Mediation Training Devotion – Compelled by Love

I had the opportunity to lead a devotion for Day 2 of our Conflict Coaching & Mediation Training last week in Houston, TX.  Here’s what I shared with our participants just before they dove into a very full day of mediation training:

I want to open this morning by asking two questions that don’t initially seem to be related but, in the end, I think they are.The first question is, “Why are you here?” (at this training)

The second question is, “What are you afraid of?”  (both here at the training and as you look ahead to what it is preparing you for, serving other people as a peacemaker.)


Why are you here?, and

What are you afraid of?

I’ll flip, as it were, momentarily to the last page of the book to give you a preview of my answer.  I think they are linked by one word, and that word is “love.”

First, why are you here?  I would venture to guess that all of you are here because of love in some form or another.  Maybe you’ve gone through severe conflict with someone you love and gained a heart for peacemaking through experiencing that brokenness and/or reconciliation.  Maybe you’ve watched others do that, in your family or church or circle of friends.  Maybe you love the church, the bride of Christ so much, and it saddens you to see conflict disrupting the unity and the witness of the church.  Or maybe someone you love thinks you should be here, so you’re taking their word for it.

The Apostle Paul has this great passage in 2 Corinthians 5 that many Bibles title “The Ministry of Reconciliation.”  At the end of this chapter, Paul gives a resounding, literally earth-changing statement about the power of the cross and Christ’s motivation in coming to die for us:

He says, starting in verse 17,

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

So here’s this comprehensive statement of who God is and what he’s done and what he calls us to do.  But earlier, up in verse 14, Paul talks about why he is such a committed ambassador of reconciliation, why he has given his life to this ministry, both through teaching and through getting involved in the dirtiness of peoples’ lives.  He says, verse 14, “For Christ’s love compels us.”

I’m really tempted to go on and on about what that love of Christ looks like and what we look like when we are compelled by that love.  If I had the time, I’d talk through passages like Colossians 3:12-14, where we see some really specific aspects of that love – ” 12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, [You are loved; here’s what that love compels you to do:] clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

I suspect that you will need to be reminded numerous times of that love, that you will need to return to verses like this over and over, perhaps today, and definitely in the future as you are exploring what your calling as an ambassador of reconciliation looks like.  As your attempts to love are repelled by people who are angry with you or not as motivated to participate in a mediation as you would like.  And you’ll need to be steeped in these verses so that you can call other people to live out their identity as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved – you’ll need to be able to communicate what it looks like for Christ’s love to compel them.

But that role can be uncomfortable and daunting at best, terrifying and gut-wrenching at worst.  So thus enters my second question, “What are you afraid of?”

At the risk of projecting myself onto you, let me tell you some of the things that I find myself fearing, in both these training events and when I go out to do the real thing.

  • I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to figure it out, to get it right. There’s a LOT of information being thrown at you, and some of it is pretty technical.
  • I’m afraid of looking foolish in front of my fellow students and my instructors.
  • Not only am I afraid I’ll look foolish, I’m afraid I won’t wildly impress and wow everyone (including myself) with how good I am at this
  • I’m always afraid of the role plays – I’m not an actress, I studied business in college, and I’m always really unsure of myself when I have to convincingly do these role plays.
  • I’m afraid of the real thing – I’m afraid of failing, of not being adequately prepared, of offending the parties, of making things worse, of not rightly understanding what’s going on, I’m afraid of not using God’s Word wisely, of not having the right words to bring comfort or conviction, of not having the courage to say those words when I do have them…

I actually made this list and then had to cut it almost in half because I realized I’d take up all of my time with my laundry list of fears, and that’s actually not my purpose.  I raise these fears because I think there’s a Scriptural response to them, and I think it has to do with why we’re here… love.

1 John 4:18 tells us that “perfect love drives out fear.”  This is a verse that God recently brought to mind for me as I was preparing for some conciliation work, when I was feeling under-qualified, under-prepared and generally intimidated.

You know, all of 1 John is sort of a treatise on love – of God’s love for us, and of how we love other people.  I’ve already said that I think we’re here because of God’s love. And now I can turn around and use the power of that calling to drive out the fears that are holding me back from trying to make the most of my time at training or from diving into my first conciliation or from taking tentative steps to reconcile a relationship of my own that’s broken.

