Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stay Out of Three Sided Circles

Circles are round and don’t have 3 sides.  I know that, even though my grades in geometry were barely passing.  However, when you are drawn into a conflict between two or more persons or groups, you become triangulated.  They make two assumptions.  First, you have the spiritual gift of “refereeing”.  Second, the fact that they got to you first and even came to you at all probably mean that they are assuming you will be on their side.  If you allow yourself to be triangulated, you will find yourself running in circles, putting out fires. 

When I first became a DS, I naively got pulled into issues and ended up adversely impacting the ministry of the pastor at times, and the church at other times.   I would inevitably discover that initially, I did not have the whole story.  On one occasion, some SPRC members asked me if pastors were supposed to teach or lead Bible studies.  My assumption was their pastor wasn’t.  I said, “Yes they were.”  Immediately, from the looks on their faces, I knew I had been had and had given them some ammunition against their pastor.  I spoke with the pastor and discovered that several studies were offered, with an invitation to suggest topics for studies.  No one came or signed up.  It ultimately worked out, but took a lot of time and energy on my part.

While there are times when you have to be the tie breaker, all interpersonal conflicts are not such times.  You need discernment.  Yes, you will probably pay a price for not jumping into the fray over whether to use 8” or 9” plates at the church supper.  As a DS you may have letters generated to the bishop because you didn’t step in and straighten the pastor out.  You may have to live with threats of withholding giving, resigning or leaving altogether.  Unfortunately, people doing these things fail to understand the spiritual implications of such threats.

Here are some strategies for staying out of 3 sided circles.

  1. Approach all conflicts or disagreements in the spirit of Matthew 18:25-17.  Essentially, Jesus says, “Work it out at the lowest level-one on one.”  Therefore, when Brother or Sister X comes presenting their side and wanting you straighten out Brother or Sister Y, you can direct them to God’s word and each other.
  2. Know when to use the authority you have, granted either by scripture or the United Methodist Book of Discipline. 
  3. Know when not to use the authority you have.  Understand the authority you don’t have.  Don’t waste or misuse the authority you have. 
  4. Say, “NO” and tell them they have to work it out.
  5. Maintain boundaries.
  6. If a leadership team or committee has made the decision that someone wants you to overturn, support the team decision.  Direct the person to express their concerns to the team.
  7. If you have to act, be sure to accurately get both sides of the issue.
  8. If you do have to intervene, work to create win-win situations.  Realize that sometimes, you won’t and be prepared to live with it.
Blessings, Bill

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