HOW TO RESOLVE CONFLICT AND PRESERVE UNITY IN YOUR CHURCH

Now Live: TGC Podcast About “The Peacemaking Church” 

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“Surreal” was the word Jan used when I informed her this morning that my interview with Collin Hansen was now available for listening at the Gospel Coalition website.

True enough. It continues to strike me as surreal that only fourteen days remain before the release of The Peacemaking Church.

If you would like to learn more about the story behind and the tools contained in the book, you can listen to the thirty-six minute podcast here.

Many thanks for your interest and valuable time.

 

INSTRUMENTS OF PEACE

How the Gospel Compels a Peaceable Spirit 

On a recent flight from East Asia back to the US, I passed some of the twelve-hour trip time watching The 15:17 to Paris.

The film remains largely true to the events of August 21, 2015 when three childhood friends from Sacramento thwarted a terrorist attack aboard a French passenger train.

Director Clint Eastwood employed the heroes themselves to portray the main characters in the film. Central to the story is Spencer Stone. Eastwood tracks his life leading up to his extraordinary intervention along with his buddies.

Stone attended Christian school as a youth, somewhere along the line picking up St. Francis of Assisi’s famous prayer Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace. At one point the film shows Stone kneeling beside his bed praying the prayer.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

 
The film’s emphasis reminded me of Paul’s words in Titus 3:1-2:
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men (NIV).
The book of Titus champions devotion to good works (Titus 3:8) as a demonstration of the gospel’s grip on our lives in the church (chapter one), in the home (chapter two), and in the world (chapter three).

After prescribing appropriate behavior towards governing officials in 3:1, Paul then piles up a series of descriptors in v. 2 best characterized by a spirit of perfect courtesy.

The word for “peaceable” is the Greek word “amacho.” Look familiar? We get our English word “macho” from it. “Amacho” means “not macho.” Humility, courtesy, gentleness, meekness–the opposite of machismo–should characterize the believer’s social discourse.

I had opportunity to apply this truth while making a connecting flight in San Francisco. Following the marathon trans-Pacific crossing, Jan and I waited several hours before boarding the next leg of our trip back to Boise.

When it came time for zone one to board, the Delta attendant skipped us, inviting zone two to enter the jetway. Trying to hide my irritation I protested with my preacher voice: “What happened to zone one?!”

She paused and immediately apologized for the mistake, even thanking me for pointing out the error.

As I approached the podium, I sensed her disappointment with herself. It showed on her countenance. Time to put Titus 3:2 into play.

“Not bad for your first mistake of 2018,” I offered with as big a smile my tired self could muster.

You should have seen her face brighten.  “I’ll go with that!” she beamed.

Then Jan suggested we offer to check our carryon bags to ease the full-flight burden and aid her job performance. She thanked us profusely.

Heroic action in the face of terrorist extremism? No, just a small opportunity to manifest the gospel as an instrument of peace.

Perhaps we can all take a page from Spencer Stone’s playbook and pray regularly, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

 

APPEALING & THE PEACEMAKER

How Appealing to Others, Not Demanding of Them, Enhances Peacemaking

Greeting and congrats

It has been some time since I introduced a series of post entitled The Ways of a Peacemaker. I want to return to developing this theme from the book of Philemon.

Affirmation and prayer play huge roles as peacemaking virtues. Making appeals matters greatly as a peacemaking skill as well.

Philemon reveals Paul’s heart in brokering reconciliation between Onesimus, a runaway slave, and his owner.

Having affirmed his friend and prayed for him, Paul next broaches his appeal to him.

Don’t miss the choice he makes here in terms of the approach. He could have pulled apostolic rank and simply told Philemon what to do.

He admits as much in v. 8. And he has the moxie (bold enough in Christ) to do it too!

But no. I prefer to appeal to you. He says it differently in greater detail in v. 14.

But I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.

He says it even more simply at the top of v. 9—yet for love’s sake.

