Conflict can be hot or cold–what are you dealing with?

Conflict is a part of life. Our goal should never be the total absence of conflict because, more often than not, the absence of conflict is more a sign of disease than of health.

Our goal ought to be the healthy and respectful expression of disagreement.

According to Harvard Business Review we typically deal with hot or cold conflicts.

“The Cold Conflict”

The cold conflict lurks beneath a façade of ice–aloofness, coolness, emotional distance. On the surface things seem peaceful, but in reality there is resistance–of a passive or subversive variety.

  • The employee says what you want them to say and then turns around a does whatever he wishes.
  • The spouse does and says all of the right things, but internally she is furious and has already checked out and is living a parallel life.

This situation requires heating up the conversation. In order to address and move beyond this situation, it has to be explicitly acknowledged and no longer can it remain the unacknowledged elephant in the room.

“The Hot Conflict”

Resistance isn’t always passive. At times it is very active–the blood pressure spikes, the face reddens, and the voice is raised.

This requires cooling down the conversation–specifically, when the parties have moved beyond healthy disagreement to an unproductive sort of bickering that is impeding the mission.

Getting to the Temperate Zone

In order fo2086701.jpgr conflict to be productive, it has to be moved from hot (torrid) or cold (frigid) into the temperate zone.

For those of you who remember basic biology and geology: recall the temperate zone. The earth’s temperate zones are the two areas of earth’s climates that experience four distinct seasons. It’s not hot all the time (that is the torrid zone around the equator), and its not cold all the time (that is the arctic and antarctic zones at the poles).

The temperate zones offer some degree of balance between hot and cold. It’s possible for life to exist in the torrid zone and in the frigid zones, but life isn’t as easy or as pleasurable there as in the temperate zones. Life flourishes in the temperate zones.

When it comes to conflict, the temperate zone offers us a balance between engagement and disengagement, between enmeshment and indifference.

In the temperate zone there is enough passion and energy to make a conversation animated, but not so much passion and energy that it becomes a shouting match.

In the temperate zone there is enough distance to allow one person to hear and consider the others’ views, but not so much distance that the interlocutors are checked out from the conversation.

Progress, answers, and change come in the temperate zone, not in the hot or cold stages (or zones) of conflict, because the temperate zone is the only place where people can understand and be understood. 



Embrace the Cross

May 10, 2016

The conundrum

How do we make sense of suffering in our own lives and the lives of those whom we love? How do we understand pain in the life of a community of faith or in a family?

What do we make of the lingering sins that seem to beset us? What of the painfully slow progress we make toward holiness and Christ-likeness?

Trying to make sense of these realities often leads people to one of two alternatives: to deny or to resign. If we experience suffering we might be tempted to jump directly to the good that God causes to bring out of it and deny the reality of the pain. Our pain becomes our problem–something we did wrong.

Equally, we might be tempted to resign ourselves to the belief that God has somehow abandoned us and that God is somehow disinterested in our lives and removed from acting in our lived experience. God becomes a religious idea rather than a person.

A new paradigm

From the depths of his own anguish as a Christian and as a scholar, Martin Luther came to distinguish between two rival ways of understanding God, the Christian faith itself, and the Christian life: the theologia crucis (“theology of the Cross”) and theologia gloriae (“theology of glory”).

The theology of the Cross understands that the Cross stands at the very center of our knowledge of God. In other words, the Cross is the paradigm for understanding both God and ourselves. Christ’s death on the cross is the climax of his ministry rather than the low point. As one writer put it,

[Luther] understood the image of Jesus’ death on the cross to reveal not just the mechanism of salvation but a fundamental principle about life and about God. He came to believe that God always works ‘under his opposite’ (sub contrario), and that we see this in the crucifixion, where God’s victory was in his defeat and life came about precisely through death.

The theology of glory, on the other hand, is an approach to Christian understanding that minimizes or seeks to bypass the suffering, pain, and brokenness of the Cross. In other words, the Cross is not paradigmatic. The “victory” comes up a lot when dealing with theologies of glory.

What does this mean for us?

The theology of the cross as a view of God, of self, and of the Christian life stands in sharp relief to the dominant narrative of the American dream. That’s why for many of us, suffering and setbacks are an unwelcome surprise.

The theology of the cross gives us a better lens through which to view life. Through it we realize that all of the expectations of effortless perfection in terms of personal and family life, career and vocation, godliness, and church life are false. The reality is that life is messy and that the good news of the gospel is that God meets us in the mess.

After all… no mess, no Gospel.

Evangelical Churchmen, it is to be hoped, will find out that a few spiritual thoughts and nice doctrinal statements are not sufficient to make an able divine in these latter days. They must really learn to read and think far more than most of them do.

