Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dealing with Conflict

Just hours away from the arrival of our small group members, I sat reading passages of 1 John over and over again. This book, riddled with messages of love and fellowship, was not clicking with my reality from the week. Having dealt with some very difficult professional and personal relationships just days before, I did not feel much like putting together a lesson on loving others.

As my friends arrived and we finished dinner, I reluctantly sat down to begin our study on 1 John. After taking turns reading through the first chapter, I began with a confession: I don't always think loving others is as easy as 1 John makes it sound.

From this confession launched a fantastic conversation on what it means to be a Christian in the midst of conflict at work, at home and in the church. As I have continued to deal with my own conflicts and also been invited to join Facebook groups and hashtag campaigns for other conflicts, I have found our conversation from small group particularly relevant.

First, the Bible

Matthew is a great starting place for how to handle conflict. Matthew 5:23-24 points to the importance of reconciliation between two parties in distress. Matthew 18:15-17 makes it explicitly clear that the first step for resolving a conflict is for the one who was hurt to go speak one-on-one with the one who did the hurting. If that doesn't work, then the one who was hurt should take 2-3 along with and have another private conversation on the matter. Only then should the matter be taken to the church body as a whole and the church should address the one in the wrong together.

The church in Corinth had a lot of conflict! Paul calls these Christians mere infants in 1 Corinthian 3 because of their quarreling. In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul explains that if there is a dispute (presumably one that cannot be settled between the two parties themselves) then specific judges in the church should be appointed to settle the case. 

I don't think I have to show evidence from other texts here how important loving your brother and sister in Christ are, or how important it is that we speak to each other in love by the grace of God. Those things we know.

Second, the Psychology

Allison, my wife, shared some reflections during our small group from a study she recently learned about. The study suggests that when people speak negatively about life or another person and receive a response of affirmation from those they're talking to, it feels good. It becomes this chemical loop where we complain because we want affirmation about our complaints. Our brain literally craves this feeling, propelling us to continue with negative speak.

There is the desire that we (humans) possess to belong or fit in. When someone is speaking negatively about an issue or individual and we have had similar experiences, the natural thing to do is to join into the conversation and find solidarity in our shared negative experiences. While this might create a bond between these individuals, it does nothing to solve the problems discussed. Additionally, the bond is formed over a negative issue and resolving such an issue may threaten the solidarity.

Finally, I have found it incredibly true that most people do not like to confront a conflict head on. Rather than going to the person who who has hurt you or that you have a problem with, it is much easier for you to send an e-mail, avoid the person all together, pretend that nothing's wrong, or talk about the person behind his back. It is incredibly difficult (and seemingly extremely rare) to find people who will immediately set up a one-on-one conversation with the individual and hash out the problem. It's a lot "easier" to try to let time mend the wound.

Third, the Application

There's a conflict in this blog. The way of love is to speak to a person one-on-one and to seek reconciliation in the midst of conflict. The conflict resolution plan we usually experience, though, is one of avoidance, public conversations on the issue and taking sides. These two responses cannot occupy the same space of a Christian response to conflict.

In the Church, this less loving way is often disguised. It might look like charitable public discourse, sharing the facts and calling brother and sisters to action on behalf of the hurt party. These things look, sound and feel like justice. In some ways they are. In other ways, they aren't the most loving way to deal with conflict.

Christians should seek out reconciliation in the midst of broken relationship. When a conflict occurs (assuming personal safety is not at stake), the appropriate response is to encourage the two parties to prayerfully talk through the issue and reconcile. It will take time. It will take prayer. It will not be easy. This is the way that we are called to. If one party is at fault, Matthew outlines a great response for that situation that can be carried out quietly and effectively. If the dispute cannot be settled, leaders in the Church can be called upon to look at the dispute and make a judgement.

Charitable discourses at the water cooler, in email and through social media really don't move the two parties towards reconciliation. Often, they cause the church to take sides, perpetuate the negativity and demand solutions without all the facts. Likes, Retweets and Comments can become affirmation for conversations that do not restore fellowship.

