Archives for : Handling Conflict

Thick Skinned and Soft Hearted

The difficulty of leadership was summed up in a question I heard asked recently, “How do you keep your heart tender and your skin thick?”  It seems that those around you can say whatever comes to their minds but you must always be careful with what you say and how you say it.  Someone conveyed to me that they are at the age right now that they can say whatever they want because they have earned that right.  I’m still looking for the verse in the Bible that backs up that one. What I do read in Colossians 4:6 is, “Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.”

We all heard in our youth, “Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you.”  Let me say this clearly…that is a lie!  How do you make sure that you do not allow your heart to harden, your attitude to become negative, and your outlook to become cynical?  The first step in this journey is to realize that the most difficult person you will ever have to lead is yourself.  Tony Dungy said this, “What’s wrong with me is that I am a very flawed sinner, and very fertile ground for the subtle wiles, evil plans, and devious ploys of Satan.”

Here are a few things that may help you to keep your heart tender while having thick skin.

First, maintain a close walk with the Lord.  We think we know this, but we cannot forget that it is far more important who we are than what we do.  If we are not protecting and producing a close relationship with the Lord our viewpoints quickly become skewed.  We begin thinking that “they” are out to get us, or “they” have an agenda against us, or that “they” are always talking about us.  “They” can be a figment of our overactive imagination if we are not careful.

Second, you need to consider the source.  There will always be the naysayers and those who are convinced that their opinion is the correct opinion.  Sadly, there are those who seem to love to be negative and so often they are the ones who appear to be more than willing to share that negativity. Take a look at the biblical examples of strong godly leadership and you see people standing against them who were very unspiritual trying to convince the majority not to follow.  Do I need to mention Noah, Moses, Nehemiah, and Jesus? The devil has the ear and the mouth of many.

Third, go to the source when needed.  You should not overreact to every negative comment and make sure you are not being overly sensitive but biblical confrontation is a good thing.  Find out if there is a problem and be willing to listen to them and discuss the problem if one exists.  The key to this step is dealing with this challenge on the lowest possible level and that is always one on one.  Maybe they misspoke or maybe they did not understand the situation correctly and just needed some clarification.  Build into your culture the value of talking to people and not about people.

Fourth, don’t bow and serve the vocal minority.  Usually, you will know if it is just one person or if there are more but do not listen to the overexaggerations made when they speak. They might say “many have been talking to me about this” and that probably should be interpreted as one or two. The other exaggeration is quite often verbalized as  “several have mentioned this to me” and that might mean their spouse.  The reality is that you cannot allow one or two people to hold everyone else hostage to their negativity.  Lovingly but firmly confront them as the Holy Spirit of God leads you.

Fifth, remember that the Lord reminded us that this would happen.  Matthew 5:11 says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”  Unfortunately, people will lie, exaggerate, and say falsehoods against us.  One truth that is very important is to always be open to any kernel of truth there might be. Do not just dismiss but also humbly submit to any correction you might need to be aware of.

Sixth, continue to grow holistically.  If you stop growing closer to Christ the results could be devastating.  In Kingdom First, Jeff Christophersongives us “three key factors that should inspire us to deeply desire to personally take on the character of Christ.”  The first of these three teaches us that our lowest point of character is our highest point of capacity. Jeff goes on to say, “my leadership, especially spiritual leadership, cannot grow beyond my weakest point of character.”  If you are weak in a particular area the devil will expose it and exploit it.  

Seventh, don’t be oversensitive.  This has already been said but it is crucial.  If you are tired, stressed or on the verge on burnout you will begin to notice that you are overly sensitive.  There will be times you will be wondering why it is bothering you when it should not be bothering you.  Stop and take a deep breath and ask yourself two questions.  What is this bothering me and should it be bothering me?  Be honest and open about the fact that sometimes we just too thin skinned and we should not allow these smaller issues to overwhelm us.

If you are going to lead others it is imperative that you lead yourself well.  The apostle Paul challenges the Ephesian leaders in Acts 20:28, “ Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers.”  Don’t miss that the focus is first on “Pay careful attention to yourselves.”  It is a great challenge to keep a soft tender heart while also having a thick skin!

