How to Fire Your Pastor (part 2)

Redeeming Church Conflicts bookA blog post from RedeemingChurchConflicts.com, written by Dave Edling and Tara Barthel, co-authors of the new book, Redeeming Church Conflicts.

If you’ve read “How to Fire Your Pastor — Part 1,” then you know that its content only applies when the pastor is best characterized as a “hired-hand” (see John 10:12-13). In contrast, today’s post addresses the issue of letting a pastor go when the pastor is a true servant-shepherd. In these situations, there may be godly and appropriate reasons why he must leave. There could be compelling personal considerations, changing demographics, a difference of opinion or purpose that is not sin-driven but may reflect a differing philosophy of ministry, a humble recognition of the fact that the spiritual gifts of another may better serve the changing environment, etc. But, sadly, there may also be sinful reasons why the servant-shepherd pastor is being let go. The “firing” may actually be revealing spiritual immaturity in a few (or many) members of the flock.

It is the latter situation—sinful reasons for the firing—that usually brings up the greatest amount of hurt and destructive conflict for the pastor, his family, and the rest of the church. This is the focus of today’s post:

How does a servant-shepherd pastor redeem even his unjust firing for God’s glory and for personal and corporate spiritual growth?

First, let’s consider the background for when a servant-shepherd pastor is sinfully fired (treated just like any employee at any old job).

We live in a day and age when even Christians, having been conformed to the priorities and patterns of our loud culture through its incessant demands, forget they have been called to hunger for the things Jesus hungered for: righteousness, mercy, peace, humility, compassion, and justice, to name but a few. People conformed to the pattern of this world (see Romans 12:2) can lose focus and even become intolerant of a pastor who models Christ-like obedience and humility in their confused quest for greater “relevance” in the world. Whenever church people begin to measure the “success” of their pastor by making comparison with what passes as successful in this world, it is not unusual for persecution of the pastor to follow. How should a true servant-shepherd respond?

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil things against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12

Furthermore …

And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth. 2 Timothy 2:24-25

A servant-shepherd who has preached, taught, and modeled Christ by manifesting all of the fruit of the Spirit does not respond to conflict with conflict. He responds with the message of redemption and reconciliation. The issues of concern that go by secular titles (“wrongful termination,” “due process,” etc.) seem trite and insignificant to the true servant-shepherd because he doesn’t carry concern for his “job” but, rather, is consumed with a passion for the souls of God’s sheep (who are also his sheep), even those souls seeking his dismissal. Having been called to the ministry by God, his vision is one of care and compassion even for (especially for!) the spiritually weak, confused, and immature.

And so we find ourselves at the real questions in this situation:

  • When immature Christians try to force a servant-shepherd pastor out of office, how will the other church leaders and members—those who are mature in Christ—respond? Will they look at their pastor and recognize the presence of grace and godliness in their midst? Or will they be taken over by worldly goals and patterns?
  • And how about the pastor and his family? Will they confidently continue to trust in God, even in the face of persecution? Will they keep an eternal perspective and see God’s glory at work, even if their own personal story becomes one of being forced to leave the church on account of righteousness? Will they remember that how they respond to even this persecution is going to be a part of their lasting legacy at this church?

From God’s perspective, “firing” one of His under-shepherds is the epitome of foolishness. In Psalm 14:1 we are told:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

Whenever God’s people seek removal of a true servant-shepherd pastor due to any priority inconsistent with the Lord’s revealed will, they essentially affirm in their hearts that there is no God. In their foolishness, they deny that God could place in their midst one who would speak and model God’s Word of truth in love. Because God’s truth is frequently hard to hear given our culture’s demands and its loud voice, it is not surprising that churches do seek the removal of godly pastors. And shouldn’t that cause conflict? Shouldn’t there be people rising up to oppose the ungodly acts of unrighteousness seeking to be imposed on others? And the true servant-shepherd will not run from conflict (as the hired-hand does), but he will stay and guide his sheep in the way of redemption and reconciliation regardless of the outcome. He will do that with care and compassion because he knows that God will sovereignly grow his people up in maturity through such encounters. He always remembers that:

God is present in the company of the righteous. Psalm 14:5b

And this presence reveals itself even when conflict comes to the church.

