August 4, 2020

Why Community Living Sucks and What We Can Do About It

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called.” (Eph. 4:1–4)

I run a large team in Niddrie, many of whom are volunteers. Some of whom have severe mental health issues. We work in a tiring and fast-paced ministry. Some weeks are very quiet, like a little oasis of tranquillity. Others are choc-full of activity and incidents. It’s the way of things in the schemes.

Crucial Battleground

Team dynamics are always a battleground in Christian ministry. Satan can never take our salvation, but he likes to sow as much mischief as he can among team members (and also in congregations). Relationships can rapidly become tense if disagreements are not resolved quickly, biblically, and from the heart. There is nothing so poisonous to gospel work as a bitter heart storing up bile, anger, and resentment. I have seen it destroy many people and teams over the years.

Every week, without fail, there will be a disagreement, argument, or moment of stress between two or more of my team members and/or congregation. This is what happens when we put people together, working in close proximity, under pressure, and rubbing up against one another constantly. The cracks start to show. The root sins begin to appear. Personalities conflict.

This is where ‘being missional’ becomes more than a theoretical theological discussion. It’s the dirty side of 24/7 Christian living and discipleship. It’s the time when we sometimes wish for the good old-fashioned ‘two Sundays and one midweek meeting a week’ approach to the Christian life. Where we wish we could just get away from people for five minutes. The times when we get sick of looking at ‘heart issues’. The simple fact is that we can just become dog tired.

Be Careful How You Lead

As leaders, we have to be very careful how we manage, lead, care for, and pastor our teams. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to building and maintaining healthy teams. I am a very direct person. I push myself and I have high expectations of others.

Yet I seek to be very discerning when it comes to these issues. Sometimes people need a kick and sometimes they need a word of encouragement. Much of leadership is down to discerning the moment and the character of the individual(s) concerned.

Here are some ‘don’ts’ when it comes to dealing with tired and stressed out team members:

1. Don’t seek to impose your will over them. This will not help and only build resentment.

2. Don’t back people into corners when it comes to dealing with arguments or tensions. People under pressure will not respond logically, never mind biblically. People need space and time to work things through. Some people, like me, need to sort things out straight away. Others need a bit more ‘processing time’.

3. Don’t guilt trip people into falling into line. They need to be encouraged and prompted by the Holy Spirit in order for real heart change to occur.

4. Don’t sweep issues under the carpet and hope they go away. They won’t. People need to bring sins out into the open and deal with them in a mature manner.

Here are some ‘do’s’ of dealing with team members:

1. Encourage them that stress and tension are a normal part of the Christian experience. Often people have an idealism when it comes to working in Christian teams. Christians argue, they sulk, they simmer, they harbour resentment. In short, they sin. The question is not how to avoid these things but how to deal with them. This is the nuts and bolts of real spiritual growth, and why we should embrace conflict (which, to be clear, is different from seeking it) and not run from it. All of our experiences are an opportunity to learn.

2. Take the sting out of any stress. Proverbs 15:1 reminds us that,“a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger”. Don’t rush in to the ‘presenting issue’ but rather take your time to build up a bigger picture.

3. Listen to people without interruption. This is easy if you agree with them. It requires a whole different skill-set, however, when you know that they are in the wrong. People need to feel like they are being taken seriously even if their responses are unbiblical.

4. We need to encourage people in their giftings and not chide them for what they cannot do (1 Thess. 5:2).

Above all, a good leader will pray for his team in accordance with Ephesians 4. Remember, people follow vision, vision attracts leaders, leaders make ministry, ministry upsets Satan, he sows discord, ministry goes off track, leaders get dejected, and Satan is happy. We must break into that cycle with the healing balm of the gospel and apply it by knowing the personalities and quirks of each team member, being wise to the wiles of the evil one. If there is no conflict in your team then you either have (a) no team or (b) superficial relationships.

Community living is messy but completely worthwhile. Remember, we are not inviting people onto the set of The Waltons when we invite them to our church. We are inviting them into a messy, sinful community of different kinds of people who get tired, stressed, and often wind each other up. What should be different is how we respond to these things as Christians hoping to live for the glory of Christ.

We press on.

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