Fighting Fair

Fighting Fair

Recently I had an incident of conflict with a student whose repeated disregard for instructions had become so critical that she was at risk of being dismissed from Titus 2’s residence, which I knew would be disastrous for her given other circumstances of her life.  Hoping to avoid that, I sought one last time to get through to her.  When faced with conflict, her pattern in the past has been to run.  This time, however, she recognized that was not an acceptable choice for her.  She had to stay, cry, reflect, talk, negotiate, and work it through.  It has led to much more open conversation between us and confidence on her part that she CAN stand and work things through.  Victory!

Yesterday I met with a young lady whom I had dismissed from Titus 2’s residential program a few months ago under contentious circumstances.  She had reached out to me seeking some assistance and I responded with the help she requested.   She told me how she had risen to the challenge that had been put before her to change or lose some precious relationships.  Consequences had forced her to evaluate her choices.  She said that sometimes a “kick in the backside” and the very real risk of loss of precious valued relationships is the motivation that one needs to change.  We had a nice visit over Starbucks coffee and were able to agree that our shared goals had been achieved.  She learned better decision-making and accepted responsibility for her behavior and I was privileged to re-engage with a young lady in a re-negotiated relationship in which she and I both could enjoy our friendship with some common values in place.

I have had a fair amount of experience with conflict through the years, both personally and in ministry.  One pastor who knows me well observed that he has seen me stand firm in the face of conflict many times.  I don’t run from it. He said, “I’ve seen you strive to stay engaged in a way that allows for continuation of the discussion to get to resolution for everyone involved.  And when you’ve been wrong, you made every effort to make it right.”   Sadly, when others have an agenda that does not include an option for a loving and mutually beneficial resolution and they choose not to talk the issues through, there is little one can do to require them to do so. Keeping one’s eye on love can be difficult in such circumstances.   This is a topic that turns up regularly in our Titus 2 ministry, teaching women who are often extremely conflict averse (as well as averse to accepting personal responsibility for their lives) to work through differences.  We see enough success to know that it CAN be done!  This next Monday, April Bergloff will be starting the Conflict Resolution and Overcoming Anger class again.   I have been working with students on healthy boundary setting, self-evaluation of motives, assertiveness training, and emotional literacy.

“We all handle conflict in different ways – some of us avoid it at all cost while others enter conflict ready to win the battle. Neither of these approaches, though, will get us to the end goal of Jesus’ command to love others as ourselves. That’s why Maggie Johnson is showing us the practical ways we can choose to fight fair in ministry.”   (Denise Alvarez’s introduction to this week’s featured article at


CAN YOU FIGHT FAIR IN MINISTRY?   August 31, 2016  //  Maggie Johnson

If you’re in ministry, then you know conflict is part of the job. In college, one of my professors used to say, “Ministry would be easy if it wasn’t for the people.”

Our class would always giggle because of the absurdity of that statement, but the truth is that ministry is hard work. From disagreements on the leadership team to church members feeling overlooked, we have to sort out how to have healthy conflict in our spheres of influence.

This starts by acknowledging that conflict is a good thing. The presence of conflict means we’re being honest and vulnerable with all of our mess and insecurities and failures and mistakes.  However, there are a few things we can do to make sure our conflict is healthy and effective.

Assume positive intent.

Our worst arguments spiral out of control when we assume that the other person is intentionally trying to wound us. In contrast, when we start with the assumption that the other person has our benefit in mind, conflict is easier to navigate. This rings true in every area of my life – in ministry, in marriage and beyond.

Use “I” statements.

When attempting to communicate your own feelings and hurts, starting a sentence with “you” sounds accusatory and will immediately put the other person in a defensive posture. Example: “You hurt me when you didn’t invite me to be part of the retreat planning committee.” Instead, say: “I felt sad and hurt when I didn’t get an invitation to join the retreat planning committee.” Do you see the difference? You can communicate the same emotion in a more effective way by simply restructuring the sentence.

Say what you know.

It’s important for people to feel loved and affirmed, even when we disagree. Before offering a rebuttal, say things you know to be true about the other person. Offer statements like, “I know you care about this ministry and want the best for our women,” or “I can tell you’ve put a lot of thought into this and I really appreciate that.” When you say what you know to be true, it diffuses any unneeded tension and places trust at the center of the conversation.

Remember the goal.

The goal is not to win; it is to love well. When the focus becomes about winning the argument, we have lost. Remembering the goal of the conflict will help to keep a healthy perspective on what needs to be said and what does not.

Conflict isn’t supposed to be easy, but healthy disagreements can ultimately lead to more trusting relationships. The women we lead are watching how we live our lives – even when and especially how we handle conflict. We have the opportunity to show people how Jesus cares for them simply by the way we handle difficult conversations like these.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:11-12


Can You Fight Fair in Ministry?


Assuming positive intent is excellent counsel.  Unfortunately, when there is clearly aggressive, dismissive, or avoidant behavior at work on the part of those with whom one engages and/or negotiates and evidence of another’s unwillingness to discuss the issue, to offer explanation for why one has taken a particular position, or to listen to how it impacts others with a vested interest in the issue, one is likely facing a power play or ulterior motives at work and a decision has to be made……accept the behavior (aggressive, dismissive, or avoidant) on the part of others and walk away (or let them walk away) or take a stand and force the issue.  It’s a classic choice of fight or flight in the face of a perceived threat.   The greater the vested interest one has in the issue at hand, the more critical one’s choice of response becomes.   And, there is a third response that may occur…..immobilization, which can lead one to question the value proposition of the issue and the relationships involved altogether, which some have called a “crisis of faith”.   When one takes the position that winning one’s point, especially by refusing to make an effort to work through the differences, takes precedence over the relationships involved, then love loses.  It happens far too often, even among Christians.        Cathy Byrd  8-31-16