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It seems like one of the places you find the most dysfunction in churches is around the topic of “hard conversations”.  If you have the heart of a shepherd, you don’t enjoy difficult conversations. In fact, we dread them.  They keep us up at night.  They put knots in our stomach.  As church leaders we like blessing people and encouraging them.  We like to cast vision and lead.  We are diplomatic and kind.  We excel at extending God’s grace and forgiveness. We love to help people discover their God-given potential. 

But when it comes to correction, rebuke, or confrontation, to say it’s uncomfortable is a massive understatement.  The truth is, we avoid it at all costs.  That has certainly been true of me.

I remember a time when there were significant difficulties with a member of my team.  Priding myself on my diplomatic skills, I thought I could correct these issues without making this a big ordeal.  I was wrong.  It did become a big ordeal and my unwillingness to confront the issues directly ended up causing a lot of confusion and hurt.  I’m not sure the situation could have been salvaged, but my team member deserved better from me.

Here is the irony, in trying to not upset people and make waves, just the opposite happens.  In our attempt to avoid conflict we actually end up creating conflict. There is no easy button when it comes to handling these situations.  Having courageous conversations is messy but not having them ends up making things even more messy.

Susan Scott talks about one of the errors we often make when attempting to have a courageous conversation.  She says we use “too many pillows”. We soften the message to lessen the impact and avoid hurting people’s feelings.

“The trouble is, sometimes we put so many pillows around a message that the message gets lost altogether.”

This isn’t a free pass to be harsh or unkind, but it is a call to be clear.  Clarity is always a friend to a leader.

Let me share with you the 7 top reasons for learning the skill of hard conversations. Then, in the next blog I am going to share a technique I use that has helped me be both kind and clear.

1.    It is right and best for the other person. 
If the people you lead are failing in some way, they deserve to know.  Until you let them know the score, they are likely operating on the assumption that they are winning.

2.    You will deal with problems before they are a full-blown crisis.
So often in the church, problems are ignored until we just can’t take it anymore or it has become a crisis.  I wonder how many times the situation and the person could have been salvaged if we had just had the honest conversation earlier.

3.    It is a release valve for your own frustrations.
If we refuse to address problems, it will end up affecting our attitude toward the person. 

4.    People will respect you. 
People who have mastered the skill of modeling truth and grace will always be respected.  This makes me think of Proverbs 28:23 (NLT) where Solomon says In the end, people appreciate honest criticismfar more than flattery.

5.    You will create a culture of honesty.
I will never forget what Admiral Abrashov said in his book It’s Your Ship.  “your people always know the score even when you don’t want them to.”  When you have the courage to have hard conversations, your people get the message that “we deal with problems, we don’t ignore them.”

6.    You will model how to deal with problems like adults.
If anyplace ought to model doing this well, it is the church.  Hard conversations will always surface our insecurities, so how we do this matters greatly.  But we should model for our congregation that mature Christ followers can actually sit down and work through a conflict.  And, we can handle problems with both truth and grace. 

7.    It is imperative for having a healthy culture.
Patrick Lencioni says teams who don’t engage conflict “resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.”

So, decide today. Decide to learn the skill of hard conversations. Stop making excuses. Own it.  Put a stake in the ground. The strength of your leadership and the health of your team depends on it. 





Lance is the founder of Replenish ministries and is often referred to as a Pastor’s Pastor.  He is also the author of the book Replenish, which is dedicated to helping leaders live and lead from a healthy soul.  Before launching Replenish, Lance served 20 years as a senior pastor and 6 years as an Executive/Teaching pastor at Saddleback Church. 

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