Conflict Avoidance = Innovation Killer

Decades ago, becoming a learning organization was a common call-to-action in organizational development circles.

That is, it was imperative to develop a culture of continual improvement individually and corporately by various disciplines, such as creating systems and structures for sharing and codifying best practices when there is a clear vision and common ownership. It was really about learning how we learn together. This becomes even more critical in our era of rapidly shifting mores and cultures. Change and learning should be inextricable. And for some of the churches I’ve encountered, it’s change or die. Learning organizations hope to avoid chronic or repeating problems. But what really pushes the learning organization are problems themselves, whether internal or external. The truth is: innovation and its creative force—imagination—is driven by problems. Problems create conflict...and conflict, within reason, is critical. It’s out of conflict that things grow. For instance, every season can’t be sunny summer days, otherwise, all living things would dry up and die. Grey rainy days are necessary. But what is vital is how we view conflict and how we manage it. Or to put it another way, you learned to tie your shoes because it wasn’t optimal to ask mom or dad to tie them every time they came undone. Plus, individuation was a necessary part of growing up and a hovering parent wasn’t cool. My preferred operational mode is harmony; I don’t function well in high-conflict cultures. Conflict sucks the energy out of me. But trying to maintain a “conflict-free” zone is unhealthy, not to mention impossible. And especially in churches. A cursory reading of the book of Acts exposes rifts and challenges and arguments along with structural issues, theological dilemmas, relational breakdowns, church infighting, and on and on. There’s nothing new under the sun. We don’t live in a virus-free world. Rainstorms come and go. Shoestrings break. If you’re a pastor, you know and experience this deeply: conflict goes with the territory! But how you view it, and the innovation it can spur, is important. Part of leadership is to help others see how conflict can be healthy in order for the best solutions to be discovered, and at the very least, impossible to avoid. Some of the best and most energizing moments can be when you as a leader assemble your team, your elders, your board or key volunteers to tackle an issue. If we’ve taken the time to create and reinforce a supportive learning environment, these can be shining moments for our church or organization and bring out our creative best.


Dave Workman | Elemental Churches