A Story of Discouragement From Bombay It had never been a busier time in Bombay. The ministry and the Indian urban network were growing. I had come back home before Christmas from a hectic travel program with trips to make overseas and nationally when, suddenly...crash! Before Christmas we heard and experienced the trauma of our daughter's serious problem in her school. She was shattered; we were broken.
How could we recover? Whom could I tell? I shelved travel programs and put everything on hold. At the end it set me back literally nine months of ministry time. I felt I had let my colleagues down both at home and internationally though I knew I was not to blame. Things were going very well. I should not have been surprised at this interference as I have noticed obstacles like this come repeatedly as Satan attacks us at crucial moments in our work. It is not just happenstance!
It was clear that crucial decisions had to be made. The first one was to spend time to care for my family. We changed schools, wondering if we should go so far as to stop schooling altogether in order to lessen the pressure on our daughter. Those were depressing days but full of learning experiences and days of family togetherness and reorientation for all of us. God has taught me about the primacy of family and keeping that foundation intact. The relationship between myself, my wife and my daughter has grown closer. I realize afresh that in ministry, the support and strength of the family is at the base of ministry.
I also found that in a personal struggle it helped me to be transparent and even vulnerable about my struggle. I shared my struggle as openly as possible with peers in ministry in Bombay as well as prayer partners in other places. People were encouraging as well as encouraged themselves. Don't we all struggle in our busy lives to keep our families intact?-Viju Abraham, Bombay
Battling with principalities and powers in our ministries inevitably touches our families. It is crucial that we both expect this and respond with spiritual weapons as well as be transparent with our peers when we are wounded. It is also vital that we don't allow our spouses and children to be sacrificed on the altar of our schedules and programs but be willing to compromise when needed to keep our families intact. Broken families will ultimately result in broken ministries. Our ministries are often like lovers that compete with our families.
Discouragement and conflict also effect ministries directly and internally.
Conflict in Atlanta
Today, we are in Atlanta where preparation for the Olympics has the city literally buzzing with construction and activity. The churches are networking and creative grassroots ministry models are sprouting monthly it seems! Atlanta is a "model of victory and racial reconciliation" to the world. But as we look closely, we see one of the most creative and entrepreneurial ministries called "FCS." In 1993, the FCS staff decided to attend the CCDA Conference on Racial Reconciliation together. On the day of travel, some clear signs of conflict began to show.
We began to realize that the staff who registered for the conference first got rooms in the Conference hotel. Those who signed up later were housed in an overflow area distant from the conference. What we began to realize was that these groups were, without exception, split down the middle by a line of race. Exploring the logistics further, people began to compare and found that some were getting child care service and others weren't; some were being paid for their time on the trip and others were not. Again, this fragmentation came along racial lines. By the time we arrived to the Reconciliation Conference, we were so fragmented racially we weren't even talking to each other!
What could we have done to prepare for this? It took a series of family staff meetings where we began to discuss it and provide opportunities to apologize for our insensitivities. It took months to rebuild the trust among this staff.
Of course in the future, we will be careful in our room assignments, salary considerations and travel arrangements! It could be said that the whole painful experience has been a great teacher and that out of a negative situation came learning and understanding of an old problem. Also, the resolution of a situation of conflict and discouragement has established a more Christ-centered and Christ-like modus operandi.
These two experiences show us that conflict can start at the personal level and move outward. Or, it can be cultural and work backwards even to the extent of destroying personal relationships. In urban ministry, we face both of these.
Identifying the sources of conflict
According to Amitai Etzioni, in the Foundations of Modern Sociology Series: Modern Organizations, there are four common sources of conflict:
Since 85% of conflict resolution is in the recognition of the source of the conflict, diagnosis of the conflict source is critically important. If this can be accomplished successfully, an environment of respect, trust and unity can be created.
In a discussion of the four sources of conflict we find that contextual or environmental conflict could be represented by the trauma of an earthquake. This kind of trauma calls upon all of the resources of the urban ministry system, because it impacts people at the core of their basic needs: food, shelter, and security.
Institutional sources of conflict deal with the conflicting roles of people within a system. A classic example is the conflict between the maintenance manager of a facility whose function is to maintain facilities and the program director whose function it is to use them.
Ideological and theological conflict sources often run along the lines of clashing world views and images which often function as unexamined assumptions. For example, if one's dominant image is militaristic, (Christians as soldiers and the church as "army") and another's is pastoral (Christians as sheep, with the church as sheep-fold), conflict will result. There will be those who can relate to "Onward Christian Soldiers" and those who better relate to "His Sheep Am I."
Very little of what manifests itself as conflict between individuals is truly personal conflict. Rather, conflict between persons often arises out of environmental, institutional, or theological tensions. Because outside tension can lead to conflict between persons, it is essential that we correctly diagnose the origin of our personal preferences, ideas, or needs, and keep this separate from what is the good of an institution or common cause. Mis-diagnosis is probably the chief source of inter-personal conflict and inevitably destroys relationships.
In the city, we all know that how we deal with environmental conflict can lead to conflict in the family. We all live under tensions; urban ministry must be flexible because we all take our shots.
One thing is clear: conflict does not just go away; we have to manage it.
Fairly soon after we changed the structure of our organization, an atmosphere of resentment and mistrust began growing among the staff. From management's point of view, most, if not all, of the changes were positive. The staff, however, perceived the changes as a threat. Problems of communication continued to increase and indeed the whole work was cast into an extremely vulnerable position. Executives felt that their ability to manage was under question and tried to assert even more control, while staff withdrew into their own projects, ignoring management and causing further conflict.
The way we resolved this issue illustrates some of the resources that can be used in conflict resolution.
Now it can be said that the whole painful experience has been healed and that out of a negative situation a much stronger work has been forged. Not only that, the resolution of a situation of conflict and discouragement has established a more Christ-centered and Christ-like atmosphere.
Conflict is inevitable. As a matter of fact, all ministry design needs to take conflict management seriously. Conflict, moreover, needs to be seen as a necessary part of growing and maturing as an organization, and a vital element that can spark the growth of the whole organism.