How easy it is for churches and people to feel uptight over small things. I notice the same attitude at times applies to me if I’m not careful. In the light of eternity, most of these conflicts which bother us do not matter in the slightest. For example, the first church I pastored, had had a contentious time over choosing the carpet’s colour in remodelling the church! How pathetic! Bright orange looked great!
On the other hand, we need to recognise that important issues can cause deep divisions even though Scripture is firm on God’s people flowing in unity for ‘there the blessing of the Lord flows’ (Psalms 133).
Peace makers help us keep things in perspective. However, there is a difference between a ‘peace keeper’ and a ‘peace maker’. If we have come out of a conflicted background, we are more likely to want to ‘keep the peace’. That means not confronting issues rather than in ‘making peace’. Taking that approach of a ‘peace keeper’ is like covering up a festering wound which never heals. We must learn new skills.
Become a ‘person of peace’ and people will rise up and call you blessed (Matt 5:9).
Even godly people like the apostle Paul and Barnabas had a contentious disagreement over whether to take John Mark with them on their next missionary journey. They couldn’t resolve the issue, so they went their separate ways (Acts 15:39). Thank God that in time Paul began to value John Mark and invited him to become part of his ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).
… as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone’ Romans 12:18.
‘My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge‘ Col 2: 2,3.
Several of the churches I pastored were deeply conflicted before my arrival, and it took several years with God’s grace and a good leadership team to bring unity. That’s when the glory of God became real. Here are some useful hints I have learnt:
- Be aware that Satan’s primary way of destroying God’s work is in disunity amongst His people.
- Pray hard and rely upon the promises of Scripture to bring relief. During one of my churches, a small group of leaders opposed my ministry due to my openness to the Holy Spirit’s work. On the surface, we acted as friends. I claimed God’s promise (Isaiah 49:17) and asked God to remove them if they couldn’t accept the work of the Spirit. After five years, they all left for genuine reasons over a month or two. God also worked in my heart, causing me to press into Himself for inner strength. This solution God gave, helped the church move forward without division.
- You never resolve conflict through attacking! It is essential to have an openness to understand a different point of view even if we disagree with it. Treat people with respect.
- Jesus teaches us to first get the log out of our eye before we judge others (Luke 6:41).
- There are two sides to most stories, so endeavour to get your facts straight.
For instance, my first weekend in a new church pastorate went well until after the evening service. It was arranged for me with another leader to visit an attractive young lady who may have had an affair with our voluntary youth leader. I listened to her side of the story attentively and drew my conclusions. When I returned home to Pam, my wife, I announced with a conviction that she was completely innocent, until a phone call came in, which proved otherwise! That was a good lesson in the need for prayerful discernment.
- Power-based cultures handle conflict differently to shame-based cultures. A power-based culture uses an authority structure where people obey decisions handed down. In contrast, a shame-based culture often has a Community orientation, meaning that a person’s shame affects the community. Both cultures have strengths and weaknesses, and peace making approaches in various cultures are often quite different.
- Portray an attitude of a relaxed disposition and openness when dealing with people even if that is an effort. Look for a win/win solution where both people experiencing conflict feel honoured. It may take time, but it is worth exploring options for that to happen.
- Don’t avoid confrontation when it is necessary, even though it is difficult. A sleepless night is not uncommon before tackling a problematic situation, but it keeps us humble and makes us more reliant upon God.
- Be quick to listen and slow to speak (Prov 23:19). Choose your battles carefully. Unfortunately, some people lack wisdom in this area and make an issue out of fairly unnecessary things. Keep the main thing the main thing!
- Avoid triangulation. Triangulation means three parties are involved in the problem, all emotionally charged. The peace maker negotiates a way forward hopefully without that emotional component.
- Don’t be too proud to get outside help, which I have done on more than one occasion. There is no shame in it. Get the right person involved.
- Get a mentor to talk to regularly, to off load stress.
- Explain your viewpoint but don’t defend yourself when others are angry with you.
- Apologise from your heart when you have wronged others. You may still need to apologise even when you are sure you are in the right. It will take the heat out of the situation, and it’s similar to caring for the weaker brother or sister.
- I have found attending training courses below very helpful:
Firstly, Intentional transitional ministry courses are to do with change management. Many churches struggle with adopting new wineskins and accepting new pastors (or leaders) after a pastor has been there for many years and has moved on.
Secondly, Conflict resolution courses deals with resolving conflict,
Thirdly, Setting Your Church free courses show how to resolve issues from the past as the book below describes. This process breaks dysfunctional behaviour and patterns and brings the church into new freedom in Christ!
‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’ Romans 15:13.
Setting your church free, by Neil Anderson
Peacing together, by Dr David Cormack
Guiding people through conflict, by Peacemaker Ministries