Easy Does It

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A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 15:1

Gentleness is especially appropriate if the person who wronged you is experiencing unusual stress. If so, the wrong done to you may be a symptom of a deeper problem. By responding in a gentle and compassionate manner, you may minister powerfully to the other person.

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 86.

Food for Thought

A gentle answer turns away wrath and could possibly open up the door to peacemaking.

Directly confronting an unusually stressed-out person rarely proves effective. The defenses go up and the door of conversation usually gets slammed shut. Consider how this happens in your own life. When you’re unusually stressed, are you just wishing someone would come up and directly confront you? Even if you’re the one in the wrong? Probably not.

But is an unusually stressed-out person grateful when someone treats them with gentleness? Even if they’re in the wrong? Almost always. The defenses are lowered and you just might be invited in; in where the deeper issue resides that may not have anything to do with you. So think about who you might be particularly gentle with this week, and pray that instead of stirring up anger, you might minister powerfully to that person.

Without Love, Your Peacemaking Gains Nothing

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The love Jesus commands us to show to one another has little to do with warm feelings; in fact, he commands us to show love even when it is the last thing in the world we feel like doing (Luke 6:27-28). The love that Jesus wants us to show for one another leaves no room for unresolved conflict:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, nor is it self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor 13:4-7)

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 48.

Food for Thought

Do you remember the verse that comes in 1 Corinthians right before the above quote? In 1 Corinthians 13:3, Paul reminds us that even the actions that seem the holiest become worthless if not performed with an attitude of love. If it is possible to “give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames” and yet “gain nothing”, as Paul indicates, then how much more is it possible for us to make peace and resolve conflict and yet have not love? Without love, peacemaking is, at best, a helpful interpersonal relationship technique and, at worst, a clever manipulation. We should never permit ourselves to rely so much on our training or techniques that we fail to examine our hearts each time we seek to reconcile others in the name of Jesus.

On the other hand, when both our attitude and actions in peacemaking are filled with love, look at how Paul’s words encourage us: Peacemaking protects. Peacemaking trusts. Peacemaking hopes. Peacemaking always perseveres! This is only possible when the Holy Spirit works in us to enable us to truly love those from whom we are estranged, or to help others to love when they are estranged from one another.

Building on the Ruins of Conflict

Two weeks ago I stood on a hill in northern Israel that grew through the destructive power of human hands over the course of 4,000 years. The hill is actually a “tell”—an Arabic word for an archeological mound created by repeated human occupation and abandonment of a geographical site over many centuries.

This particular tell is named Abel Beth Ma’acah, a biblical site that stands at the northern tip of Israel, about a mile from the security fences dividing Israel from Lebanon. I was invited to visit the tell with friends from Azusa Pacific University, which has recently been given the honor of partnering with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in developing this unique archeological site.

Pottery fragments indicate that the site was occupied by Canaanites in the Early Bronze Age (~2600 B.C.). Abraham may have walked past the city walls around 2090 B.C. (Gen. 12:5). Joab besieged the city around 1000 B.C. to quash a rebellion against King David (2 Sam. 20). And the Lord Jesus walked nearby when he traveled to Caesarea Philippi a thousand years later (Matt. 16:13).

Each of them saw a different city as they passed by. Situated at the foot of a mountain pass, Abel Beth Ma’acah controlled the most important highway in the region and thus served as the gateway into northern Israel. Because of its strategic position, the city was successively conquered, destroyed, and rebuilt by armies from Aram, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Israel, and Egypt (see, for example, 1 Kings 15:20 and 2 Kings 15:29).

After one city was destroyed, the next one was built on its ruins, with the rubble adding a few feet of elevation to each successive level of occupation. Today the 35-acre tell stands 80 feet above the surrounding fields. The only remaining structures on the mound are concrete bunkers built by the Israeli Defense Forces after they evicted the last occupants of the hill, people in a small Palestinian village, during the 1948 War.

As I stood on top of Abel Beth Ma’acah and imagined how twenty cities were built, demolished, and rebuilt on the same site, I realized how often I’ve seen the same dynamic play itself out within many of the families, churches, and businesses I’ve served over the years.