So, looking at some of those fears I listed earlier, how can perfect love (God’s love in me, and also as I grow in sharing that love with others) drive out my fear? Here are some questions I ask in response to my fears:

  • Do I love God more than I love my own reputation?
  • Am I resting enough in God’s love to look foolish in front of my fellow students, my instructors or even people I’m trying to serve in a conflict? (Luther famously called people to “sin boldly;” here I would encourage you to “mess up boldly.”)
  • Do I desire so much to share God’s love that I am willing to take the risks that this sort of ministry entails?
  • Will I pray that God will give me such a great love for the people I’m serving that I’ll be able to speak hard words gently and point people back to Christ for their hope? Will I pray that God will help me to love them enough to not get annoyed, angry, or to take sides when their sin starts impacting me?
  • What am I afraid of that makes me unwilling to apologize for mistakes or ways that I offend the people I’m serving, and is it because I love my own pride more than Christ’s glory in their relationship?

You are here because Christ’s love has called you here and he is sending you out, equipped in a distinct way to be a minister of reconciliation.  Live boldly, now and then, in that love.

1 John 3:1 – “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

Let’s pray that we would grow today in our love for God and in our ability to bring that love to bear in the nitty-gritty details of peoples’ lives.

Blogging the Mediation Manual: Chapter 4

Chapter 4 is a long, very in-depth chapter on the Mediation Process.

It begins by explaining the 5 definable steps that every mediation goes through.  We use the acronym GOSPEL to define them:

  • Greetings and Groundrules – the mediator welcomes the parties and orients them to the process
  • Opening statements – each party provides a brief initial statement
  • Storytelling – the mediator leads the parties to communicate their stories and concerns
  • Problem clarification – the mediator helps the parties organize the data and focus their attention on key issues
  • Explore solutions – the mediator assists the parties as they search together for specific solutions to the issue
  • Lead to agreement – the mediator guides the parties as they commit to personal reconciliation and arrive at an agreement that settles the substantive issues

The rest of the chapter is really an exploration of these 5 steps.  I appreciated — as I did when I first took the training back in 2003 — how specific it is, from what to do when they arrive so they don’t kill each other or at least simmer in uncomfortable silence waiting for you to meet up with them, to a script for opening your meeting together.

I see a lot of wisdom built into these pages, even though I found myself getting bogged down in details a couple of times.  And this wisdom is all from experience — often negative experience, I would assume.  For example, “It is often helpful to allow the parties to speak as early as possible” … sounds like we’ve had parties get frustrated because mediators spent so much time setting the stage that the parties felt like they were just being lectured instead of invited into dialogue with each other.

There’s also a great paragraph called “When parties vent.”  “A certain amount of ‘venting’ is common and should be expected. Generally, the mediation process should be a safe place for the parties to express themselves, even emotionally.”  However, the paragraph later warns the mediator to watch for when venting cross the line from being simply uncomfortable to being a means of intimidation, manipulation or just creating further alienation between the parties.  That’s when the mediator needs to intervene and remind everyone of the standards of speech and conduct that we’re committed to as Christians (e.g. “Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth…”).

As I said, this is a really dense chapter, but I wanted to close in the same vein that the chapter itself closes, with a summary of essential principles for biblical mediators. They are divided into spiritual principles, procedural principles and technique principles:

Summary of essential principles for biblical mediators

Spiritual principles

  • Emphasize the Gospel of Christ
  • Encourage the full range of God’s peacemaking principles (repentance, confession, loving confrontation, forgiveness, etc.)
  • Confess your own sin (if you find yourself having sinned somehow in the process)

Procedural principles

  • Provide complete information about the process (everyone involved should know what to expect)
  • Define the issues in biblical terms (“a sin is not merely an ‘error in judgment'”)
  • Deal with every issue
  • Keep the case moving
  • Control the pace and timing of mediation sessions
  • Use caucuses (breaks) and advisors wisely (use these times to address sensitive issues, to encourage repentance, or to explore
  • Stay with the case until the end

Technique principles

  • Allow and encourage the parties to talk (your job is to get them talking constructively; cultivate the skill of asking good questions)
  • Actively remain impartial
  • Boldly confront and exhort the parties
  • Encourage a “fair” result (genuinely looking out for each others’ interests, not just compromise or “splitting the difference)
  • Maintain confidentiality
  • Be gentle with the parties (“Don’t push them too hard. God will change their hearts in his time and his way. Allow the Holy Spirit to work without trying to inappropriately force an issue.”)