Some Caveats

Even with this way to deal with conflict, there are two issues I want to call attention to:

First, just because parties are able to have grace-full conversations and reconcile does not mean that there are not consequences in the conflict. This is especially true when disputes aren't settled between the original two involved. Some of these consequences may be formal, such as those consequences related to employment or service. Others might less formal, such as damaged relationships or reputation. While these consequences will have to be worked through, the parties can still be a peace with one another. Sins and wrongdoing can be forgiven.

Second, conflicts do sometimes point out issues that need to be discussed. What is important with this case is that the broader issues (theology, processes, administrative structures, etc.) be the matter of conversation and not the specific conflict itself. 


One of my friends in my small group shared a story from his childhood. He explained that his sister often hit him and he would hit her back and look to his dad to get after his sister. His dad explained to him that he doesn't think he should discipline the sister because my friend already did by hitting her. 

In both Old and New Testaments, God says that it is his to avenge and not ours. 

I often think that when we cry out for some type of formal reaction against someone, particularly when we are neither in the conflict nor in the place of authority to make such decisions, it is us saying that we have the right action for vindication for the hurt party. It is us hitting our sister back. The only problem is, when we look to God to make things right, He explains that we already responded and took away the necessity of His action.

Wrap Up

Two of the most important ideas I learned from my small group are that healing & forgiveness take time and that the Church should be the most supportive group of people for two people trying to work things out. 

"So from now on we regard no one form a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself in Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

5 Questions to Ask About Your Brand

Where should your organization start when it comes to your social media strategy? A strategy? Channel recognition? Best Practices? Content Calendars?

Before you come up with a social media strategy, a content calendar or corporate best practices, you have be confident with your brand identity. Your brand is more than just your name, logo and product line. Your brand is the mission, vision, story, purpose and personality of your entire organization. It's how your organization operates, communicates and even feels to its employees and clients (and it includes your employees and clients too!). Even though organizations in the same/similar field might have similar missions, visions and values their unique story and unique people give them a unique brand (even for churches!). 

Social Media is a relevant and dynamic way to establish and share your brand with the world. Your organization's strategy, content and policies should match your brand identity and flow out of it.

Here are 5 quick questions you can ask about your brand to help you get started:

1. What is our organization's story? This question helps explore the history of your organization. By answering this question you can consider reason your organization started, the problem that the organization was created to fix and the people who made this possible. Organizational stories regularly include a long journey from idea to reality and are similar to individual life stories of struggles, dreams, suffering, achievement and hope. Tell your organization's story!

2. What is the purpose of your brand? Beyond the story of your organization, the answer to this question gives the reason for your continued existence. This is what your employees and customers will become passionate about. This is the driving force for your day-to-day activity and should be able to be articulated in just a sentence or two. Your company's purpose is often articulated in your mission statement (does anyone in your organization know your mission statement?).

3. What does your organization feel like? Answering this question will give you words that evoke emotion and connect to the realities of life. Think through what a stranger would feel if she or he would walk through your building and meet your people. What is the experience of your customer? What happens to people who use your product? Excited? Innovative? Special? If the answer to this question is negative, then it should give you the feedback you need to change your organizational culture.

4. Where is your organization going? This is often articulated in a vision statement. Unfortunately, too many organizations have strong vision statements that very few employees actually know. The vision statement, together with your purpose, must propel you forward to achieve new things. This vision also helps establish strategic goals and your target market.

5. What is your brand's personality? A more technical term for this might be brand perception. How do your consumer perceive your organization? Are you the laid back, "cool" business or the professional, straight-laced group? A lot of people have a hard time thinking an organization has a personality. However, if your company is going to interact with people on social media, it better have a persona that connects with your customers. How you interact with your constituents will establish your brand perception.