Paul so wants Philemon to profit spiritually in every way through this relational transaction.

“Dig deep, man, in the depth of your heart and let your choices flow from the reservoir of gospel love contained within.”

How much more God-honoring and glorious a way to resolve things than a begrudging, externally constrained, kiss-and-make-up superficial affair!

If the greatest is love (1 Cor. 13:13), then aim for that in your peacemaking.

Set the bar that high and entreat, appeal, beg, plead for hard hearts to melt into grace-laced loving ones.

Alfred Poirier, in The Peacemaking Pastor, writes:

Mediation is when parties in conflict call upon a third party to assist them in reaching a mutually agreed upon settlement of their dispute. The key word here is assist. . . .  Mediators do not decide for the disputants what their agreement will be. The decision is left to the disputants to mutually determine. However, Christian mediators do help shape the final agreement by giving wise biblical counsel (210).

And they shape it by how they call for response to that counsel—sincere, passionate, appeal.

Effective peacemakers go out of their way to broker reconciliation between estranged parties—leading with specific affirmation, praying with singular aim, and engaging with sincere appeal.

How does your approach as a peacemaker compare with these three virtues?

Please note: I will be traveling outside the country for the next two weeks and unable to post. See you in November!

 

HOW TO STOP DISCORD IN ITS TRACKS

Three Steps for Preserving Peace When Your Feelings Get Hurt

beauty girl cry

They inevitably do, don’t they? We all stumble in many ways (James 3:2) and quite often we and people we care about in the body of Christ get hurt in the process.

Anticipating this challenge for His church, Jesus prescribed just what to do when offenses threaten unity between brothers and sisters.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15).

In the rest of the context (Matt. 18:16-20), the Lord explains how to proceed if your brother fails to listen, but that’s another post or two for another time.

In this post I want to camp out on the all-important starting place for stopping discord in its tracks as spelled out in v. 15. I see three simple steps in this one verse.

First, go to the person. If your brother sins against you, go. Take initiative. If you can’t overlook the offense (Prov. 19:11), assume responsibility for your feelings and reach out.

Too often we stuff or brood over hurt feelings to our own emotional detriment and the detriment of relationships. Paul fleshed out the law of love in such cases this way: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18).

Two, speak with the person. Tell him his fault. Sit down (face-to-face is best) and get honest about what has happened–or what you think has happened.

More times than not offenses boil down to misunderstandings. Never underestimate the possibility for communication to break down.

I try to always lead with questions at the outset of a peacemaking confrontation. They will sound something like this: “You know that situation/conversation/email/etc. a while back? What was going on there? I might be missing something–can you help me understand?”

Just before I stepped down from my church last summer, a misunderstanding with one of our elders reinforced for me the wisdom of this kind of approach. I took offense at him hijacking the leadership of my last Sunday AM prayer meeting with our intercessory team.

Turns out he didn’t hijack anything. After I cooled off and remembered the importance of practicing what I preach, I went to him after the service in just the manner described above.

He explained that he had done what he thought that week’s office email requested of him. It made perfect sense! I laughed and we went away reconciled. But I could have made a nightmare mess of our relationship had I failed to engage him for clarification or confronted him in anger.

Three, care for the person. Between you and him alone. Guard confidentiality. Refuse gossip. Blabbing about your pain from another’s words or actions may likely slander them and sow discord among brothers–an abomination among the things God hates (Prov. 6:16-19).

Deidra Riggs, in her book One: Unity in a Divided World, calls confrontation a gift God extends to us:

God desires oneness and unity for us. When we hold grudges and add people to our unappealing short lists, we invite division and disunity. One way to stop discord in its tracks is to bring it out into the open, set it down on the table between you and the other person, and talk about it face-to-face. … We can take courses, read books, and listen to podcasts, which give us specific techniques for dealing with confrontation, but I’ve found the very best instruction right in the pages of God’s word” (14).

Well said, sister, and thanks for the insight and exhortation.