One closing note to servant-shepherd pastors: In at least half of the church conflict intervention cases I have consulted on, by the time mediation services were engaged, the pastors had already fled the congregation. Rather than staying to shepherd their people at the point of their greatest spiritual need, these men proved the charge that they were merely “hired hands” when they saw the wolf of conflict coming! It grieves me to say it, but I do believe that such men are no longer worthy of the title “pastor” because they did not prioritize the care of the flock over their own personal or professional “needs.”

I know these situations are frightening and often infuriating. This is exactly how an attack from a real wolf would be! If you are reading this and you just found out that you are being fired by your church, you are probably flooded with adrenaline and tempted to give in to fight or flight. Please fight this temptation with all of your strength! Don’t be afraid. Don’t be fooled. Stay the course! As needed, repent, confess, and change. But stay the course. Don’t stay merely to contribute to the conflict through self-serving defensiveness, but rather lead your people through the conflict by redeeming it for God’s glory and your (and God’s!) sheep’s spiritual growth. You can always leave later if that seems wise and would serve God’s interests, but first build a legacy of sacrifice that will leave a lasting impression and enduring memory that will change your sheep for their future in the church. Even foolish sheep, after all, need a model of what a true shepherd is like.

And for the rest of the leaders and church members? Tune tomorrow to read my entry on how you should have dealt with your servant-shepherd pastor, rather than merely firing him in a worldly manner.

For the glory of the Lamb,

Dave Edling

It Takes Two to Tango (And to Grant Forgiveness)

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When an offense is too serious to overlook and the offender has not yet repented, you may need to approach forgiveness as a two-stage process. The first stage requires having an attitude of forgiveness, and the second, granting forgiveness. Having an attitude of forgiveness is unconditional and is a commitment you make to God (see Mark 11:25; Luke 6:28; Acts 7:60). By his grace, you seek to maintain a loving and merciful attitude toward someone who has offended you. This requires making and living out the first promise of forgiveness, which means you will not dwell on the hurtful incident or seek vengeance or retribution in thought, word, or action. Instead, you pray for the other person and stand ready at any moment to pursue complete reconciliation as soon as he or she repents. This attitude will protect you from bitterness and resentment, even if the other person takes a long time to repent.

Granting forgiveness is conditional on the repentance of the offender and takes place between you and that person (Luke 17:34). It is a commitment to make the other three promises of forgiveness to the offender. When there has been a serious offense, it would not be appropriate to make these promises until the offender has repented. Until then, you may need to talk with the offender about his sin or seek the involvement of others to resolve the matter (Matt. 18:1620). You could not do this if you had already made the last three promises. But once the other person repents, you can make these promises, closing the matter forever, the same way God forgives you.

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) pp. 210-211.

Food for Thought

Today’s Food for Thought is pretty simple: When it comes to granting forgiveness, don’t forget to involve the offender! Many times, forgiveness is described as “letting go” or “getting over it.” This is true and absolutely necessary, to the extent that “letting go” is, in essence, a matter of taking your eyes off the offense and the offender and putting them on the cross, where the ultimate act of reconciliation took place. But again, this only gets us to the beginning of the first stage of forgiveness. To be able to make all four promises of forgiveness (i.e., to experience complete reconciliation), however, we must involve the other person.

Now ideally, the granting of forgiveness takes place in the context of a confession by a repentant offender. When the offender can’t or won’t repent, then it is true that our only choice is to maintain an attitude of forgiveness. But when our offender hasn’t had a chance to confess, then we owe it to him (or her) to go to him and give him that chance. As we “gently restore” the offender, and God works in his heart, then we both have opportunity to experience the joy of true and complete reconciliation. Forgiveness is a gift–so let’s remember to let the offender know he received it!