                Blogging the Mediation Manual: Chapter 3, part 3

                As promised last week, today I am simply going to post part of a chart that I thought was really profound.  The manual says that it’s adapted from the Mennonite Conciliation Service.The chart is called “Attitudes and Behaviors that Affect our Responses to Conflict.”  The whole chart has around 15 attitudes listed, but I’m just going to pull out 5 that stood out to me.  If you want the whole chart, I guess you’ll have to take our training.  :)

                On the left-hand column, you’ll see “Factors that Cause Us to Slip” (that is, attitudes and behaviors that compel us to cling to our present position and not be inclined to do what it takes to be reconciled), and on the right, you’ll see “Stabilizing Factors” (that is, truths from God’s Word about who God is and who we are in Christ that help us respond in faith and obedience).

                Love Amid Differences

                John Piper gave a helpful charge to his pastoral staff on loving one another even when we have different perspectives. His key text was from Ephesians 4:3, where we are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Why take staff time for such an exercise? Piper notes

                The reason for this focus was, negatively, that if this pastoral staff disintegrates in disunity, the damage to the church will be great; and, positively, if God would keep us unified around our mission, the Christ-exalting scope of the impact would be worth dying for.

                It’s a message that affirms why Peacemaker Ministries exists. But the meat of the message was great, too. Justin Taylor summarizes it like this:

                1. Let’s avoid gossiping.
                2. Let’s identify evidences of grace in each other and speak them to each other and about each other.
                3. Let’s speak criticism directly to each other if we feel the need to speak to others about it.
                4. Let’s look for, and assume, the best motive in the other’s viewpoint, especially when we disagree.
                5. Think often of the magnificent things we hold in common.
                6. Let’s be more amazed that we are forgiven than that we are right. And in that way, let’s shape our relationships by the gospel.

                Thank you once again, Pastor Piper, for your great service to the Church.

                There’s Nothing More Beautiful

                I love fly-fishing and I love this time of year.  Over Easter I spent a couple of days on my favorite Montana stream with my father and father-in-law.  It was a small piece of heaven.  The breeze was warm and sweet and the birds are returning from their winter trips. The foothills are starting to turn green and are backdropped by the majestic snow-covered Rockies.  Best of all, the trout are famished after a long winter!

                As wonderful as this is, it genuinely pales in comparison to the spendor and sheer beauty of the Gospel.  Enjoy these words – a bit of biblical springtime, if you will:

                For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  Once you were alientated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (Colossians 1:19-22)

                Blogging the Mediation Manual: Chapter 3, part 2

                Eeek!  I’m on the countdown to the Conflict Coaching and Mediation training that I’ll be helping at, so I’d better get moving on this mediation manual reading!

                (click here to read part 1, part 2 or part 3)

                Today’s “gem” is more skill-oriented – how a mediator can best collect the data that he or she needs in order to “discover as much as possible from the party’s perspective on both the facts and the party’s feelings regarding the dispute, and to help the party become more self-aware.”

                One “aha” moment for me in reviewing these materials was the distinction between open-ended questions and closed questions, and, particularly, how using these types of questions at different times can lead to a more productive data-gathering process.

                Open-ended questions are often most effectively used at first, because they give people room to tell you what is significant to them, rather than simply answering what is asked. Open-ended questions can’t easily be answered with a single word or phrase. Examples of open-ended questions include:

                • “Tell me more about Mr. Smith.”
                • “What have you done since you left that church?”

                “Closed” questions are effectively used later to narrow the discussion to areas that will help to clarify information for the mediator. Closed questions are those which can be answered with a single word of phrase. Examples of closed questions include:

                • “Who, why, what, when, where, etc.?”
                • “Who is the chairman of the congregation?”

                And since we believe that, ultimately, destructive conflict comes from the desires that battle within our hearts (James 4:1-3), here’s the most important “communication skill:”

                In pre-mediation it is even more important to begin to identify a person’s underlying interests or motives, i.e. their “heart” condition. If a mediator doesn’t understand the root, then the mediator can’t help the party deal with the fruit (Luke 6:45). Questions to help reveal underlying interests and motives include those that address a party’s needs, desires, expectations, and fears. Questions that unpack a party’s perception can be especially powerful because perception can often be more controlling than reality. Three useful questions to reveal underlying interests are:

                • What do you want to achieve?
                • What do you want to preserve?
                • What do you want to avoid?

                For tomorrow, I’m going to try to pull out some excerpts of a chart in chapter 3 that I think is pretty cool.

                (By the way, this whole manual is around 170 pages, so while it may seem like I’m writing a lot, I’m really just pulling out a couple bits here and there.  This is in no way a substitute for taking our training or going through the manual yourself!)

                The Other Cup

                As great as I think my series on the Mediation Manual is, I wanted to leave everyone with something a little more Eastery this evening, as our offices will be closed tomorrow.

