Conflict Transformation
(a Leaders' Nook interview with Troy Cady)

Troy Cady


One of the specialities you bring to the table as a trainer of church planters is conflict transformation. Tell us about that.
I'm keenly interested in conflict because it's always there. If we don't learn how to do it well, it can greatly hinder what God wants to do through us as kingdom people. In fact, it can bring our work to a grinding halt. While serving in Spain I said farewell to many fellow Christian workers who headed home discouraged. Nine times out of ten conflicts with their teammates were major players in their departure.

Ministry involves conflict. We can't do ministry without it. For a long time this came as a surprise to me, but now I realize it shouldn't. The gospel is a ministry of reconciliation. The battle for reconciliation is the essence of the gospel, and the battle starts with us.

I'm intrigued that you use the term conflict transformation rather than conflict resolution.
I actually stole the term from my teammate April Crull who did her masters thesis on conflict transformation. There's a push and a pull in the terminology. The push is that most of the conflicts we have are actually not resolvable. A lot of times our personalities and the ways we're wired simply give rise to tension.

Take for example the differing experiences of an extrovert and an introvert in a brainstorming session. We do a high-energy brainstorm and at the end we make a decision. The extrovert thinks on the fly and leaves feeling satisfied. The introvert might take a few weeks to come up with his ideas but the decision is already made. Where's the voice of the introvert in this? It's not fair! There's a conflict ready to happen. A lot of our conflicts (psychologists say 60-70%) are not resolvable. That's just the way it's going to be.

That's part of what makes the body of Christ the body of Christ. We will always live with the tension of our differences. The question to ask is not How can we get rid of conflict? but rather How can we transform it?

And that's the 'pull' of conflict transformation?
It sure is. Gary Thomas' view of marriage is relevant to conflict transformation. He suggests that the purpose of marriage is not to make us happy but to make us holy. Wrestling through our tensions makes us holy if we allow it to change us into better people.

Artists too are in the business of transformational work. They take things that stand in tension with one another and combine them in a way that disturbs or disorients us and awakens our imagination so we can re-orient ourselves. Conflict also becomes transformative if we allow it to put us back together again so that it brings glory to God.

So accepting conflict as a given in life can actually transform our inner being?
Yes if we can accept conflict as normal and find a way to engage in it fruitfully, it transforms who we are as Christian leaders. The process sanctifies us and makes us more holy and set apart for God and Kingdom work.

How you go about changing this mindset as you're working with church planting teams?
First of all I try to model a posture of curiosity, being inquisitive, and learning to become a good question asker. The questions can be self-reflective, where you're seeking to understand the part you play in the tension, and to learn something about yourself in the midst of it.

I also teach on becoming a patient, non-anxious leader. Edwin Friedman, who has applied family systems theory to church life (Generation to Generation*), tells of the importance of cultivating a non-anxious presence. Anxious environments paralyze us, locking us down. If as leaders we can cultivate non-anxious environments by being a non-anxious presence ourselves, it has a powerful effect on helping others move into the freedom and abundance of life that God desires for us.

This brings it back to the interior life of the leader. It's essential that we're immersed in the grace of God and are having personal experiences with God that that are deep and transformative. God sees us, knows us and is our defender. You encounter all these things when you immerse yourself in the grace of God, generously supplied for your own life. From this place of receiving grace, you can to slow down, be patient and not threatened, able to seek out the other, and ask questions.

Built into the term conflict transformation is a sense that change doesn't happen overnight. Growth takes time. Would you give us a real life example to encourage us forward?
I'm working with a leader now whose church plant is about two years old. At this phase people begin to own it, rhythms develop and the leader can start to feel threatened about what he's built. Jim van Yperen says, "The first instinct of most leaders is to respond defensively when challenged. It is always the worst response." Wow, that's quite the statement! I've seen that at work. If someone brings a critique we feel personally threatened and we internalize it as a personal challenge. This was happening regularly in this man's team.

When I first met 'Stan' he exuded anxiety. He brought a folder six inches thick that was filled with random papers. He was constantly taking notes. Toward the beginning I coached him in adopting a posture of non-anxiety. Within three months his director came to me and said, "I've really noticed a change in Stan, he seems calmer." Wow. At the end of the residency I met with him and his group of leaders for a celebration as he finished the residency. We went around the circle and everyone shared the progress they'd seen in Stan and the church plant. Three-quarters of them said, "We notice you feel much more relaxed in your role." They said it with gratitude. With him being able to relax, entertain questions and be inquisitive, he drew them out and they actually gained a voice in the work. It took ten months and we had to keep coming back to it again and again and again, but it happened.

That must have been a moment of celebration for his coach.
For sure. Another encouragement is that he said he'd entered the residency to learn more about how to do missional church, but the biggest thing he'd learned was about the grace of God. And as he was learning about the grace of God for his own soul, his team was seeing someone who could come to Jesus and rest and lay down his burdens at the foot of the Saviour.

That's a great segue into our second topic, the story behind your Twitter feed and your own life of prayer. But we'll save that for next time.

Troy Cady has been serving with Christian Associates since 1998. Together with his wife Heather and their children, Meaghan and Nicolas, Troy spent twelve years church planting in Spain, first in Barcelona and then as the team leader of Mountainview and Oasis, both in Madrid. Since moving to Chicago in mid-2010, Troy has been on the North American Advancement team and co-leader of team building for Christian Associates. Troy writes a blog and twitters, but only once a day. That will be the subject of our next Leaders' Nook interview.

*Being a non-anxious presence is clearly a hot topic for leaders. Miriam Phillips also speaks about the effect this has had on her leadership.


Conversation Prompts:
How does Troy's confidence in the effect of being immersed in the grace of God speak to you? Have you seen conflict transformation at work for the good of your team or your own growth as a leader?

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