Once you've answered these 5 questions, you will have a great concept of your brand identity. In reality, you've also already identified mission, vision, values, target audiences, and strategic goals. From here you can start developing your social media strategy, content and best practices that match your brand identity. In doing so, you'll be much more successful at creating brand recognition and loyalty. 

Need help getting started or have some thoughts on the subject? Holla at me.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

7 Ways to Bring Advent to Social Media

Churches observe Advent in a variety of ways. Some do not talk about it much; I grew up in the church and did not know what Advent was until college. Others prepare for an all-church focus that includes sermons, small groups, video clips, songs, liturgies and more. Has your church ever considered how it might engage people in Advent via social media? With a exponentially larger audience that is daily connected to social media sites, social media provides a great opportunity for the Church to tell the Advent story this year.

Advent is my favorite season of the Christian calendar. My favorite phrase for the season is "eager expectation" as we remember the time when the world was waiting for the coming of the Messiah and we experience a world that is waiting for that Messiah's return. It is the kickoff to the Christian calendar, a time where families prepare their hearts for Christmas. I always found it to be a time to be a little more focused and intentional with my thoughts and actions, reflecting on the meaning of the season. 

So how might we tell the story of Advent in engaging ways through social media? Here are 7 ideas:

Oh more thing before we get to these ideas! Many of these ideas are content suggestions that can be used on several different social media channels. Don't forget to unsync your accounts before you start posting. While the content might be similar across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, the way you package that content should be different.

1. Join the global conversation. Advent conversations are already happening on social media from around the globe. Use the simple #advent hashtag to connect your posts to the global conversation. 

2. Make Advent local. Create your own local #hashtags to use on Twitter or Instagram to connect Advent with your own local community (e.g. #AdventInKC or #AdventInBattleCreek You might even reach out to other churches in your community to help raise awareness and reach the most people. Be sure to let your church people know you are doing this and encourage them to join the conversation.

3. Help families know how to observe Advent at home. Unlike for Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter, most families do not have long standing traditions on how to experience Advent in their homes. You can help Advent become more than just a weekly observance by pinning ideas to your church Pinterest account or posting them to Facebook. 

4. Find [or compose] good Advent songs and share them! Our world connects through music. One of my biggest frustrations in planning worship during Advent was the small number of good Advent songs out there. The good ones need shared and new ones need written. 

5. #Hashtag your sermon series and small group sessions. Does you church have a theme for all of its Advent activities? Create a #hashtag to go along with what your church is doing and encourage your congregation use it to interact with the sermon and share insights from their small groups. RT or Share posts from church members with your church accounts.

6. Teach Advent. Although some theological traditions have practiced Advent for....well, forever...many traditions have only started to observe Advent within the last few decades. Almost everyone knows why Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter, but they do not have the same understanding with Advent. Share #AdventFacts of the #HistoryofAdvent with daily or weekly posts. Either share your own quick facts or share blogs and articles from around the web (make sure to fact check though!).

7. Capture Advent and tell the story through pictures. Instagram and Facebook thrive on pictures. Capture the advent candles being lit, the decorations in the foyer or the call to worship in the bulletin and share these on social media. Invite you congregation to share their own pictures of things that remind them of Advent. Create a #hashtag to go along with the pictures to help track them.

This time of the year is busy for just about everyone and it makes it easy for people to forget about Advent between Sundays. Connecting with people throughout the week on their time through their computers or mobile devices is a great way to keep Advent at the front of everyone's minds this year.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Unsync Your Twitter & Facebook Accounts!

For most churches and organizations that don't have a full-time social media person, creating content is a real schedule killer. It is hard enough to put regular bulletins and newsletters together, let alone managing multiple social media accounts. Many organizations have tried to offset the demands of content creation by syncing social media accounts. You post something on one account, it automatically posts to the other. This might be easier, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, but I have found that easier is not always better.

Since content creation is such a challenge for busy church and non-profit leaders, why not take this shortcut? It does, after all, keep all of your social media sites updated at least, right?