Thriving As A Leader



How do you survive the challenges of ministry?  What do you do when you realize ministry is hard difficult work at times?  Paul spoke of this struggle in II Corinthians 11:28, “Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches.”  After mentioning being imprisoned, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, hungry, thirsty and continually in danger, Paul lists the daily pressure of caring for the churches in the same breath.

There was a day your calling gave you a passion and zeal where you knew God was going to accomplish great and mighty things in your ministry!  Maybe you were fueled by some unrealistic expectations but your faith was grounded on the truth that God is able!  You still believe He is able, at least you think He is, but the realities of difficult ministry, and especially difficult people, has caused some doubt to swell up inside of you.

Can you thrive in your ministry assignment no matter how difficult it may have become?  No, you can’t, but God can by continuing to work in you and through you!  Your calling and the carrying out of that call begins and ends with Him!  In A Work of Heart Reggie McNeal says, “The call involves relationship at its core, not just function or task, though it carries clear task components.”

Are there some things you can do to keep your spiritual battery charged?  Are there some steps you can take to help you when you feel discouraged or disillusioned?  Absolutely!  Here are few things to practice that will definitely help you remain focused and faithful:

  • Run to the Lord Daily – Lamentations 3:22-24 – “Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! I say, The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him.”
  • Remember Your Calling – In the midst of a very stormy meeting with the Sanhedrin the Lord reminded Paul of his calling in Acts 23:11, “The following night, the Lord stood by him and said, “Have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
  • Refresh Yourself Regularly – You must find margin in your life to be able to take a deep breath and relax.  What is it that helps you unwind, relax, and recharge your battery?  Hebrews 4:4 says, “for somewhere He has spoken about the seventh day in this way: And on the seventh day God rested from all His works.”
  • Rely on Trusted Friends – II Timothy 1:16-17, “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus,  because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he diligently searched for me and found me.”  We need friends we can go to and who will come after us!

In 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them, Charles Stone offers a clear path on how to respond to the frustrations of ministry.  It is not “if” frustrations will come but “when” they come.  Here is the strategy that he offers:

  1. “Open Up with Vulnerability” – “Do you have a safe confidant?”  One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to isolate yourself from others who can help.  The Barna Research Group discovered that only “10% of pastors seek counsel to help manage church frustration.” Barna also reported in 2006 that “61% of pastors have few close friends.”  There is a “Lone Ranger” mentality out there in the ministry that is dangerous at best and devastating at worst.  Do not go it alone!
  2. “Own Up with Humility” – “Does what frustrates you jibe with scripture?”  We must be honest about ministry frustrations but we need to also be honest about whether they should frustrate us or not.  Maybe we are getting upset about things that really do not matter as much to God as we think?  Maybe we have been measuring the wrong things and need to change the scorecard.  Stone says this, “The more self-aware we become, the more we can take constructive action in areas detrimental to us, our families, and our churches.”
  3. “Show Up with Integrity” – “Are my responses to ministry frustrations healthy?”  The truth is that people are impacted far more by how you react then how you act.  How are you responding right now to ministry frustrations?  Are you reacting in a Biblical and spiritual manner that is pleasing to God?  Stone offers this wisdom, “As God weans me from letting organizational frustrations (fill in what frustrates you) hammer me, I’m slowly learning to focus on what matters most to His heart: love for Him and love for others.”
  4. “Speak Up with Courage” – “Is what I want really what I need, and who needs to know?”  Unfortunately, there are far too many war stories of ministry gone badly.  The focus here is not sharing those war stories but rather overcoming in the midst of them.  You must seek the face of God to determine what changes need to be made and who you need to share that message with.  Ed Stetzer gives some great advice in this area, “Pastor, your ultimate calling is not first and foremost to pastor a church…but to come to Jesus yourself.”

God wants you to thrive not just survive.  Thriving is not dependent upon what is happening to you but what is happening inside of you!  I Samuel 30:6 says, “David was in a difficult position because the troops talked about stoning him, for they were all very bitter over the loss of their sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God.”

One other step I would suggest…..…buy 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them by Charles Stone…..…it will be a big help to you in your ministry journey!