Monthly Archives: July 2013

What I have learned about conflict in the past year

Published on Fuller Seminary’s Burner Blog for Pastors and Leaders.

Read the Article here

by Marcus J. Carlson

Conflict is a reality of life and is always a significant part of leadership. I can count on the presence of conflict, but I have also come to count on learning a lot from conflict as a leader a Christ-follower and as a person. Here are the three most significant things I have learned about conflict.

I am not as good at conflict as I think I am

It is always easy to overestimate your abilities and effectiveness as a leader, but I think this is especially the case when it comes to our ability to handle conflict. I don’t like conflict, and I cannot seem to think of anyone who genuinely does. Our human nature is to resist or avoid things that are difficult. There are many reasons I have over evaluated myself when it comes to conflict. I tend to prefer to deal with conflict in a direct, honest and authentic way. I have never done well with mixed messages or passive-aggressive behavior and found it is not the way to address conflict as leaders or as Christ-followers. I have been passionate about the passage in Matthew 18 where Jesus discusses conflict for longer than I remember. While that has proven helpful to me and the organizations I have lead and served, I think an arrogance or defensiveness could be built around that.

The reality is that the church and Christians are not known for doing conflict well, and being surrounded by people who do poorly with conflict has created an arrogance in me that has prevented me from continuing to learn to be better at conflict. A recent leadership class with Scott Cormode was the final eye-opening piece for me as I was able to confess that I am not as good at this as I would like. While I deal with conflict, I often neglect the adaptive change issues around conflict.

Taking conflict personally may cause you to miss out on some of God’s redeeming work

The more grace becomes personal for us, the less everything else will feel or become personal in our lives. Criticism and conflict are hard. Being a leader means that we have to face criticism and conflict on a regular and sometimes daily basis. We all have weaknesses and I have often argued we all have one weakness that can plague us if we do not identify, manage and address it.

For me, that is insecurity. I have always struggled with insecurity and it’s something I continue to fight. While I have made much progress, if I do not pay attention, it can quickly come back with a vengeance (much like those 10 pounds I lost). One of the challenges of wrestling with some level of insecurity is that conflict can often feel very personal. It is very easy for me to take conflict personally, not only because of my insecurity, but also because I care deeply about people and I have high expectations of myself. The problem with taking conflict personally (even if you are the primary cause/source of it) is you are tempted dwell in that aspect of the conflict instead of looking for where God might want to redeem the conflict. I believe God wants to redeem all things, the good, bad and ugly.

When we take conflict personally, we can become blind to these redemptive opportunities.

In the midst of every conflict, God offers many wonderful redemptive moments, opportunity and truths that can transform both the conflict and those impacted. When we take conflict personally, we can become blind to these redemptive opportunities.

The fear of conflict can be a dangerous for leaders

It is unnatural to enjoy conflict. It is certainly normal to dislike, have anxiety about or fear conflict. I know I can easily become anxious about conflict. The problems with the fear of conflict are far too many for this article, but the operation out of a fear of conflict is one of the greatest leadership dangers existing outside of issues of morality and integrity.

When we fear conflict, we make decisions based out of conflict avoidance. When we have a high fear of conflict, we tend to avoid difficult issues, challenges, needed change, accountability and many other things that God has for us and the organizations we serve. When we operate out of a fear of conflict as leaders, our ministries are often shaped by opinions, feelings, circumstances and fear instead of being rooted in a theological perspective focused on Christ and submissive to the Holy Spirit.

Conflict is a reality of life, relationships, leadership, ministry and most certainly the church. We do not have to perfect our approach to conflict, but we must continue to learn in the midst of conflict, not just about the situation or what God might have for us, but also how we can grow in our own approach to and understanding of conflict as leaders.

Rev. Marcus J Carlson has served in ministry for almost 15 years and resides in Colorado Springs, CO with his wife Jessica and their two children. Marcus is passionate about the Kingdom of God and is a pastor, spiritual director, teacher, speaker, writer and consultant. You can learn more about Marcus and follow some of his blogs by visiting his website

Boundaries for Leaders-A Review

Book Review

Published on Book Sneeze & Amazon

Book Review

Boundaries for Leaders by Dr. Henry Cloud

This is a must read book for all leaders in any organization. Henry Cloud has an amazing ability to write about leadership in a way that is both rich in theory and abundant in practice. Additionally, the issues that he addresses hit the key issues of leadership, particularly the relational side of leadership that is so critical today.

This book did not disappoint. In fact, Its probably one of the best books that Dr. Cloud has written on leadership. My one critique would be that he could have made his argument just as strongly in less pages. The focus of the book is on results and relationships, both of which matter. Many leaders tend to focus on one over the other. He also addresses the issue of authority, or being in charge. Dr. Cloud makes sure to reiterate the main point of the book throughout the book which is ‘leaders get what they create and what they allow.’ This has stuck with since I first read it and has shaped how I lead and will continue to lead. Rarely do we think about leadership culture, even though it is the most critical aspect of leadership outside of personal integrity. Most leaders are not good with boundaries, whether they do not set them for themselves or they fail to set them for others. This book addresses those issues in many ways. If leaders were to focus on leadership culture based on the main premise of this book, I think they would achieve greater health and results in their organizations. If we look at the toxic or negative aspects of our organization and consider what we have done or are doing that creates or allows these things to occur, we could address them with greater effectiveness. If we think about what we want to see in our organizations, we could carefully consider what we need to do in order to create and allow for those things to occur.