We all build relationships, enjoy their comfort and safety, and imagine them to be secure … and then suddenly conflict strikes. Our desires clash with those of others, our dreams and agendas diverge, or trust is overthrown by betrayal. Our lives are demolished by broken relationships, divorces, church splits, and lawsuits.

After the pain subsides and our loneliness overrides our fear of being hurt again, we usually seek new relationships. We look for a new friend, spouse, church, or business partner.

But all too often, we attempt to build on the ruins of the past. We fail to clear away the rubble of our relational failures by confessing our wrongs, learning from our mistakes, and truly forgiving others. Instead, we stuff these unpleasant dynamics underground and set out to construct new relationships, naively hoping they will be more secure than those of the past. A second marriage, a third business partner, a fourth church … the cycle goes on and on.

The gospel shows us that there is a better way. When this world lay in complete relational ruins, with every person rebelling against God and constantly warring with his neighbor, Jesus came to bring peace and rebuild everything on a new, clean, and unshakable foundation. He didn’t stand on the rubble of the past; he swept it away by the cleansing power of his blood. He paid for our sins, granted us forgiveness, and gave us the building blocks for more durable relationships: “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12).

So the next time a relationship seems to be lying in ruins at your feet, claim the promise that in Christ you are a new creation; that the old has gone and the new has come; that you are called and empowered to be a reconciler and rebuilder (2 Cor. 5:17-21). Embrace repentance, confession, and forgiveness and turn what seems to be unsalvageable rubble into a testimony to God’s redeeming and restoring grace. (To enhance your ability to practice these skills, please join us at our annual Peacemaker Conference in September—the central theme is Life Together.)

And as you think of it, please pray for my friends from Azusa Pacific as they seek to fulfill God’s agenda for unfolding the story of Abel Beth Ma’acah. That story is not only of the past, of archeology, superseding civilizations, toppled stone walls, and shattered pottery, but also of living people, their future, and eternal life.
It is the story of an old man in a nearby village, the only living person who can share memories of life in the last village on the hill. It is the story of Israeli and Palestinian children living nearby, who could be recruited to partner in the excavations and learn to work and live together. It is the story of Israeli soldiers who may join in the project and deepen their commitment to preserve peace and stability in their country.

It is the story of the archeologists, students, and visitors from Azusa Pacific and Hebrew University who will work side by side in the years ahead, unearthing ancient artifacts and discussing eternal truths … especially those that revolve around the cornerstone of all history and life, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Warmly in Christ,

Ken

Anatomy of a Conflict

Over at the 9Marks blog Michael McKinley has a great piece on the anatomy of a church conflict from Mike Minter‘s seminar he attended. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. An offense occurs.
  2. A biased view of the offense is shared with friends.
  3. Friends take up the offense.
  4. Sides begin to form.
  5. Suspicion on both sides develop.
  6. Each side looks for evidence to confirm their suspicion. You can be sure they will find it.
  7. Exaggerated statements are made.
  8. In the heat of conflict those involved hear things that were never said and say things they wish they had never said.
  9. Third parties, no matter how well intentioned, can never accurately transfer information from one offended party to the other.
  10. Past offenses unrelated to the original offense surface.
  11. Integrity is challenged.
  12. People call each other liars.
  13. Those who try to solve the problem (e.g., church leadership) are blamed for not following the proper procedure and become the new focus.
  14. Many are hurt.

This reminded me of the introductory passage in Getting to the Heart of Conflict that introduces where conflict really comes from:

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people could simply renounce their bad habits and decide to respond to conflict in a gracious and constructive way? But it is not that easy. In order to break free from the pattern they have fallen into, they need to understand why they react to conflict the way they do.

Jesus provides us with clear guidance on this issue. During His earthly ministry, a young man approached the Lord and asked Him to settle an inheritance dispute with his brother. “Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’ Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions'” (Luke 12:13-15).

This passage reveals a common human pattern. When faced with conflict, we tend to focus passionately on what our opponent has done wrong or should do to make things right. In contrast, God always calls us to focus on what is going on in our own hearts when we are at odds with others. Why? Because our heart is the wellspring of all our thoughts, words, and actions, and therefore the source of our conflicts. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19).

The heart’s central role in conflict is vividly described in James 4:1-3. If you understand this passage, you will have found a key to preventing and resolving conflict.