How to Fire Your Pastor (part 1)

Redeeming Church Conflicts bookA blog post from RedeemingChurchConflicts.com, written by Dave Edling and Tara Barthel, co-authors of the new book, Redeeming Church Conflicts.

Q. Getting rid of a pastor can cause a lot of conflict. What should be happening for both the pastor and other church leaders and members when everyone is figuring out if the pastor should be let go? How should a church let a pastor go?

A. It depends (typical lawyer answer, eh?) …

  • Is your pastor a “hired-hand” (see John 10:12-13) or a servant-shepherd ready to lay down his life for God’s sheep?
  • Is the tradition and history of the church to hire a man to lead by fulfilling a “position description” or is the attitude of everyone (pastor, leaders, and members) reflective of “calling” only God’s chosen under-shepherd who through supernatural spiritual gifting humbly models Christ by imitating His sacrifice?
  • Is your pastor one who curries favor with people or one who pushes forward Christ and the Holy Spirit’s agenda while making nothing of himself?
  • Do people of the church want a pastor who is popular by the world’s standards or one who is poor in spirit (MT 5:3), one who mourns (MT 5:4), one who is meek (MT 5:5), one whose hunger and thirst is for righteousness (MT 5:6), one who is merciful (MT 5:7), one who is pure of heart (MT 5:8), one who is a peacemaker (MT 5:9), and one willing to accept persecution because of righteousness (MT 5:10)?
  • Has the church “filled the pulpit” with an appealing and clever orator or a man of godly character who is qualified as one who is above reproach, husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, a model manager of his own family, and one who has a good reputation with those outside the church (1 Timothy 3:2-7)?
  • Is your pastor displaying evidence of the influence and fruit of this world (loud, pushing his agenda, seeking man’s approval, demanding his way, proud, arrogant, etc.) or the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)?

If your pastor, and the people of your church, are predominantly described by any of the characteristics and/or descriptive statements appearing before the word “or” in the above questions you most probably have a mere hired-hand for a pastor. Firing a hired-hand is no different than firing any other person holding a secular job: you must be knowledgeable of and comply with your state’s statues and laws concerning employment to avoid a charge of “wrongful termination.” It will mean dotting all of the “i’s” and crossing all of the “t’s” of procedure dictated by legally-mandated due process considerations. And, it will mean “managing church conflict” among those who will be driven by worldly expectations and sentiments akin to those experienced when the best player on the local high school sport’s teams is benched because he or she is failing academically (howls of indignant outrage). But the church will get through it even though some people may leave. That won’t be the concern in such a church because the focus will be merely on answering the question, “Who can we hire into the position next?”

But …

If you have a servant-shepherd pastor, and the people of your church are characterized by the statements following the word “or” above, then you have an entirely different situation … an entirely different problem. That discussion comes, Lord willing, in “How to Fire Your Pastor — Part 2.” (Part 2 will be posted Thursday.)

-Dave Edling

What Should a Wife Do When Her Husband Has Conflicts with Church Leaders?

Redeeming Church Conflicts bookA blog post from RedeemingChurchConflicts.com, written by Dave Edling and Tara Barthel, co-authors of the new book, Redeeming Church Conflicts.

Q. What do I do when my husband has called out a leader in sin (following Mt. 18); brought it to the church (1 Tim. 5:20); and the church is either in denial or is choosing to overlook it and now has attacked my husband (saying he’s in sin for publicly rebuking the leader)? They have unresolved issues with my husband but not one of them has made any attempts to seek resolution even though I have encouraged them to do so. Some of these people are my closest friends but they have wrongly attacked my husband and are protecting the leader. What does God’s Word say about what I should do as the wife? None of the leaders will have any communication with my husband but they are still willing to talk to me. My thought is that I should have nothing to do with them until they seek resolution with my husband (whom I am 100% behind for what he did). Is this biblical?