I strongly recommend this book for any leader who wants to change the culture or improve the relationships and results in the organizations in which they serve. This is a book that is helpful for all leaders in any setting, whether you have been leading for a day or for your lifetime.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Rev. Marcus J Carlson

Dealing with Difficult Issues

Published in Connections Magazine (July/August 2013)

Learn about Connections here

faith and family

Dealing with Difficult Issues

by Marcus J. Carlson

Recently, I attended and spoke at an Early Childhood Educator conference. As I listened to a keynote speaker, something she said struck me—especially as I thought about life issues, the church, our children, youth and families. She said, “If you just teach kids the facts, they don’t own them and don’t understand them.” It was a succinct way to communicate a truth I have long believed and observed when working with children and youth.

There are many difficult life issues we face in our culture today: euthanasia, abortion, gay marriage, war, poverty, racism and much more. As Christ-followers and as the church, we have a responsibility to wrestle with these issues. In fact, regardless of position, the church should be a leader in creating healthy dialogue around these difficult issues. The challenge is that when the church does choose to respond, it is often late, and the dialogue is rarely healthy. As one of my undergraduate professors, Tony Campolo noted: “The church is the taillight of every social movement.” This is unfortunate, as the church should be a leader in these areas; instead, we have become as reactive and divisive as the secular institutions of our society.

One of the realities we face in the American church is that more than half of our regular active youth in our churches and youth groups will walk away from their faith after graduation. There are many reasons for this. I have seen many youth walk away from faith as they enter college or the workforce. As they face some of these difficult life issues, what they have been taught comes into tension with the reality they are facing.

For example, we might teach our children that abortion is wrong, and share with them the reasons from Scripture and our own spiritual, philosophical and political viewpoint. While there is nothing wrong with doing this, we do not often help our kids wrestle with these issues in light of these perspectives. Instead, we teach them the correct viewpoint and anticipate that they will accept it. It’s a normal temptation

that I face as a parent. I would rather tell my children what is right than have them learn it on their own. It seems quicker, easier and less painful for all involved. The challenge here is that if our children and youth do not wrestle with issues, they often do not own the resulting beliefs.

If I do all I can to teach my daughter that abortion is wrong in the eyes of God, her parents and the church, but don’t let her wrestle with the issue, she is less likely to hold on to the view. Not only that, she is also more likely to walk away from her faith when her view on abortion is challenged.

Imagine this scenario: my daughter goes off to college. Her roommate goes to a party. Someone slips a drug into one of her drinks that alters her judgment and control, and she engages in sexual intercourse that results in pregnancy. Her roommate cannot tell her parents about the baby because they will stop paying for college if they find out she is pregnant. She cannot afford to keep the baby, nor can she raise the child well as a college student. My daughter sees the pain of her roommate and has not wrestled with the difficulty of the issue of abortion itself. She tries to apply the view she has been taught to the situation, but being away from home, caring for her roommate and not knowing how to handle the situation, she abandons her view. She then begins to question all of her faith views, and wonders why God would allow this situation to happen. Whether quickly or slowly, she is at risk to walk away from God altogether.

I am not suggesting that my daughter accept abortion in this case, nor am I suggesting that every child and youth in our homes, ministries and churches experiences this. What I am suggesting is that if we do not allow our children and youth to wrestle with these difficult issues in the safety of our homes and churches, we are taking a significant risk. If we do not help them to wrestle with the Scripture, theology, philosophy, reality and humanity around each of these issues, then we are building a house on the sand and not on the rock.

It is easy to see these issues as matters of social justice or simple morality, but they are in fact issues of faith. The essence of faith is trust. Our one act is to trust God, to trust God’s salvation and then to grow in trust as we seek to trust Him in each area of our lives. If we focus on imparting doctrine instead of helping our children and youth wrestle and learn to trust God, then we are creating a faith that may not stand up to the pressures of culture and these difficult life issues that they will face.

As a parent, I often worry about how my children will turn out. As a result, I try to force them to act, believe and become a certain ideal. I admit that sometimes I try to convince them of a viewpoint that I hold (some very Biblical, some selfish), instead of providing them with good information and a safe place to wrestle with the issue. Many times this is simply an expression of my lack of trust in God and God’s truth. Truth can stand on its own. We need to recognize—as families and as the church—that it is much healthier for our children and youth to wrestle with us in our homes, churches and communities than it is to force them to wrestle when they are on their own.

My view is not a conventional one, yet it is also not contrary to my best understanding of Scripture. As parents and as the church, we do need to raise our children and youth in the ways of God and point them to truth. However, that does not mean we must teach them solely through convincing them of our viewpoint, even if it is good theology.

We can trust God. We can trust truth. We can help our children and youth wrestle with these difficult issues now, so that when they face them in life, their own view will be strong enough to stand up against the wind and waves that life will bring.