Off The Shelf Review: “Conflict Management For Faith Leaders” by Houston E. Thompson

Disclaimer: Occasionally, I receive books from Beacon Hill Press with the request to read and review on this site. Aside from being provided a copy of the book, I am not compensated in any way for this post. All comments and opinions are my own. 

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Conflict Management coverIf you’re in the leadership business. 

If you’re a pastor.

If you are married.

If you have friends.

If you are a living, breathing human being, and if you deal with other living, breathing human beings, you’ve been and will continue to find yourself in conflict.

Along with the laws of thermodynamics, Newton’s apple inspired Law of Gravity, and to a lesser degree, Murphy’s law, there should also be a law which states that when two people are in the same room, chaos will inevitably ensue. After all, it’s only natural!

People have opinions (often strongly held ones, at that) and expectations, and when people don’t match up to, or go along with these opinions or expectations, relational tense is sure to follow.

Conflict, for good or ill, is with us for the long run.

Breaking it down

What I loved:

1. I appreciate how Mr. Thompson brings a narrative form to the issue of relational conflict. Conflict is filled with faces, voices, skin and bones. These chapters reflect this “real-ness” and are filled with anecdotes which creates an easy read (though, don’t mistake ease of reading for ease of practice!).

2. I appreciate Mr. Hunter’s desire to add “handles” to the issue of interpersonal conflict. As pastors, we’re often guilty of taking conflict and making it “Otherworldly” or ethereal. Hunter, however takes this ethereal concept and he brings it down to earth. He talks about the in’s and out’s of what it means to be in conflict, and he does it with depth and clarity. He doesn’t give the reader an “out,” which would allow us to over-spiritualize conflict (be it our tendency to use the Bible to proclaim all conflict as evil, or just the other person as evil). Rather, he calls each of us to account for our participation in the conflict, to deal with it head-on, and to find way towards restitution and reconciliation.

3. I appreciate his ability to name the unique brand of conflict typically present in the church. In the church, we often default to naming conflict between two people as spiritual warfare. When we do this, we refuse to see the nuance and intricacy within conflict, and we blind ourselves to the ways in which we can find healing in the midst of strife.

As Mr. Thompson names the different patterns and behaviors often present within conflict, he helps the reader process through which tactics they might choose to employ, and how one might be more successful than another. This helps the reader see that dealing with conflict cannot, and never should be approached as, “one size fits all.” This gives the reader hope that, while they might currently find themselves bogged down in conflict, there will be a day when this conflict will cease.

4. I appreciate his willingness to name the importance within conflict instead of over-spiritualizing or demonizing it. When conflict enters our lives, or when we witness conflict in others’ lives, we try to find and name the villain or the victim. Conflict rarely has a clear-cut victim or villain (that’s not to say it never happens…just not as often as we try to declare). As the old adage goes, there are always two sides to every story.

What I didn’t

I felt as though, if Houston was guilty of anything, it was erring on the side of oversimplification. I mentioned previously that I loved Houston’s ability to draw distinctions between different conflict resolution tactics. The positives of this approach is it allows the reader to think through conflict and to see it as the unique and multifaceted issue that it is. While there were some positives in this approach, I believe there are also some negatives.

I found this book spending it’s time talking about specific conflict resolution styles while overlooking the reality that, within most conflict, there will be a need to work through multiple or various conflict resolution tactics or approaches. Conflict, like a dance, evolves and changes as 2 (or more) people work through the pain and struggle together. There will be times when one must be direct, yet there will be other times in the same situation when they must be subtle or gentle. There is beauty in naming the various ways in which we can resolve our differences, however we must not assume life and conflict will ever fit into a neat box.

When we approach conflict in this way, the only neat box we’ll see is our own casket.

Conclusion

Conflict Management For Faith Leaders is a solid and important read for those whose job it is to deal with people and the conflict that comes with these beautiful relationships. While it can err on the side oversimplifying a few issues, this is a book that offers great insight and important wisdom in regards to how we as pastors and faith leaders should move forward in the frightening, yet beautiful world of conflict.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Would I recommend it to others? Yes.

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