You're right! It does, but updating your pages is not the end of the social media success story. Kivi Leroux Miller, non-profit veteran, wrote in a blog on this subject, "If you are lumping Twitter and Facebook together simply as 'social media' that needs updating, you are missing the bigger picture." Here's the biggest reason why syncing accounts does not work:

Different social media networks are really different channels for engaging constituents. Each one has its own audience, its own quirks and its own types of successful content needs. Although channel in this context is more like "medium," the channel metaphor might be helpful for understanding.

Cable and Satellite come with dozens - or hundreds - of channels. Each one has its own unique programming. Think of ESPN, Fox Sports, etc. These channels air college and professional level sporting events. Lifetime, on the other hand, airs programming on the dramatic side, usually based on real life events. Consider what would happen if ESPN started airing Lifetime movies between hockey games, or if Lifetime began programming football games between movies. Each channel's primary audience would be confused, ratings would drop and a lot of money would be lost. To put it simply: The same content does not work on all channels. This is why the shortcut of syncing social media accounts just does not work. 

Each social media network functions differently and has its own audience. Instead of seeing the multi-channel approach as just another site to update, consider it as an opportunity to connect with different people in different ways.

Here's a simplistic way to think of Facebook and Twitter as channels for your non-profits:

Facebook: more passive channel, best for fostering relationships with those already connected with your organization, good for informing constituents of organization happenings, posts have a longer "shelf life" for viewers, graphic appeal (pictures and designed content) is important.

Twitter: in-the-moment channel, broader reach with those outside your organization, potential to form new relationships with other organizations or individuals, great for sharing summarized thoughts (microblogging), tweets have a shorter active shelf life. 

How do you personally engage with non-profits on various social media channels? Drop a line and leave a comment below. Make the contact form to the right feel useful and send me a note if you're looking for more training for your organization.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

From Twitter #Hashtag to Student Engagement

Several months ago a student tweeted this video with my college's hashtag, wishing we would do something like it for our incoming students.

A colleague emailed the tweet and asked me to respond. After a few tweets back and forth, my office invited this student into a small staff meeting to help us brainstorm how to do similar events to engage new and returning students.

It may take some time and some effort, but responding to tweets from your constituents provides an opportunity for a new level of social engagement. Moving from a simple comment or mention to an in-person conversation changes the entire relationship. Here are a few of the immediate and long-term benefits of our interaction with this student (and the same benefits you might be able to experience by responding to your constituents):

1. The student knew she was being heard. She didn't mention us in Twitter and she didn't send us a message, but we heard her loud and clear: as a new student at our college, she wished she had a better opportunity to meet other students. By us responding and inviting her to help us do better, she knew undoubtedly that we heard her loud and clear.

2. The student became a participant in the solution. If a customer notices a problem with your company or a community member with your church, one of the best ways to resolve the problem is to invite them to help come up with solutions. Since the student was the one who voiced the concern, we figured she probably already thought of some ideas on how we could improve. (and we were right!)

3. Engaging in this way creates a lasting relationship. Even after meeting with this student, our relationship with her continued. She was connected to our office and our school in a whole new way. Since she knew we listened and cared about engaging students, she knew and continues to know that we're open to new ideas and building new relationships. I still receive e-mails from the student from time to time about new opportunities. The same could happen for your company with your customers, employees, or church members. Responding to concerns voiced via social media in practical ways can launch you into a positive and long-lasting relationships.

4. The student's experience changes the way she will interact with other students.  Since we heard her concerns and invited her to the table for solutions, we provided a new perspective of the college for this student. As she goes to class, attends club meetings goes to campus events she is going with the knowledge that we care about her. When other students have concerns or ideas, she is going to tell them about her experience working with us to create new events. She is also going to talk about the school positively and challenge other students' negative perceptions that conflict with her experience.

How is your social media engagement? Are you listening to your constituents and replying in appropriate and timely ways? If you or your staff need helping knowing how to do this effectively, consider bringing in a consultant to do some training.