Posted by: Mike Willoughby | March 15, 2012

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along (Part 4)

Have you ever been involved in a discussion, making progress toward agreement only to have the discussion cut short by an interruption or artificial deadline?  It can be frustrating to feel that more progress was possible than what was made – like an opportunity lost.

In the last Why Can’t We All Just Get Along article, I wrote about the kind of open and honest debate that can lead to resolution of conflict.  Using the example of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 as a case study, I proposed that a leader must create a venue and a forum for discussion and debate of just one issue at-a-time and then be available to moderate the debate when passions start to boil over.  One of the most challenging things for a leader to do is moderate a discussion without interjecting his opinion too early or too passionately which has the effect of shutting down the discussion.  Leaders naturally possess a higher level of institutional influence and therefore, their opinions tend to count for more than the opinions of the team.  In order to achieve the maximum potential of the debate, a leader must be very careful how she uses her own influence to either progress the debate or shut it down.

Take a look at our Acts 15:6-12 passage to see this concept in action.

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.  And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.  And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.  Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?  But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”  And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

Notice in the underlined portions of the passage how Peter (who was a very influential leader in the church) stood up to speak only after there had been considerable debate.  Also notice the effect his opinion had on the debate – “all the assembly fell silent.”  This effect can be very good for the debate if a leader uses his influence at the right time and for the right purpose.  Peter allowed the debate to continue for some time and no doubt heard both sides passionately argue their perspectives.  Perhaps passions threatened to boil over at times.  At the right time, Peter stood up to influence the debate with his personal testimony of how God had instructed him to take the Gospel to the non-Jews.  Peter did not tell them anything new – everyone at the meeting would already be very familiar with Peter’s story of being sent to speak to Cornelius.  However, notice what happens when Peter brings the meeting back to the facts.  It allows Paul and Barnabas to relate the events of their travels in Asia Minor, Greece and Macedonia and all the signs and wonders God had done through Paul and Barnabas to reinforce the validity of their mission to bring the Gospel to non-Jews.

Peter’s patience and willingness to let the others have their say enabled the conflict to move to resolution.  Perhaps Peter could have stood up right away without allowing debate to occur.  However, that would have resulted in only one perspective being aired and one side feeling “shut-down” before their opinion could be heard.  A decision might have been reached but would consensus have been realized or would some delegates have felt like they had been railroaded into the decision?  A good leader waits to jump into the conversation until debate has had a chance to work and then only to accomplish the purpose of moving the discussion forward.  In this case, Peter jumped into the conversation to allow the debate to move forward by providing Paul and Barnabas an opportunity to have the floor to present their testimony.  Peter did not shut down the conversation – he kept it on track to resolution.  In the process, he probably showed his own leanings in the debate, but he influenced the discussion rather than dictating the direction.  He allowed Paul and Barnabas to state their case and only after both sides had been thoroughly heard would it be time for a decision.  This is one of the toughest lessons for a leader to learn – especially a passionate (perhaps even opinionated) Type-A leader like me.  However, it’s one of the most important lessons to learn if you are going to lead a team through the process of making tough decisions as a team.  When it comes to conflict management, we can all take a page from Peter’s leadership playbook.

In the next article, I will take a look at how another very influential church leader also patiently waited to contribute to the discussion and then used his influence to bring the issue to a successful conclusion.  His example of building a consensus decision that everyone could buy into and support coming out of the meeting is the most important lesson of this series.

Until next time,

Meet me at the intersection!

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