Are you prepared for conflict?

 My mentors prepared me for my spiritual journeys and ministry. They taught me to pray, study, and apply the Bible. They equipped me with a plethora of ministry skills—but not one ever mentioned to expect conflict. No one told me that every ministry leader, lay or paid, experiences criticism, personal attacks, and church politics.

Don’t believe me? Who would qualify as one of the most honest, amiable, godly Christian leaders alive today? I'm nominating the pastor of Stonebriar Community Church and Bible teacher on Insight for Living, Chuck Swindoll, who is also chancellor of the seminary where I minister. Now here is a man that no one would dare attempt to discredit, right? Surely he ministers so effectively that no one could find fault with his life and teaching. I thought so too until he stood at our chapel podium announcing, “There is not a week of my life that I don’t receive hate mail. Not a week goes by that someone does not deliberately and personally criticize me inappropriately.”
    Even Chuck Swindoll has critics. I just wish someone had told me about difficult and even mean-spirited women. If I had only known to expect her, I would have prepared. I would not have been so vulnerable, so shocked, so wounded by criticism. But like many unseasoned women, I was ignorant and ill-equipped to deal biblically and wisely with women who wound.  
    What about you? Do you think you will be the exception? You won't! Seeing that everyone in ministry is ultimately criticized and probably personally attacked helps. Consider the following examples.
    Even Jesus was not exempt! We learn from Jesus’ earthly ministry, but here is one lesson often overlooked. Jesus lived with the Twelve for three years and among them was one who would betray Him. The Bible reveals that Jesus knew his heart.  Judas Iscariot had a secret agenda and Jesus was aware that Judas would sell Him out. Jesus felt the sting of conflict just like we do.
    However Judas was not the only disciple to betray Jesus. Peter and the others scattered, scared to be associated with Jesus the day He was crucified. But Peter and the others returned to ask for forgiveness. Jesus was delighted to grant it and Jesus would have forgiven Judas too. But Judas would not return. He was his own worst enemy, choosing not to repent but to commit suicide instead. Judas is an example of a person who will not admit his fault and make peace. In the early stages of conflict, we don’t know whether we are dealing with a Judas or a Peter. But we do know that if Jesus had his Judas, we can expect ours. But, take heart! In my experience, you will encounter many more women like Peter than like Judas.  
    Paul was not exempt either. Study his life. Paul endured a barrage of personal attacks and difficult people. Women’s leaders in the Bible were not exempt. Paul and the male leadership at Philippi mediated a “catfight” between squabbling women. Wring out Philippians 4:2 and 3 for a New Testament example of women leaders in conflict.    
    Jesus is perfect and Jesus is God.  If He was personally attacked, do you think you will escape?  The first step to becoming a peace-maker is to admit that conflict is part of life and ministry. Why do you think most women are ill-prepared for conflict? Why do you think peace-making skills are seldom taught as part of leadership training? Your thoughts?

Dr. Edwards is Assistant Professor of Christian Education (Specialization: Women's Studies) at Dallas Theological Seminary and holds degrees from Trinity University, DTS, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is the author of New Doors in Ministry to Women, A Fresh Model for Transforming Your Church, Campus, or Mission Field and Women's Retreats, A Creative Planning Guide. She has 30 years experience in Bible teaching, directing women's ministry, retreat and conference speaking, training teams and teachers, and writing curriculum. Married to David for 34 years, she especially enjoys extended family gatherings and romping with her four grandchildren.


  • Sue Bohlin

    Even Chuck Swindoll. Wow.

    My husband spent 8 years serving as president of our ministry. About two years in, he started saying, "I sure wish someone had told me on the front end that leadership means both conflict and being misunderstood."

    Many times we have discussed Romans 12:18–"As much as it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men." Some people won't allow us to live at peace with them. I understand that Chuck has 8 or 9 people who won't live at peace with him. So we're in good company, eh?

    Thanks for this, Sue.

  • Gwynne Johnson

    And most amazing to me…

    Along with your great comments about Jesus, I am amazed that at the very end of His life, when He tells the disciples that "one" will betray Him, that not one of the disciples realized it was Judas.  Jesus had related to Judas with such grace that even though He knew that Judas would betray Him, He never treated Judas in a way to reveal that betrayal! Especially to the other disciples.  I fear my own reasctions might reveal far in advance my assessment of a betrayer…Jesus was amazing in every way!

    • Sue Edwards

      Deep thoughts from two of God’s most gifted women

      Sue and Gwynne,

      Thanks so much for your added insight, both inspiring and profound. What a privilege to rub shoulders with women like you and learn from you. Thanks,

      Sue E.