                The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation shared a great article today called “The Other Cup.

                In this Good Friday sermon, Ray Dillard sets before us the cup of God’s wrath, takes us to the cross where Jesus drank it on our behalf, and then points us to … the other cup. Dr. Ray Dillard, now with the Lord, was a beloved professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary. He was co-author of one of the most widely-used Old Testament introductions in print. 

                I hope you’ll take some time to download, read and meditate on the powerful message Dillard shares here.  At the risk of giving away the “punch line,” here are three paragraphs that I found particularly powerful:

                Consider how, in our day, we love to hear about the love of God. Most evangelical preaching is in that general
                area. Look at your typical televangelist, and you ear a lot about the love of God. A month ago Christianity
                carried a survey among evangelical theologians and ministers. The disproportionate interest in the love and the wrath of God was striking, many evangelical preachers finding the wrath of God a less usable concept in our day. Please understand that the cross, which is the supreme demonstration of the love of God, is simultaneously the supreme demonstration of how much God hates sin and of what sin costs because it’s
                at the cross that we learn to estimate the price of sin.

                The beauty of the gospel is that only moments before Jesus meets with a select few in the garden and then goes on to pray about the cup He was facing, He meets with His disciples in an upper room and says, “Look, I have a new cup for you, a new and different cup. This is not a cup of the wine of God’s fury but a cup filled with my blood, a cup of the forgiveness of sin, not a cup of cursing, but a cup of blessing. Drink from it, all of you.”

                In Matthew 26 we have two cups laid down side by side: the one cup-the wine of God’s fury-the one Christ would take for us, and the other cup, the one you and I are going to share this night in remembrance of Him, the cup of the forgiveness of sins.

                What a joy to be forgiven at such great cost. Happy Easter, everyone.

                Blogging the Mediation Manual: Chapter 3, part 1

                (click here to read part 1 and part 2)

                Chapter 3, “The Pre-Mediation Process” is all about how people come to a mediator, how the mediator evaluates if he/she is capable of serving the parties well, what the mediator needs to do in order to begin moving the parties toward the mediation process, and how to do the initial conflict coaching for both parties.

                This is a long chapter; I think it’s going to take me several posts to cover all of the “gems” I’m finding here.  I’ll start with one of the most important things a mediator can do when people come to him or her seeking help for a conflict: provide hope.

                Provide hope. At intake the mediator can give hope and encouragement. People caught in conflict struggle to keep in sight the genuine hope and assurance of the gospel. The truth of God’s love for his children and his commitment to be with them, in power, through every trial is often just what the parties need. Even when people know what they should do, they often need someone to stimulate courage, confidence, and hope, and to motivate them to do what needs to be done. The mediator can identify with their pain in appropriate ways, offer compassion and, as appropriate, share similar experiences (2 Cor. 1:1-11). A helpful image for the mediator is to describe his or her role as that of a fellow traveler, a brother or sister in Christ, who is seeking to come alongside and help the party walk the path with courage and hope.

                A few tips that the manual includes for how a mediator can provide hope:

                Proclaim the Gospel in all its fullness (Rom. 1:16-17; 8:28-39)

                • Point out that they are “chosen, holy, and dearly loved” (Col. 3:12-14)
                • Emphasize God’s faithfulness, power, and goodness (Phil. 1:6; 1 Cor 10:13)
                • Encourage them that God promises that their efforts are not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58)
                • Exhort them that “for a Christian, it is never too late to start doing what’s right.”

                The parties can be encouraged that when hardship and suffering cannot be legitimately avoided, it can be accepted as a mark of the grace of God (1 Peter 1:3-9; James 1:3-4; Rom. 5:3; Heb. 12:1-3).

                • When people are hesitant to do what is right, offer appropriate exhortation, urging, advice, and caution (1 Tim. 5:1)…
                • When people refuse to do what is right, admonish them, reproving sin and warning of unpleasant consequences (Col. 3:16; 1 Thess 5:12; Gal 6:7-8).
                • Above all, pray (Eph. 1:15-23), pray (Phil. 1:3-11), pray (Col 1:3-14)!

                Blogging the Mediation Manual: Chapter 2

                (click here to read part 1)

                I loved this quote in the introduction to chapter 2, “Mediation Overview:”

                The inspiration of a Christian mediator is the free grace and forgiveness of God. Christian mediators are motivated and have freedom to encourage and facilitate repentance, confession and forgiveness because of who God is and what he has already done in the life of every believer (Psalm 103:8-13; Isaiah 46:3,4; Matt. 18:32-35; Eph. 2:8-10, 14-17).

