March 15, 2017

Leading Healthy Change Part 7

Written By Cary Schmidt

We’re talking about leading healthy change.

In Part One we discussed discerning “good change” and “bad change.”

In Part Two we discussed the starting point of appreciating “what is” and managing the tension between “what is” and “what could be.”

In Part Three we began discussing the first two of six steps in the process—building healthy relationships and communicating effectively.

In Part Four we revisited and developed the ideas of building strong relationships.

In Part Five we dug a bit deeper into effective communication and examined why it is so vital.

In Part Six we discussed enlisting a team of spiritually mature leaders.

Today we are going to examine how effective leaders solve problems! Let me begin with some questions…

Do you avoid conflict? Do you relish it?

Leaders can do neither. When we step into ministry leadership we abdicate our rights to either avoid conflict or to relish it.

In Acts 6, the early church was experiencing problems—in this case relational, operational problems. The church had grown rapidly, and was experiencing a new level of ethnic integration—Jews and Greeks were suddenly coming together in their new identity in Jesus Christ, and in this new thing called “the church.” It didn’t take long for problems and misunderstandings to arise.

The church family experienced murmuring (grumbling)—Greeks against Jews, over the care of their widows. Greeks felt there was a bias, an unfairness, in the way Jewish widows were cared for over Greek widows.

What happens next is a fantastic model of local church leadership and how we should resolve problems.

First, let’s digress a bit and discuss what does not happen in this passage.

Avoiding Conflict

In many modern church contexts, this murmuring would have been ignored privately, and castigated publicly. The murmurers would have been publicly rebuked in thinly veiled but obvious ways for their complaints. They would have been labeled and shunned as trouble-makers. Of course, the first century and present-day church experiences its fair share of actual trouble-makers, but in Acts 6, these people weren’t trouble-makers. They were simply troubled over a legitimate and resolvable problem.

In avoiding conflict, they could have dismissed the complaints. They could have refused to hear them. They could have buried their heads, hoping the problem would pass. Each of these things would have only made the murmuring louder and more frequent. Avoiding problems always compounds them—they grow exponentially.

Think of it this way. If the Apostles refused to acknowledge and understand the problem, they would have doubled their problems. Then the church would have had a “neglected widows” problem and an “unapproachable leaders” problem. These problems would have only grown more divisive and troublesome with every passing day—all at the cost of the gospel moving forward unhindered.

Insecure or fearful leaders avoid conflict at all costs, but this always hurts the church. Thankfully, the leaders in Jerusalem didn’t avoid conflict.

Relishing Conflict

Also in ministry, I’ve witnessed aggressive personalities that actually love to engage in conflict. They like the fight. They love to feel their authority challenged, and feel validated to behave carnally when it is. This is an equally unbiblical and hurtful response to church problems.

Notice in Acts 6, the church leaders didn’t relish the fight. They didn’t insult the complainers. They didn’t pick a side, dig into a relational bunker, and hurl political grenades at the “other side.” They didn’t view the murmurers as enemies, gossips, or trouble-makers. They didn’t take the complaint personally—as if they were being attacked. They didn’t feel assaulted when leadership blind spots were exposed.

The Apostles didn’t defend themselves and make the complainers the enemy. They didn’t blow up or escalate the conflict by playing the victims or claiming to be treated unjustly. They didn’t call for the church to defend their leadership or their authority. They didn’t morph this into a battle over loyalties— “Who is on the Apostles’ side? Who is on the Greek’s side?”

How messy and hurtful this could have become if the leaders had reactedcarnally.

They didn’t react. They didn’t over-react or under-react.

They responded. With maturity, with grace, with a listening ear, with approachable hearts—they responded.

Let’s take a closer look.

Embracing Conflict

First, the leaders were unified in their ministry heart. The twelve came together in response to the complaint. Their spirit as a group was “How do we resolve this problem?” They didn’t ignore it. They embraced it as a part of their responsibility.

Personally, I believe they saw it through eyes of compassion. I believe they saw people distressed and immediately yearned, in love, to resolve that distress. I believe they wanted the murmurers to once again flourish in local church life.

Second, the leaders were approachable. The complaint somehow reached the leaders. Somewhere in the chain of “talkers” someone finally said, “Hey, the Apostles need to know about this. They would want to help solve this!”

