1. Hinton, Sharon T.

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In your anger do not sin... Ephesians 4:26 NIV

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"We need to talk" is generally not a comforting statement; rather, it hangs with a foreboding of unpleasantness. Faith community nurses (FCNs) interact with members of the congregation and community, as well as clergy and other church leaders. Often, it is the FCN who advocates between the needs and desires of those being served and the opinions and decisions of leadership. When expectations are not met, regardless of the circumstances, FCNs can expect the need to either initiate or receive a request for a difficult conversation.


How do FCNs approach such discussions in a way that models our nursing practice as a ministry of Christ? Scripture says to "be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry" (James 1:19). Scripture sounds good in theory, but how can this be accomplished in day-to-day health ministry practice? First, breathe! A deep breath is always appropriate. Pausing gives you time for a short prayer to request God's guidance in conversations. The goal is to act, not react. Along with breathing, a statement such as, "Thank you for your comments. I'll need time to pray about this before I respond," is appropriate for unexpected, difficult conversations.


If you anticipate and expect a conflictive discussion, take time to prepare by praying for wisdom and the ability to consider the situation from the perspectives of those involved. Broadening your perspective, through prayer, moves your focus from a narrow viewpoint to a wider range of solutions.


In addition to prayer, prepare for difficult conversations by examining what you might say with a colleague or by writing in a journal. Start with your initial feelings and thoughts, which is usually what doesn't need to be said because it is more reactional than factual. Whine and complain now, so when faced with the real conversation, you speak from a grace-filled perspective, instead of an emotional response. Proverbs 12:18 reminds us that conflict is not about winning, but about healing the relationship. Ask God to reveal the inner source of your thoughts and feelings so that you can deal with these in a healthy manner.


Once you have worked through your emotions and considered a broader perspective, consider what you want to say and why. Choose your words wisely and rehearse possible responses. Using a mirror, become aware of your body language and tone of voice as you practice. Removing some of the emotion beforehand allows you to be mindful of your tone and nonverbal messages. The use of "I" statements is appropriate to voice your opinion. "I am concerned that my requests do not receive responses" keeps the conversation more civil than "You never answer my requests!" Another helpful phrase, "Help me understand your perspective," offers opportunity for insight and clarification.


Sometimes, no matter how skilled a communicator you are, the conversation deteriorates. Church leaders may decide not to support health ministry practice or a request for care is denied, leading to the FCN feeling defeated. Doing your best to communicate openly and honestly may be the only accomplishment you achieve. Difficult conversations are an inevitable part of FCN practice, but through prayer, preparation, and practice, challenges can be handled with grace.


Resource Toolbox


* Haugk, K. C. (1988). Antagonists in the church: How to identify and deal with destructive conflict. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg.


* Meulhoff, T., & Lewis, T. (2015). Authentic communication: Christian speech engaging culture. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.


* RELIAS. (2016). Defuse hostile nursing work culture by speaking up immediately, directly. Hospital Employee Health, 35(2), 19-21.


* Telushkin, J. (1998). Words that hurt, words that heal: How to choose words wisely and well. New York, NY: HarperCollins.




* 2018 International Westberg Symposium, April 9-11, Memphis, Tennessee. See


* 2018 Health Ministries Association Conference, September 8-10, Erlanger, Kentucky. See


* New Faith Community Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice, 3rd Edition available at:


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