A. This is a series of questions so let’s break them out and see where God’s Word would lead us.

First, your first question should be restated as: “Was it biblically proper for my husband to publically confront and rebuke a church leader over his sin (I have to assume this was an ordained minister, elder, etc… someone in an official, visible position of authority in the church)? Rather than simply assuming that your husband acted properly let’s ask that question first. The verse that discusses most directly how to bring a charge of sin against an ordained leader is 1 Timothy 5:19, the verse right before the passage you mention as your husband’s basis for bringing a public rebuke (1 Timothy 5:20). First Timothy 5:19 says:

“Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.”  

This principle is one mentioned a number of times in Scripture (see Deuteronomy 19:15 and 2 Corinthians 13:1, for example), and is foundational to the question of whether your husband has acted biblically or not. Of course, you should not merely stand by your husband if he has acted in a manner that calls for his repentance (more on that later). The multiple witness principle applied in what seems to be your case would result in not just your husband confronting the leader but at least two or three others who agree with your husband that this ordained leader is caught in a sin and needs the church’s help so that he may see it and become freed. Matthew 18:16 calls for a process where two or three are to become involved so that “every matter may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

Further, an act of church discipline (such as a “public rebuke”) is to be brought by the church (usually the elders of the church depending on a church’s polity), and a “public rebuke” is to be an official act of the church and not one taken by any one person. By saying in your comments that “They have unresolved issues with my husband…” makes me wonder: What about the other agreeing witnesses? Do leaders have issues with them as well? If only your husband stands as the accuser he has not acted biblically and he should repent, ask forgiveness, and express his concerns about this apparently sin-caught leader in a different manner… not making just this his issue but following the pattern of the Scriptures.

Second, you state that none of the leaders (apparently both the leader who has been confronted and other church leaders) has made any attempts to seek resolution even though I have encouraged them to do so. My question would be: How have you encouraged your husband to seek resolution by humbly owning whatever he has done to contribute to this conflict?

Even though these leaders are your friends you probably have more credibility with your husband at present then you have with them. Will you counsel your husband to think about the manner in which he has brought this accusation as discussed in the first paragraph of this answer? Even if other witnesses who agree with your husband are involved, an accusation of sin against anyone is to be brought “gently” (Galatians 6:1) and not in a manner that will create conflict (it would seem your husband may have created this conflict by bringing a “public rebuke”).

Helping another person realize their sin and then helping them to become unstuck is a ministry for the benefit of the one caught and, according to Scripture, is to be done with great care and gentleness. It sounds that you have been quick to judge others (“they have wrongly attacked my husband and are protecting the leader”) and such judgment is inconsistent with caring ministry.

Third, you ask “What does God’s Word say about what I should do as the wife?” I would suggest a more appropriate way to ask that question would be this: What should I do as a Christian to help gently restore my brothers in Christ to fellowship with one another? While you have a special relationship with your husband as his wife you have even a higher calling as a sister in Christ to him and the others involved in this conflict. To be able to really ask of this whole scenario “Is this biblical?” you will first have to come to an eternal perspective that frees you to look without bias at the biblical principles of peacemaking when you see ones you love trapped in conflict.

When you do that you open yourself and others to all of God’s wisdom concerning his high priority for peace between his eternal children. Ephesians 4:2 and 3 says:

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

One way you can make that effort is to read more on this website from the various articles and links that Tara and I provide, especially on confrontation and conflicts involving leaders. Further, pray that God would give you an impartial passion to help your husband and all of these other fellow Christians to live at peace by trusting that God has given you and them this situation so that you might grow in your Christ-like character and closer to Him as you navigate this conflict for his glory.

Obviously, the implication here is that you should not cut off communications with anyone conditioned on what they may or may not do. You are not alone and I would encourage you to seek out wise and mature Christian friends who will walk with you through this peacemaking opportunity.