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

This passage describes the root cause of destructive conflict: Conflicts arise from unmet desires in our hearts. When we feel we cannot be satisfied unless we have something we want or think we need, the desire turns into a demand. If someone fails to meet that desire, we condemn him in our heart and quarrel and fight to get our way. In short, conflict arises when desires grow into demands and we judge and punish those who get in our way. Let us look at this progression one step at a time.

You can read the whole thing, including how conflict progresses in our hearts, here. Also, check out the original 9Marks post here.

Stay Together

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May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:23

Since peace and unity are essential to an effective Christian witness, you can be sure that there is someone who will do all he can to promote conflict and division among believers. Satan, whose name means “adversary,” likes nothing better than to see us at odds with one another. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8b).

Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 50.

Food for Thought

Have you heard the saying, in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity?

Ken states: “Satan…likes nothing better than to see us at odds with one another.” It seems like one of the ways we as believers end up at odds with one another is by focusing on how odd one another is; in other words, by focusing on what is peculiar or distinct about us. Yes, it’s true that we’re not all the same, but it’s also true that we share much in common.

Now this is not a call for mindless ecumenicism. We must be wise in determining what is “essential” and what is “non-essential.” And though there are many “non-essentials” we differ on (you can insert your list of differences here), we still must remember that we share much common ground. Look at how much we have in common according to Ephesians 4:4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Believers that stand together on the essentials and love one another provide an effective Christian witness and create a united front against the hungry, roaring lion.

Hardships as Opportunities

Over at the CCEF Blog, Ed Welch has a really great post about how hardships are a part of God’s purposes and how we, as His children, can rest in this truth. He first quotes Ken Sande:

“What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about conflict?”

Ken Sande asked this question at a conference I attended. He could have asked “what is the first thing” or “what are the first fifty things.” For me, the answers would all be variations on the same theme. I hate conflict; I want to run from it. The “things” that come to my mind about conflict are: hate, loathe and avoid.

Then he asked, “How many people thought “opportunity”?

Not me. Not in a million years, even if I could cheat by consulting a dictionary or Wikipedia. To me, conflict is misery—not an opportunity…

And then he connects this concept to the hardships we face in life:

Since God is sovereign and has good purposes, hardships are opportunities. They must be.

Many people have already learned this. Here is what some of them have said.

That “C” on the exam—is an opportunity to live by faith in Jesus rather than in my perceived successes.

That hard marriage—is an opportunity to love as I have been loved.

That miscarriage—is an opportunity to know that my Father has unlimited compassion for his children and I can trust him.

That cancer—(and this is really a hard one) is an opportunity to die well and show my children what it means to live and die by faith.

I found his whole article very encouraging and worth the read. You can read the whole thing here.

E-mail: The Relationship Blowtorch

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Letters can sometimes serve a useful purpose. If the other person has refused to respond positively to telephone calls or personal conversations, a brief letter may be the only way to invite further communication. If you must resort to communicating by letter, write as personally and graciously as possible. Avoid quoting numerous Bible references, or you will seem to be preaching. Also, at least during initial letters, do not try to explain or justify your conduct in writing, because it will probably be misunderstood. Use your letter to invite communication, and try to leave detailed explanations for a personal conversation. If time allows, set aside the first draft of a letter for a day or two. When you reread it, you may catch words that will do more harm than good.

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 174.

Food for Thought

Have you ever heard the story about the serious disagreement that was brought to a happy ending when one person wrote a long, powerful e-mail to the other person? Neither have we. And that ought to give us pause.

E-mail and letters (and for that matter, Facebook posts and blog comments) are great for starting fights and deepening disagreements but far worse at resolving conflicts. Why is that?

The desire to resolve conflict via the written word is usually rooted in two convictions: First, that we need to choose our words carefully (more carefully than we might in person), and second, that if we could just get the other person to listen carefully and attentively to our perspective, then the whole argument between us could be resolved. The first of those aims is laudable; the second is usually sadly mistaken at best and incredibly selfish at worst.

The next time you’re about to hit “send” to fire off an e-mail missile, just say no. Hit delete. Take the “No E-mail Missiles” non-proliferation pledge. Try sending a much shorter, kinder message that reaffirms the importance of the relationship in question and that invites further communication in person or by phone–communication in which you pledge to listen to the other party and to acknowledge your own contributions to the conflict. When it comes to conflict resolution, there’s simply no substitute for face-to-face or voice-to-voice.

