth in love privately you still get nowhere and the issue at hand is just unacceptable to you, then you leave. Don’t stay and split the institution. Don’t make a big fuss on the way out. Don’t say things you will regret. Don’t do anything that will hurt the institution in the long run. Take the high road even if you have been wronged.
Finally, God will bless you if you honor Him and His Word.
God blessed David for obeying Saul. “So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and prospered; and Saul set him over the men of war. And it was pleasing in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.” David’s obedience got him a promotion, gave him favor with the people, and won the respect of those he led.
God’s economy is different than that of the world. The world gets even, we turn the other cheek. The world is out for glory, while we serve without recognition. I’m not suggesting that you or any other leader become a doormat. That is contrary to the essence of leadership. I only want to encourage you to take the high road even when life presents you with difficult challenges.