Blessings,
Dave Edling

Doing Nothing Equals Something

 

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Forgive us our debts…” Matthew 6:12

In fact, we can sin against God by omission — by doing nothing. As James 4:17 tells us, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” Therefore, if we are involved in a conflict and neglect opportunities to serve others (by failing to bear their burdens, gently restore them, etc.), we are guilty of sin in God’s eyes.

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 119.
 

Food for Thought

By neglecting to do good, we end up neglecting God.

Have you ever been in a situation and you just knew you were being asked to do something good, say something good, be something good — but you didn’t do it, say it, or be it? No doubt we all have. In the wake of those moments, we often feel like we’ve neglected someone. But how often do we live with the awareness that we’ve neglected God in those moments?

When we do something unto the least of our brothers or sisters, we’re doing it as unto the Lord. And when we don’t something unto the least of our brothers and sisters, we’re not doing it unto the Lord. Omission by another name is neglect. And neglect in God’s eyes is sin. Sincerely confess it to God, and ask him to help you to “do good” in that relationship in the future.

What Pastors in Conflicted Churches Most Need to Hear

Redeeming Church Conflicts bookA blog post from RedeemingChurchConflicts.com, written by Dave Edling and Tara Barthel, co-authors of the new book, Redeeming Church Conflicts.

When pastors in conflicted churches call you, what do they need the most? Is there a certain piece of advice or Scripture passage that you always end up giving them?

A pastor tensely (and loudly) said, “You just don’t understand, Dave; no one has ever faced a situation like this and many, many people are going to be hurt and the church will never recover!” On the phone this pastor, this under-shepherd of the Lord and King of Creation, was so distraught and overwhelmed by his church’s conflicts that there was simply no hope left in him. For him, the end of the world had truly arrived. But had it really?

One aspect of the account given to us in the opening verses of Acts 15 that always amazes and encourages me is the response that Paul and Barnabas displayed when traveling through the land to take a matter of church conflict back to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for counsel. The early church was facing a very serious doctrinal challenge to the Gospel’s message of free grace in Christ. Paul and Barnabas knew the stakes were high as evidenced by the fierce encounter they had with those demanding the addition of the works of the law. But we find them as they travel through Phoenicia and Samaria telling people how the powerful message of grace has led to the conversion of even the Gentiles (those considered by the “religious people” of the day as outcasts and “unclean”).  And, as Acts 15:3 goes on to tell us:

“This news made all the brothers very glad.”

The anxiety of conflict could have diverted Paul and Barnabas from the good news of the entrance of new believers into the eternal kingdom of God. Had this happened, we could well have had an account reporting that:

“The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how a great church conflict was raging in Antioch and many were leaving the church. This news made all the brothers very sad.”

But that was not how Paul and Barnabas acted and that is not what happened. Why?

Of course, it was because Paul and Barnabas knew and had seen the power of God’s grace in action. Just take a few minutes to read the chapters immediately preceding chapter 15 of Acts and imagine for a moment how you would react if someone then told you “No. God’s grace in Christ is not enough for your eternal salvation.” That would sound like rubbish and nonsense. But then what? Do you keep on joyously serving God’s people in truth or do you react in some other manner? Are you suddenly overwhelmed by discouragement, anxiety, and an end-of-the-world mentality? That was exactly where this pastor was during our phone call. (And exactly where many pastors have been during many phone calls I have had with them.)

A serious conflict had struck his church. What do I now say to bring him back to a perspective that serves up a large dose of the reality of grace?

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

That is the most important message—God’s message—that this pastor and every person in conflict needs to hear. It is the message of the reality of eternal grace that overcomes every distraction, even the distraction of conflict.  But to understand that message in context we need to understand and believe something more. These verses begin with the key word “Therefore” indicating that what came before establishes the basis from which the belief-action of change can follow. We see that before the “Therefore” of verse 16 come these powerful words of eternal truth:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6

It is written: “I believed therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 2 Corinthians 4:13-14 (emphasis added)

When I responded to the pastor with the words of 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 I was not advocating some pie-in-the-sky mind game to try to manipulate him into feeling better. No. When I spoke of living consistently from an “eternal perspective,” I was reminding him of all of the truths he already believed; truths that would give him hope to courageously and joyfully face his conflicts. I gently encouraged him:

Pastor, your belief, your faith, in the risen Christ demands of you a new way of thinking and speaking. If you believe that God raised Christ from the dead and that he will also raise you then you have the present power of that faith to change and face every conflict with that same spirit. Our common faith is in a presently unseen reality that changes everything; it opens the door to hope and it means you never again have to be overwhelmed by anything in this life.”