Kudos to the unnamed person or people—that was wise! That person or those people knew the leaders to be approachable and motivated by the spiritual care of the whole body. They weren’t afraid of the “reaction of the leaders.” They didn’t fear that the leaders would misuse the information, or somehow attack the complainers. They saw the leaders as servant-leaders devoted to lovingly solving such problems for the good of all involved. This implies a lot of relational trust between leaders and those they led.

Third, the leaders validated the problem. This is huge! The leaders weren’t dismissive. They didn’t put the problem back on the people. They didn’t invalidate the concerns or rebuke the people for stirring up confusion. They agreed that the problem was legitimate, and owned their responsibility to facilitate a solution.

This is what leaders do—they solve problems.

Leaders embrace conflict for the purpose of loving resolution and reconciliation. They long for the church to be healthy in unity, and therefore enter willingly into the discomfort of problem-solving.

Fourth, they pursued a reasonable solution. The leaders had a meeting with the church in which they proposed the enlistment of additional leaders to share in the growing care-load of the daily ministry.

This solution was a win-win. The widows would be cared for equitably; the Apostles would focus on their primary responsibilities; and the church would have a sustainable leadership model.

In other words, none of their leaders would be “burned out” in over-work. Ministry of the word and prayer was facilitated. Ministry of care was facilitated. More leaders were given opportunity to serve. More people were served well.

Good leadership hears the concern, shares the concern, and searches for the win-win solution of the concern.

Fifth, the solution pleased the whole church. Isn’t it amazing how God’s Spirit restores unity when God’s leaders embrace potentially volatile situations to pursue the work of gracious problem solving.

The murmuring ceased! The conflict was resolved beautifully! The people’s hearts were once again at rest and peace. The church began to flow forward in flourishing care and grace. Rather than becoming nuclear in division and contention, the conflict was reduced to nothing—the fires were doused, the explosives diffused, the ruptures in relationships were healed.

Sixth, (and this is the best part!) the church grew again! Upon the resolution of the problem and the implementation of the solution, the church moved forward again.

The organic thriving of the local church had halted. The church family once turned outward in gospel ministry had begun to turn inward over ethnic favoritism. The fast-moving gospel advance had slowed because of a problem in the daily ministry flow.

Once the problem was identified, the leaders engaged in problem solving and they implemented a fairly complex process of prayerfully identifying, enlisting, training, equipping, motivating, and finally deploying and overseeing new leaders. This process was healthy in every way, from start to finish; and it allowed God’s church to flourish and grow once again.

Right after the solution was implemented, God’s word says this: “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)

Wow! I want to be a part of this church! It’s a place where problems happen, but leaders lovingly help to solve them. What sheep wouldn’t want that kind of “green pasture?”

Run Toward Problems and Graciously Resolve Them

You see, spiritual leaders don’t have the option of either avoiding or relishingconflict. This does not mean we enjoy it. It simply means we recognize that conflict resolution is a part of our God-given call to lead.

Healthy change is always hard for some people. We see in Acts 6 that good leaders are diplomatic—they are shepherds. True leaders don’t run from difficult conversations, hide from problems, or cower behind a wall of unapproachability.

Courageous, loving leaders run to problems—not to win the argument but to win the heart. Their cause is neither to crush nor accost a problem, but rather to compassionately resolve the problem for the good of the heart experiencing that problem.

Leaders who succeed at leading healthy change must be confident enough in Jesus to sit down and talk through difficult conversations. They must take the blame for failed communication or leadership blind-spots. They must understand, hear, and empathize with the burdens on the heart of another—especially when the leader has unwittingly been the cause of those burdens.

If you hide from hard conversations, you will lose hearts that you should have led forward. If you can’t kindly engage in an emotionally difficult conversation, you need to seek a deeper understanding of the gospel that would enable you to mature in this way.

Leadership lovingly resolves problems, even if it means saying, “I’m so very sorry, I didn’t mean to communicate that, would you please forgive my oversight?”

A problem-solving leader is a credible and influential leader. The ultimate and wonderful joy of winning a worried heart is so very worth the journey. Seeing an anxious heart put back at rest is such a wonderful reward of leadership. This is what shepherds do—they calm the fearful, anxious, troubled sheep. They provide an environment of safety and emotional rest.

Problem solving leadership is nothing more than ministering to distressed hearts and helping them return to rest.

Do you avoid conflict? Do you relish it? Or do you graciously, patiently embrace it—for the purpose of resolving it? The gospel runs free in church environments where problems are effectively resolved.

Run to problems, resolve them, bring hearts back together, and watch the gospel be set once again!

“And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)