                The chapter goes on to talk about things like the goals of a mediator, how to build (and keep) someone’s trust, and the importance of confidentiality.  What caught my eye, though, was a list called “the roles of a Christian mediator.”  The list in the manual includes an explanation of each item, but here’s the quick list:

                • Intercessor
                • Convener
                • Facilitator of communication and understanding
                • Model
                • Referee and protector
                • Trust builder
                • Resource expander
                • Generator of alternatives
                • Reality tester
                • Teacher and counselor
                • Encourager and coach
                • Confronter and exhorter
                • Proclaimer of forgiveness
                • Closer
                • Witness
                • Judge

                A few of my own comments on a couple items in this list:

                • Intercessor. Rarely in my life do I feel so dependent on God’s power and mercy as when I am serving as mediator. I’m still fairly inexperienced anyway, but even when I’m co-mediating with much more experienced individuals, it’s always clear that any heart-change or reconciliation that takes place is the result of God working in them … and so prayer becomes perhaps the most important thing we can do as mediators.
                • Model. Although none of us want to be exposed as less-than-perfect mediators, it seems like God always gives me a chance to show (blatantly) how I am just that! The beautiful thing is when I am finding my significance in Christ (and not my performance as mediator), I am able to humbly confess that and ask for forgiveness … sometimes the mediators are the first to “break” and be able to model what confession and forgiveness (or good listening, or caring for a weaker brother) look like in the mediation process.
                • Proclaimer of Forgiveness. Maybe it’s the latent Lutheran in me (Lutherans value verbal confession of sin, followed by someone – usually a pastor – verbally proclaiming God’s forgiveness to the confessor), but I find it remarkably cool to be able to remind people that God, in Christ, has forgiven them of their sins. Sometimes you get to a point in mediation where people are struggling to have the freedom to confess something, or they are struggling to feel “released” once they have made that confession. A mediator can make a powerful impact simply by pausing to proclaim the freedom that Christ’s death and resurrection bring to those who are covered by the blood.

                Okay, tomorrow will be chapter 3, “The Pre-Mediation Process.”

                Blogging the Mediation Manual

                I hope this will be a lot more exciting than it sounds!  I started reading our Mediation Self-Study manual in anticipation of a training event that I’ll be helping lead in a couple of weeks.  I’m reading it to brush up on my skills and to be able to know the material well enough to be a resource for others, but I kept coming across these little gems that I thought would be great to share with our blog readers … which led to my project for this week: blogging the mediation manual.Today’s “gem” comes from chapter 1, “Foundations.”  The chapter begins by reviewing our four convictions/distinctives, the Slippery Slope and the Four G’s.  It then compares different dispute resolution processes, both Christian and secular.  The final page describes challenges and benefits of Christian conciliation; that’s what I want to share with you:

                What are the challenges of Christian conciliation?

                • It calls for confession and exposure of sin.
                • It calls for personal sacrifice, which may involve the surrender of certain rights.
                • It tends to broaden the issue by digging into the root causes of conflict (“matters of the heart”).
                • It may actually be more expensive than other conflict resolution processes because moral responsibilities may sometimes exceed legal responsibilities.
                • It requires parties to deal personally with the conflict because it doesn’t involve hiring someone to carry out their parts in the process.

                Although these challenges can present significant problems in some situations, in the long run they can lead to great blessings as God uses these difficulties to bring deeper and more lasting solutions to our conflicts.

                What are the benefits of Christian conciliation for a church?

                • God’s passionate heart for reconciliation is displayed to the world.
                • The witness of the church is preserved.
                • Erring believers are restored to fellowship and usefulness.
                • Families are strengthened and protected from divorce.
                • Members and staff enjoy better relationships and more productive activities.
                • The likelihood of fatal divisions in a church or ministry is reduced.
                • There is less exposure to lawsuits.
                • Respect and appreciation for leadership grows.
                • Members and staff are less inclined to leave.
                • Resources (time, energy and money) of the church or ministry are protected from waste.
                • New people are attracted and growth is stimulated.
                • Most importantly, God is glorified as others witness his power and love in concrete ways (see 1 Pet. 2:12)

                And, the final paragraph:

                Biblical peacemaking is not a tool or optional ministry for the local church. God reveals in his word that to promote reconciliation is at the core of his redemptive purpose for every believer and for every church.

                Coming tomorrow, chapter2, “Mediation Overview!”