When the distraught pastor regained his perspective he began to change. He realized that the situation he faced may be out of his present control but that it wasn’t out of God’s control. He believed again that by faith he could see the situation anew. Even though the conflict was serious, it was not paralyzing. He could become the messenger of encouragement and hope that God had called him to be. With that renewed eternal perspective he began to understand what trust in God really looked like. And as he trusted in God, he lost his anxiety and began to lead. Under his leadership the church’s members responded in faith and hope and the conflict eventually became the message God was using to grow up his disciples.

Redeeming conflicts begins with faith, hope, and trust in the God Who raised the dead then and Who still raises the dead today. God is at work in every situation, even the excruciatingly painful fire of church conflict.

With man this is impossible, but not with God: all things are possible with God. Mark 10:27

The power making eternal salvation possible is also the power behind redeeming church conflicts. Believe it. Live it. Have hope.

-Dave Edling

Chance to win five peacemaking books

We are sponsoring a giveaway of five sets of five peacemaking books over at challies.com.

Peacemaking Books

  • The Peacemaker, by Ken Sande – The foundational book on biblical peacemaking that lays out a gospel-centered and practical framework for Christians to use to resolve conflicts.
  • The Peacemaker Student Edition, by Ken Sande and Kevin Johnson – A short book based on the principles from The Peacemaker that is aimed at teens and youth workers.
  • The Peacemaking Pastor, by Alfred Poirier – Written by a pastor for pastors, this book explores the theology of reconciliation and the call for church leaders to be shepherd mediators.
  • Peacemaking Women, by Tara Barthel and Judy Dabler – With personal stories and advice that is firmly rooted in Scripture, this book looks at some of the relational struggles common to women and offers a guide to peace with God, peaceful relationships with others, and genuine peace within.
  • Redeeming Church Conflict, by Tara Barthel and David Edling – In this hope-filled and practical book, two church conflict resolution experts take you through the Acts 15 model of approaching conflict in order to provide a clear, godly way forward into redemptive reconciliation.

Drawing closes on Saturday noon, so enter soon!  http://bit.ly/JC4VSx

When “Peacemaking” Causes Even More Conflicts

Redeeming Church Conflicts bookA blog post from RedeemingChurchConflicts.com, written by Dave Edling and Tara Barthel, co-authors of the new book, Redeeming Church Conflicts.

Q. I am afraid to go directly to the person who has seriously sinned against me as it says I should do in Matthew 18:15. I am afraid because I think by going it would make matters worse between us. What should I do because I want to follow the Bible and be reconciled?

A. Thank you for respecting the authority of God’s Word. That, I believe, is the core issue confronting Christianity: Is God’s Holy Word as found in the Holy Bible worthy of absolute authority because it is our Creator’s binding revelation to us? You seem to have settled that question in your own mind by how you have asked your question. You indicate that it is binding on you and you do want to obey it. Again, I commend you for this view. And because you desire to honor God by following his principles laid down on the pages of Scripture I will attempt to do the same by speaking truth in love to you.

“Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace” (Amelia Earhart, Aviator). I am quite sure that Miss Earhart, not especially known for her theological acumen, did not write those words in the context of your question. She was, however, an extremely confident and brave person. Her words capture an important biblical principle central to an answer to your question. That principle is that the fear of man (the controlling power of the opinion or actions of others) cannot be allowed to override your holy and awe invoking fear of God.