PEACEMAKING PERSPECTIVE AFTER 15 YEARS OF SHEPHERDING

Twelve Lessons for Cultivating a Culture of Peace in a Church

Farewell Cake

Only minutes remain on my watch as lead pastor of Orlando Grace Church. One learns a lot over the course of fifteen years in the ministry trenches.

It seemed fitting that my last blog post in this role would focus on some of the biggest takeaways I have gained about cultivating a culture of peace in the local church.

Here are twelve.

One, preserving unity must top the list of priorities for every member (Eph. 4:1-3).

Two, how we think about God determines much of how eager we are to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:4-6).

Three, overlooking offenses (Prov. 19:11) whenever possible manifests the love of Christ and serves the cause of charitable judgments (1 Cor. 13:7) among a deeply flawed people.

Four, the Four G’s are worth their weight in gold for equipping God’s people with a rubric for doing peacemaking (Matt. 7:1-6).

Five, unchecked anger (James 1:19-20) poses perhaps the most formidable obstacle in doing the work of peacemaking that earns the Lord’s blessing (Matt. 5:9). Deal with it.

Six, legalistic judging of others over matters of conscience poses yet another significant obstacle to doing peacemaking (Rom. 15:1-7). Stay off the throne and let God be the judge.

Seven, asking a question like “Can you help me understand?” or “What was going on there?” rather than making a judgment often reveals breakdowns in communication vs. malicious intentions (Prov. 20:5). Ask before drawing conclusions.

Eight, pastors must model the virtues of peacemaking trusting in God’s sovereignty and power alone to work in the hearts of those with whom he must engage in conflict (2 Tim. 2:24-26).

Nine, magnanimity as a character strength intercepts relational disasters before they ever happen by refusing to press rights and deferring to others trusting in God’s care (Gen. 13:1-18).

Ten, followers in the church have a serious responsibility to esteem and respect their leaders given the nature of the strategic pastoral care work they do in their lives (1 Thess. 5:12-13).

Eleven, prolonged unity within a church is such an extraordinary gift it is worth preaching and singing about when enjoyed by God’s people (Psalm 133).

Twelve, sometimes no matter how hard you try, every effort at peacemaking can fall short of restoration of ministry partnership even if it results in personal reconciliation (Acts 15:36-41).

On a personal note, this 12th reality constitutes some of my greatest regrets as a flawed pastor. I have failed some folks terribly. It grieves me so. God have mercy.

I could say more. I’m no expert. I’m just trying to get it right as I move on to the next phase of my journey.

I love the people of OGC. I will miss them. They are in GOOD HANDS–Jesus first and foremost–and Jim and our fellow elders (not perfect but good) second.

I am a happy man and signing off as lead pastor at OGC–but not done with my race just yet, Lord willing.

SDG–PCBO

(Cake artistry by the incredibly gifted Michele Richert!)

PRAYER & THE PEACEMAKER

Virtue #2 in the Ways of a Peacemaker

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Helping others resolving conflict requires a number of skills and responsibilities. None matters more than intercessory prayer.

The bigger the conflict, the greater the need for intercession.

Recently I introduced a series of posts called The Ways of a Peacemaker: Five Practices of Effective Peacemakers who Excel at Mending Relationships.

In Paul’s letter to Philemon, the apostle prepares to return run-away-slave-turned-Christian Onesimus to his owner. Here we see a biblical model of assisted peacemaking worthy of imitation.

My last post focused on the first of five practices skillful peacemakers employ in helping repair broken relationships–leading with specific affirmation.

This post explores the second–praying with singular aim.

Not only does Paul praise God for Philemon (v. 4-5); he also prays strategically for him (v. 6).

And I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.

I’ve scratched my head a good bit about this verse. It’s tough to interpret.

When he talks about the sharing of your faith, I don’t think we should take it evangelistically like we often use the phrase.

I think he means sharing (koinoinia) as in generosity or liberality—the kind of lovingkindess and big-heartedness Paul himself has greatly profited by, even refreshed to use his word in v. 7.

