Underground Fires of Conflict
If I asked you what you believed was the greatest threat to your faith-based organization how would you answer?
Would your greatest concern be financial—how will you raise the money to sustain operations?
Would your fear be more driven by the political realm as you see federal, state, county and municipal governing bodies across the country enacting laws and regulations that restrict the ability of ministries to fulfill their mission and undermine our religious conscience clauses, making requirements of religious organizations that violate their religious beliefs?
Is the source of your sleepless nights the cultural arena where Judea-Christian beliefs are increasingly bombarded from the media, Hollywood and myriad anti-religious groups?
As I have worked with faith-based organizations for most of the last four decades, I have never witnessed a time when the previously mentioned threats have been more of an urgent reality than they are today. The onslaught against religious organizations and their belief systems is relentless and unfortunately, I see no reason to expect any reprieve.
But I do not believe that these relatively new, 21st Century threats are actually the most worrisome that we face as faith-based ministries. Although I have often been involved in dealing with and combating against all the above issues, it is my strong belief that the greatest threat to our ministries is not new at all—it’s as old as humanity.
We can be our own worst enemies.
It started in the Garden of Eden. Cain and Abel just couldn’t get along and it went horribly sour from there. Ever since, interpersonal conflict has plagued mankind, destroying people, societies, countries, and yes, organizations. It is rare to see government agencies, the media, Hollywood or anyone else cause faith-based organizations to fizzle, dissolve or cease to exist, but I have witnessed countless occurrences of interpersonal conflicts that have brought groups to their knees and even resulted in their demise.
Underground fires are at the heart of the worst kind of organizational meltdowns.
In my world, these interpersonal conflicts are called “underground fires,” a name that comes from fires that can persistently burn underground in my arid Eastern Washington environment.
Underground fires are at the heart of the worst kind of organizational meltdowns. They are ignited by the simplest of sparks. Someone says something that is taken by another differently than was intended—a simple misunderstanding. During a stressful situation, a frustrated employee makes a comment to a co-worker with a bite to it—kinda hurtful. A staff member perceives that another is not pulling her weight—a bitter attitude develops. A promotion that was expected by one is offered to another—jealousy erupts.
These and a basketful of other issues are capable of igniting a fire that can smolder for some time without leadership being aware—thus the name “underground fire.” The underground stage is so dangerous to an organization because of how covert it is.
In the underground stage the sparks of misunderstandings, hurt, bitterness, anger, jealousy, attitudes and more are nurtured into embers that can eventually be fanned into full-blown raging fires bent on destroying the leader.
Extinguishing the underground fires of conflict
Because Hell’s demons are so gifted at side-swiping leaders of faith-based organizations in this manner, it is essential to fully acknowledge the risk and prepare for it. To that end, I offer the following advice.
Although interpersonal conflicts will exist as long as there are humans, they don’t have to erupt into destructive fires. I encourage leaders to trust their instincts. Pay attention to the gentle prodding of the Holy Spirit that something is not right. To extinguish these fires as quickly as possible, I recommend implementing a written conflict resolution policy and strictly enforcing it.
If you are an effective leader of a faith-based organization, it’s just a matter of time before you encounter the spirit whose mission is against your mission, whose ultimate goal is to take you out and destroy your organization. Scripture tells us to not to be unaware of the schemes of the devil. Know thy enemy.
When attempting to mitigate and survive an organizational meltdown, the importance of being rooted in Christ and relationships with advocates cannot be overstated. Don’t ever try to do it alone.
Beth E. Chase has more than 35 years of experience working with faith-based organizations in corporate strategic alignment and preventing, identifying and surviving organizational meltdowns. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.