Dealing with Ministry Conflict through Email – Should We?

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever received an angry complaint via email. Now, think about that incident and imagine what the “conversation” may have sounded like if it had taken place over the phone. What about in person?
The fact of the matter is that when dealing with conflict or complaints a good rule of thumb is to deal with them in person, face-to-face. Here are some guidelines that I’ve learned (mostly by mistake) through my time in ministry:
1. Respond to challenging/threatening/slandering emails slowly and with much care and prayer – Because email is the most impersonal of the three ways to communicate those in ministry tend to get lit up with these types of situations – especially in children’s ministry where people’s young children are often the center of the conflict. These type of emails typically catch you by surprise and if you don’t watch out you may catch yourself taking the bait. Be careful when responding and always pray before you type. Sometimes it’s even good to take a day or so to calm your nerves. We typically will say things through email that we would never say to someone’s face.
2. Never respond through email what you would not want your parents or boss to read – You never know who’ll be forwarded something you’ve written. Whatever you write through email, especially when responding to conflict, always be okay with anyone reading it. This will help you choose your words carefully. Your email correspondance with the person in conflict is almost never a private exchange.
3. Offer to talk on the phone or meet in person if an issue cannot be resolved – Nothing good comes from emailing back and forth on an issue when a simple phone call or face-to-face exchange can clear things up quickly.
4. Use the phone or face-to-face contact when you need to talk to someone about something serious – don’t blast them with an email either.
5. Use email mainly for distilling of information – At one point I got so many emails about certain conflicts that I considered getting rid of my email. No email would then equal less conflict in my mind. Therefore, if it’s worth writing email after email about then its worth meeting in person or at least on the phone.
What about you? What are some lessons that you’ve learned or experiences that you’ve had where email has been a hindrance?

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