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Handling Conflict in Your Sports Ministry
By: Tim Briggs

The question is not if conflict is going to happen but rather when conflict is going to happen. It’s my contention that there is conflict in every game. People can hide their anger and frustration well. Some people can’t.

I personally try to abide by the 5-minute rule. The 5-minute rule is this: If you are bothered by something for more than 5 minutes, then you need to do one of two things: 1)  Forgive and move on or 2) Address the situation with the person(s).

Unfortunately, I often don’t abide by the 5-minute rule, and I’m sure you don’t either. So, let’s discuss how we typically handle conflict:

1. We tell everyone about it except the person who actually wronged us (sports minister, other coaches, players, parents, etc.).

2. We often exaggerate the situation to make ourselves look righteous and victimized while making the other person look evil.

3. If we do deal with it, we handle it passive aggressively—making rude comments to the person, posting on Facebook, etc.

So, how should we handle this conflict (this applies to a parent, coach, player, referee, sports minister, etc.)?  These principles come from Matthew 18:15-20.

1. Deal with the conflict personally and on a one-to-one basis (“…go and show his fault, just between the two of you.”)

2. Be honest (“…go and show his fault…”)

3. Forgiveness is the goal (“If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”)

4. Appeal to others if necessary (“But if he will not listen, take one or two others along…”)

Now we’ve discussed how we should approach conflict, let’s discuss how we should receive complaints, criticisms, and confrontations.

Again, let’s look at how we typically handle it:

1. We immediately become defensive and deny the allegation (even if it’s true).

2. We disparage the person making the criticism. We go on a counteroffensive and attack their shortcoming/sin.

So, how should we respond?

Fight the urge to be defensive.

Remember, in Christ, you don’t have to prove that you’re right all the time. Your identity is secure in Christ thereby relieving the pressure to prove you’re right. You can humbly accept criticism and rebuke. Elyse Fitzpatrick says it better: “Defensiveness is a failure to understand and rest in Christ’s finished work. You don’t need to be right, you need death and resurrection.”

Honestly evaluate whether or not there’s truth in what they’re saying.
Sleep on it. Pray on it. Ask your wife/husband what they think. There’s no shame in admitting failure or sin. In fact, it’s recommended! Regardless, show kindness and compassion even if you disagree.

Tim Briggs is the creative media pastor at Church at Charlotte in Charlotte, North Carolina. He blogs regularly at Church Sports Outreach, www.csosports.org.

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