Quarterly Harvest Report

We’ve recently begun to send our financial partners a new publication—our Quarterly Harvest Report. This publication is meant to provide a timely update of the ways God is using Peacemaker Ministries around the world and to give supporters a means to evaluate how we’ve stewarded the resources they’ve shared with us.

We’re pleased to share an e-version of the report here as well. Click through the link/graphic below to see the exciting things that went on in the first part of this year because friends like you support Peacemaker Ministries.

2012 Q1 Harvest Report
Quarterly Harvest Report – Jan-Mar 2012

And as always, a generous financial gift would be timely and helpful to us as we enter the “lean” months of summer. We’d be grateful to be able to add you to the list of people who support Peacemaker Ministries.

How to Fire Your Pastor (part 3)

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. Sometimes, even in a mature church, a time comes when a servant-shepherd pastor must be let go. In this situation, how should the pastor and his family, and the other church leaders and members respond so that they can all work together to redeem this difficult situation?

A. My last two blog entries in this short series have distinguished between two types of pastors/situations:

  • Those in ministry for career employment (“hired-hands” as described in John 10:12-13) who are “fired” from their position just as any person in a secular job is fired (Part 1); and
  • Those “servant-shepherd” pastors who are called to a life of humble sacrifice and suffering for their service, who are then persecuted for the sake of Christ’s righteousness (as described in Matthew 5:11-12) by being maltreated (and ultimately “fired”) by immature Christians in their churches (Part 2).

Today’s post addresses a third type of situation—one in which a servant-shepherd pastor is appropriately  let go by mature (wise, loving, God-glorifying) Christians.

A few notes before I begin …

First of all, I fully recognize that these three groupings of people and situations may seem too restrictive. I readily admit that most situations are actually somewhere in-between on the spectrum: many pastors truly desire to serve as servant-shepherds, but they also recognize that their calling is also their “job” in that they provide for their families through the income they earn through the pastorate. I also recognize that many church members and leaders likewise fall somewhere in between “mature” and “immature” on the spectrum—they may (immaturely) be persecuting their pastor for worldly reasons and using secular causes and means for firing him; but often, there is a mix of godliness and maturity in the situation that causes these situations to be far more “gray” than I am describing in this series.

But a blog entry can only be so long! And the focus of Tara’s and my book, Redeeming Church Conflicts, is the painful division engendered by the reality of conflict in the church. Thus, we hope that you will read all three of these blogs from a perspective of grace and “wisdom from Heaven” which we know from James 3 is “pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit.” Seeking wisdom is particularly important today, as my personal observations and convictions about this topic will undoubtedly bring up many questions and ideas that I can’t possibly try to address. There are simply too many variables present when a pastor is let go from a church. To paraphrase our own words in Redeeming Church Conflicts by applying them to this blog series (rather than to our book):

Church conflict is complex. The various causes of church conflict, the personalities involved, the church’s polity, and the level of spiritual maturity among leaders and members will raise questions that no [blog series] could possibly address with specificity. Therefore, be careful and pray as you seek counsel from other church leaders and members about the application of [these posts] and various scriptural passages to your church’s specific situation. By seeking counsel from wise and spiritually mature Christians, all of us will hopefully avoid using any part of [this series] as a weapon to hurt others or to fulfill any sinful goals we might have. Plenty of biblical peacemaking principles have been taken out of context and forced on others in loveless and selfish ways. We pray this will never be the case with [these blog posts]. Instead, we pray that our efforts in [these blogs] will encourage and guide Christians and their churches in redemptive responses to conflicts—responses that are based on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Theologian Dr. Dennis E. Johnson captures the heart of our concern when he writes: “In Scripture the starting point of instruction on right behavior is not a list of our duties, but a declaration of God’s saving achievement, bringing us into a relationship of favor with him.”

So, with all of those caveats in mind (my lawyerliness is really showing today) … how ought we to respond when we (wisely and lovingly) discern that it is time for a pastor to leave a specific church?

We ought to embrace God’s agenda for change and allow that change to produce holiness in all of us.

