Stress, conflict and why congregations need them

Writing for the Alban Institute, Jeffrey D. Jones advances the counterintuitive notion that stress and conflict are good for congregations:

Despite the ideal image of the loving, peaceful congregation in which everyone is happy—an image deeply ingrained in most all of us—leaders at times need to encourage conflict. They need to act in ways that make conflict inevitable. They need to enhance, not reduce, conflict. Doing these things is difficult. Few of us enjoy conflict. For many of us, taking deliberate actions that will lead to conflict runs counter to both personal desire and our image of our role in the congregation. The very thought of it may make our stomachs tighten, our hearts pound, and our palms sweat. And yet, at times inciting conflict is what effective and faithful leadership demands.

The leadership role in facing an adaptive challenge is not to provide answers, because no one knows what answers are needed to address the concerns the organization is confronting. The key to discovering the answers is giving the work back to the people, so that the answer can emerge from their experience. What do the people have to offer that enables this answer to emerge? In a word: conflict. The appropriate responses to adaptive challenges most often emerge out of a conflict of values within the organization. Sometimes the conflict is between values held by different groups. Sometimes it is between professed and lived values. But the answers needed nearly always emerge from a conflict of values. Without the conflict, there can be no answer.

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