Conflict and Cow Patties

I’m a country boy. I grew up working at a grain elevator and farming during the summers. We had land with cows and horses for a time as well. You learn a lot about life when you work with your hands. One lesson I learned years ago – every problem should be dealt with differently.

Let me paint a picture for you. Sometimes people don’t know how to deal with conflict. They think everything has to be handled immediately, swiftly, and decisively. And don’t get me wrong, it’s important to handle problems the right way. But I don’t think steamrolling someone every time there’s the slightest problem is the only way to go.

So, let me use an analogy for you that might make some sense. Every cow leaves behind some traces. You know what I mean, right? If you walk through a pasture, you’re going to run into a bunch of cow patties. Don’t put a stick of dynamite under every cow patty. You’ll end up getting poop everywhere and everyone ends up stinking.

Sometimes you just need to leave the cow mess alone and let it go away. The smell will disappear and before you know it, the cow patty is gone. Now, I’m not saying that you should never deal with conflict. This is where the analogy breaks down. In real life, I’ve never put a stick of dynamite under a cow patty – and I’ve never wanted to!

But I think this is an important point to make. Real leaders know the difference between important issues that need to be addressed head-on and minor issues that will go away with time. How can you tell? Ask yourself a few questions.

1. What is the real issue? Believe it or not, pastors have a tendency to “spiritualize” everything. We make it right vs. wrong or black vs. white. And the truth is, occasionally things are a bit simpler than that. If it really is a spiritual issue then get out the dynamite. If not, you may want to wait and see how it plays out.

2. Who does this affect? How many people are affected by this issue? Has the issue spread across the entire staff or church? Or is it just one person having a hard time? Sometimes the scope of the problem will help you know how to handle it.

3. Will this go away on its own? If you get out the dynamite, will the problem really go away? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But usually the dynamite makes a mess. Sometimes you need to ask yourself if the problem will go away on its own. If you leave it alone, will it disappear or will it cause more issues later?

Well, this is quite possibly the strangest blog post I’ve ever written. I understand that. But this simple analogy has helped me understand the best ways to deal with conflict. Just because you’re the pastor or the leader doesn’t mean every problem deserves the nuclear option. And I’ve also read leadership books that seem to contradict what I’m saying. But in the real world, different problems require different responses. And knowing the right response comes from having the wisdom to know when the dynamite needs to come out – and when it doesn’t.