J. C. Ryle (1860-1900)




Gilbert Tennent was a leader of the Great Awakening, along with George Whitefield.

In his sermon “The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry” he (presciently) warned that failure to examine those who enter pastoral ministry regarding personal piety and a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ would endanger the effectiveness of the church.


And Jesus, when He came out, saw many people and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd (Mark 6:34 KJV).

The ministry of natural men is for the most part unprofitable; which is confirmed by a threefold evidence of Scripture, reason, and experience. Such as the Lord send not, He Himself assures us, shall not profit the people at all. Mr. Pool justly glosseth upon this passage of Scared Scripture, thusly, “That none can expect God’s blessing upon their ministry, that are not called and sent of God into the ministry.” And right reason will inform us, how unfit instruments they are to negotiate that work they pretend to. Is a blind man fit to be a guide in a very dangerous place? Is a dead man fit to bring others to life? A mad man fit to give counsel in a matter of life and death? Is a possessed man fit to cast out devils? A rebel, an enemy to God, fit to be sent on an embassy of peace, to bring rebels into a state of friendship with God? A captive bound in the massy chains of darkness and guilt, a proper person to set others at liberty? A leper, or one that has plague-sores upon him, fit to be a good physician? Is an ignorant rustick, that has never been at sea in his life, fit to be a pilot, to keep vessels from being dashed to pieces upon rocks and sandbanks.

Isn’t an unconverted minister like a man who would teach others to swim before he has learned himself, and so is drowned in the act, and dies like a fool?

What if some instances could be shown of unconverted ministers being instrumental in convincing persons of their lost state? The thing is very rare and extraordinary. And for what I know as many instances may be given of Satan’s convincing persons by his temptations. Indeed it’s a kind of chance-medley, both in respect of the Father and His children, when any such event happens. And isn’t this the reason why a work of conviction and conversion has been so rarely heard of for a long time in the churches till of late—that the bulk of her spiritual guides, were stone-blind and stone-dead?

The ministry of natural men is dangerous both in respect of the doctrines and practice of piety. The doctrines of original sin, justification by faith alone, and the other points of Calvinism are very cross to the grain of unrenewed nature. And though men, by the influence of a good education, and hopes of preferment, may have the edge of their natural enmity against them blunted; yet it’s far from being broken or removed. It’s only the saving grace of God that can give us a true relish for those nature-humbling doctrines; and so effectually secure us from being infected by the contrary. Is not the carnality of the ministry one great cause of the general spread of Arminianism, Socinianism, Arianism, and deism at this day through the world?

And alas! what poor guides are natural ministers to those who are under spiritual trouble? They either slight such distress altogether and call it melancholy, or madness, or dawb those that are under it with untempered mortar. Our Lord assures us that the salt which hath lost its savour is good for nothing; some say, “It genders worms and vermine.” Now, what savour have pharisee-ministers? In truth, a very stinking one both in the nostrils of God and good men. They hinder instead of helping others in at the strait gate. Hence is that threatening of our Lord against them. “Woe unto you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites; for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, nor suffer those that are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13 KJV). Pharisee teachers will with the utmost hate oppose the very work of God’s Spirit upon the souls of men; and labour by all means to blacken it, as well as the instruments, which the Almighty improves to promote the same; if it comes near their borders, and interferes with their credit or interest. Thus did the pharisees deal with with our Saviour.



In their book The Power of Full Engagement Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz talk about “strategic disengagement.”

Strategic disengagement an intentional period of recovery that paves the way for re-engagement at a higher level.

As in our muscles so in every area of life, growth occurs through periods of stress and recovery.

The mantra “no pain, no gain” is actually true. Virtually every gain in life takes place through effort, stress, or even pain.

There is, however, a tipping point. It’s possible to over-tax muscles, which leads to injury or even permanent disability.

It’s also possible to subject yourself to a prolonged, uninterrupted period of high stress, which leads to what’s popularly called burnout. 

The key to taking advantage of the huge opportunities for personal growth during high stress periods, it’s critical to embrace and practice strategic disengagement.

The last year has been the single most stressful period of my life professionally. Our church is going through some major changes both–a change both of senior leadership, and denominational affiliation.

Change is hard for all of us, and it’s especially difficult in the absence of a senior leader who is the “face” of the organization, in our case without a Senior Pastor.

The key to surviving and thriving in this kind of stressful situation is choosing each day and each week to create ways to strategically disengage–to create a break and some psychological distance from situation.

As you look at your own life, with all of its stress, how are you making space to unplug and disengage?