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In Exodus 15:23 we read, “When Israel came to Marah, they could not drink the water because it was bitter.”  It’s hard to imagine the disappointment of God’s parched people arriving at the Marah oasis only to discover undrinkable water.

Many churches are like Marah. From a distance they appear to be a spiritual oasis but when parched travelers arrive they discover the relational waters are so bitter they offer no refreshment. The most important thing any congregation can do to be Christ’s vibrant spiritual oasis is to vigilantly keep their relational waters sweet.

Here are six ways leaders keep congregational waters sweet: 

They Value Relationships More Than Agendas

Sweet water leaders commit to people before agendas. Sadly many leaders are willing to wreck relationships on the shoal of an agenda and then act surprised when the congregational ship takes on water. Wise leaders place priority on relationships believing that healthy community creates common cause.

They Believe There Are No Bad People in the Room 

Sweet water leaders begin with an attitude check. Even when some folk mays, from time to time, become contrarians the sweet water leader continues to believe there are no bad people in the room. These leaders give others the benefit of the doubt and keep discussions focused on policies not personalities.

They Listen for Understanding

Sweet water leaders listen to understand before listening to refute. It’s always tempting to build a mental case against someone while listening to their conversation. Listening for understanding takes an abundance of the Spirit’s fruit (i.e. love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control).

They Go to the Balcony

Where two or three are gathered there will be conflict...guaranteed! Sweet water leaders recognize this reality and choose to be a non-anxious presence even when relational waters begin to boil. Godly leaders perfect the process of “going to the balcony.” They rise above the riot on the street to provide quiet wisdom and comforting grace.

They Move Toward Conflict          

Sweet water leaders run towards conflict, not away from it. Many leaders avoid difficult conversations only to find their avoidance intensifies the drama. Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and remember your brother has something against you…first go and be reconciled; then come and offer your gift.” This commitment to moving towards conflict includes an intolerance for relational misbehavior in the community and seeking resolution to conflicts as Paul did in his plea to Euodia and Syntyche to “agree with each other in the Lord.” (Phil. 4:2)

They are the First to Apologize and the First to Seek Healing

When my siblings and I fought as kids, we’d quickly blame the other. My mother always responded, “It takes two to tango.” She was right. In every disagreement both parties have some responsibility. It may be uneven (sometimes 90/10) but sweet water leaders own their participation in the problem, offer an apology and seek relational healing.

Our testimony to the world and our ability to offer the refreshing gift of Gospel grace depends on an unrelenting commitment to keeping congregational waters sweet. 

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