Will that change be easy? By no mean. There will undoubtedly be uncomfortable moments in leadership meetings when new ideas are discussed or information is analyzed and everyone involved (including the pastor) will begin to have that uncomfortable sense that God may be leading their church in a way that is not a good fit for the current pastor. Hopefully, everyone involved will be prayerful and careful (full of care) as small discussions begin to grow into larger discussions. Communication with other leaders (for example, elders to deacons or council members to bishops) will be intentional and clear. At all times, people will hold firmly to the standard set for speech in Ephesians 4:29—edifying, bringing God’s grace. There will be no gossip or slander. Love for God and neighbor will be the defining mark of every meeting, announcement, and decision. The pastor will never be gracelessly criticized. Instead, every person will guard him, build him up, and help him (and his family) to transition to his new pastorate.

That sounds great in theory, doesn’t it? But we know that there will, of course, be bumps in the process. Immaturity and even outright sin will arise. But the pastor, his family, and every mature leader and layperson will embrace even those difficult and painful situations as opportunities ordained by God for growth in holiness. As Drs. Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane state in their must-read book, How People Change:

Making us holy is God’s unwavering agenda until we are taken home to be with him. He will do whatever he needs to produce holiness in us. He wants us to be a community of joy, but he is willing to compromise our temporal happiness in order to increase our Chrislikeness.

Wise and mature pastors, leaders, and members will recognize that this pastoral change is part of God’s plan for producing holiness in His eternal children. They will respond with light—truth, healing, beauty, compassion, and care—because their life goal is to reflect all of the characteristics of their Lord and King, Jesus Christ. But others? Sadly, they will respond with darkness—lies, distortions, relational injury, ugliness, judgment, and betrayal—because even though they claim to live for Jesus and His glory, they are ultimately motivated by their own selfish desires. They are willing to sacrifice the unity of the saints to fulfill their agendas. They do not pick up their cross and lay down their lives for their friends.

But even then, the wise and mature Christian will see even these attacks of darkness as opportunities to model Christlike humility and love because how we fight in the church differs significantly from how the world fights. Or it ought to.

I will close with just a few questions that you might consider in order to walk through your pastoral change with holiness:

  • How can we please and honor the Lord in this situation by respecting and honoring His under-shepherd, our pastor, even though we agree he should leave this church and continue his ministry elsewhere?
  • How do we guard our own hearts and minds through all of this so that our trust in God for our church (His church) is evident to everyone?
  • How can we continue to fulfill our duty to render “double-honor” (1 Timothy 5:17) to our pastor by meeting all of his and his families’ worldly needs during the transition period?
  • How can we best work with our pastor to help him continue his ministry during the transition period and into his next assignment in the Church (note the capital “C;” the Church is much larger than any one local congregation)?
  • How can we utilize pastoral change as an opportunity to help our immature brethren grow in Christ?
  • How can we guard the pastor’s family from harmful gossip and speculation?
  • As needed, how can we best use God’s plan of accountability (church discipline) to build his church by correcting the sinful behaviors of those acting in a manner inconsistent with their own profession of faith?
  • How can we bless our present pastor by ensuring that we call another true servant-shepherd pastor to follow in his steps building on the foundation he has faithfully laid?
  • How can we craft our pastor’s legacy of godliness as a model for future pastoral relationships?

Over the past two decades I have witnessed how both “hired-hands” and true servant-shepherds respond to dismissal from their pastoral office.  The thing that has surprised me (and inspired me!) the most has been not only how the latter personally responded but how they also prepared their fellow church leaders for the trial. I have not seen servant-shepherds respond with anger (although frequently with a degree of sorrow), and not with self-justification (although frequently in defense of God’s Word).  As they have led other church leaders and members into an understanding of what being “called to the ministry” means (a life-long quest for God’s glory wherever their unique contribution to God’s Kingdom can be made) they have imparted an understanding of the cost of redemption. While we use the word “redemption” frequently and in different settings, are we remembering that the cost was the death of Jesus, the Son of God? Church leaders and church members tutored in the message of the “cost” have been equipped to see God’s much grander plan for his Kingdom when they face even the loss of a beloved pastor who is being unleashed for even greater Kingdom service and sacrifice. To quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

Praying for peace as we await “The Day” of The Shepherd’s return (Hebrews 10:25; 2 Peter 3:10)!

-Dave Edling