Psalm 27:1 asks rhetorically, “Whom shall I fear?” “The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?” All of Psalm 27 calls us back to that eternal perspective that frees us to be confident and courageous, with the hope of encouraging peace.

The prophet Isaiah, called to serve God as a covenant prosecutor bringing God’s charges and his condemnation against a people who had turned from him, issues the same call as Psalm 27 to people of enduring faith; those needing hope and encouragement as the faithful remnant who would survive God’s judgment: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you’” (Isaiah 35:4). Verse 51:7 also seems appropriate because you have God’s law in your heart: “Hear me, you who know what is right, you people who have my law in your hearts: Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults.”

One thing that we can certainly say of the Christian faith is that it is not a faith for the timid or cowardly; the Lord changes such people into confident warriors by placing in their hearts an awesome and rejoicing fear of God that dwarfs the fear of any man. You can be strong and courageous because you are “in Christ,” the spiritual reality of your faith given to you through grace, so that you can know for certain the source of all strength.

At the same time, however, God calls us to be wise. It is right for you to carefully examine the reasons why you are fearful of this confrontation. Is this person in a position of authority over you; are they socially more powerful? Is that other person known for anger, violence, or irrational behavior? By pinpointing exactly what you fear (loss of the relationship, tainting of your own reputation, your physical safety or the physical safety of others, etc.), you can make a decision that both honors God and displays wisdom.

For example, taking another person with you to fulfill Matthew 18:15 does not necessarily mean you have overlooked the requirement to go personally to the one who has sinned against you. Taking another person along for this first encounter not as a “witness” as used in the sense of Matthew 18:16 but for wisdom’s sake does not violate the spirit of the biblical process. We must remember that that process is designed to reclaim the one whose sin has hurt you and broken fellowship with you and with God.

(And a note from Tara … We must also remember that there are limits to what we can accomplish in the peacemaking process. Romans 12:18 states that, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” This means that we cannot “make peace.” All we can do, and all the Lord requires of us, is to do what is possible, so far as it depends on us. When teaching on this topic, I like to use a phrase that one of my blog readers gave me when I asked a similar question to yours:

“How far should I go in this peacemaking process? I want to be reconciled, to be sure. But I don’t want to be a reconciliation stalker.”

God will honor your efforts to boldly speak the truth in love and you never know how your courage to confront in love may be used by God to deeply affect others. But you never want to be a reconciliation stalker.)

Instead, remember what Ken Sande has so cogently stated in The Peacemaker: “Our only job is to be faithfully obedient; God’s job is to bring the result. Keeping those responsibilities separate and clearly before you will lead you to a right and God-honoring action, even if things get a little “messier” in the short-run.

Blessings to you—
Dave Edling & Tara Barthel

But I Don’t SEE It!

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Although we can be sure that God is always working for our good and the good of others, even through trials and suffering, we will not always know exactly what that good is. In many cases his ultimate purposes will not be evident for a long time. And in some situations his ways and objectives are simply too profound for us to comprehend, at least until we see God face to face (see Rom. 11:33-36).

This should not diminish our confidence in him or our willingness to obey him, however. As Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” This passage provides the key to dealing faithfully with painful and unjust situations. God may not tell us everything we want to know about the painful events of life, but he has already told us all we need to know. Therefore, instead of wasting time and energy trying to figure out things that are beyond our comprehension, we need to turn our attention to the promises and instructions that God has revealed to us through Scripture.

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) pp. 64-65.

 

Food for Thought

Does believing that God works for your good in a conflict depend on your ability to see what that good is? What happens to your belief if you don’t see that good for several weeks, months, years… or not at all this side of heaven?

In these situations, we must hold tight to the wealth of promises in Scripture and look closely at those passages that reveal the character of God. In times of greatest uncertainty, we must consciously choose to believe that God is working all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We may not understand what God is doing, but we can always trust in who God is and trust that he knows what he’s accomplishing.

“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are
your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8.