Defusing Explosive Meetings

by | Jun 16, 2024

Have you ever been in a meeting that was about to explode?

You could feel the tension building with each person’s comments and knew it was just a matter of time before the dynamite went off.

It might have been a conversation with your spouse or teenager. Maybe it was a staff meeting at the office. Or, sometimes most volatile of all, a congregational meeting at your church.

Well, here is a true story that illustrates a creative way to “de-fuse” this kind of dynamite.

A disagreement regarding the actions of a youth pastor had polarized a congregation and triggered such intense emotions and accusations that the leaders felt compelled to call a congregational meeting. Over a hundred members gathered together to voice their grievances and opinions.

The pastor who led the meeting was a seasoned veteran—combat-tested not in Afghanistan but in his local church. He knew how quickly such meetings can escalate into harsh judgments and demands for termination.

So at the beginning of the meeting, he briefly summarized the issues they were there to discuss. After some feedback and revisions, he got a general agreement on the issues and wrote them on a large white flip chart so everyone could see them. He then handed out a piece of paper with seven questions on it and all of the cited Bible passages included in footnotes for easy reference. Finally, he established one ground rule for the meeting: anyone who wanted to share a perspective on the issues could do so, but only by answering the seven questions in order:

  1. Briefly stated, how do you feel because of these issues? (see Ps. 42:5-6; Ps. 139:23)
  2. Which fruit of the Spirit are you seeking to display as you speak today? (see Gal. 5:22-23: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”)
  3. What have you done that might have contributed to these issues? (see James 4:1-3; 1 John 1:8-9; Matt. 7:1-5)
  4. What do you think would please God as we work through this situation? (Ps. 133:1; John 8:29; John 13:34-35; 1 Cor. 10:33;  Eph. 4:29)
  5. What steps have you already taken to make things better?
  6. What are you now willing to do to help resolve these issues? (1 Pet. 3:8-9; Phil. 2:1-4)
  7. What do you suggest others do to help resolve these issues?

Most people come to a meeting like this focused on pointing out what others have done wrong and need to do to make things right.

These seven simple questions help people shift away from this focus and become more God-aware, self-aware and other-aware by remembering God’s involvement in the situation, empathizing with one another, recalling their shared frailty, getting the logs out of their own eyes, showing respect and accepting responsibility, and by being solution-minded rather than attack-oriented.

That’s what relational wisdom is all about. And it led to a positive outcome in this situation.

So try it the next time you’re faced with a tense conversation, whether at a congregational meeting or with two squabbling children.

– Ken Sande

Reflection Questions

  • Review the Scripture passages cited above and reflect on how they support the seven questions. Can you think of related passages?
  • Without identifying individuals, describe a conversation or meeting that escalated into accusations and demands. What were the key relational failures that caused it to go downhill?
  • Think of a person who is skilled at managing tense or volatile conversations. What does he or she do that helps others to converse reasonably and constructively?
  • How could you apply some of those same skills in your life today?
  • Would you like to grow in relational wisdom? You can do so by going through Discovering Relational Wisdom online or by leading a group study.

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2024 Ken Sande

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