In this whole deal, Paul aims to challenge Philemon to kick up a notch his reputation for being loving.

He wants it to become effective—see that word in v. 6―in the way he responds to Paul’s agenda later in the letter.

Effective in what respect? Full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.

Paul prays that Philemon’s stretching in love in dealing with Onesimus when he eventually shows up at the front door will deepen his understanding and heighten his treasuring of all the blessings we have in Christ Jesus.

Man, what a way to pray as a mediator attempting to help others with their relational meltdowns!

Paul believed in the efficacy of prayer—not just in peacemaking. Watch how he comes back to the priority of prayer at the end in v. 22. I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you (emphasis added).

There is no effective peacemaking without prayer—lots of prayer—with the singularly strategic aim of growth in love.

Question: What texts of Scripture help you to remember to pray for others to grow in love as they relate to others–especially in conflict?

AFFIRMATION & THE PEACEMAKER

Virtue #1 in the Ways of a Peacemaker

Bridge of Spies

Based upon true events during the Cold War, the gripping film Bridge of Spies stars Tom Hanks as attorney James Donovan.

The CIA hires Donovan to act as a mediator in a prisoner exchange between the US and Soviet Union in East Berlin.

Hanks’ character displays much of the relational wisdom skills necessary for effective assisted peacemaking between opposing parties.

For an excellent post exploring these concepts click here.

Recently I introduced a series of posts called The Ways of a Peacemaker: Five Practices of Effective Peacemakers who Excel at Mending Relationships.

In Paul’s letter to Philemon, the apostle prepares to return run-away-slave-turned-Christian Onesimus to his owner. Here we see a biblical model of assisted peacemaking worthy of imitation.

This post explores the first of five practices skillful peacemakers employ in helping repair broken relationships–leading with specific affirmation.

After the customary greetings of an epistle in verses 1-3, Paul does what he so often does in his New Testament letters in verses 4-5. He expresses his gratitude to God for this man.

This “thanks” saturates his regular praying for Philemon. And he goes way beyond a mere generalized appreciation of this brother.

He gets quite specific as to the reasons for his thanks in v. 5—because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

Do you see what Paul values and how he reinforces it with praise? Love for all the saints and faith in the Lord.

Normally Paul would put faith first and love second, but not here.

He reverses them knowing that he will call on that love and more from Philemon with the peacemaking requests he will make of him.

Ken Sande writes:

A conflict generally involves two basic ingredients: people and a problem. All too often, we ignore the feelings and concerns of the people and focus all our attention on the problems that separate us. This approach often causes further offense and alienation, which only makes conflicts more difficult to resolve. One way to avoid these unnecessary complications is to affirm respect and concern for your opponent throughout the negotiation process (The Peacemaker, 231).

The same goes for all-in mediators trying to broker reconciliation—they lead with specific affirmation.

For a helpful rubric for biblical negotiation which leads with affirmation please see The PAUSE Principle.

One word of caution. Lead with sincere, legitimate affirmation. Avoid the temptation to manipulate with ingenuine words. That’s bound to backfire and doesn’t honor the Lord.

Affirmation communicates your value of persons made in God’s image. The way of a peacemaker never forgets using the tongue to bless others rather than curse them (James 3:6-10).

Virtue #2 in the ways of a peacemaker–praying with singular aim–will be the focus of my next post.

Question: What kinds of things can we readily affirm in others when engaged in conflict?

 

THE WAYS OF A PEACEMAKER

Five Practices of Effective Peacemakers Who Excel at Mending Relationships

reconciliation

Alfred Poirier says this about pastoral ministry in his book The Peacemaking Pastor:

Pastoring is peacemaking. . .. Pastors are waiters serving the Lamb to sworn enemies. Pastors are busboys washing the dirty dishes of our hatreds, anger, lusts, deceits, malice, and filthy words in the purifying stream of Christ’s blood. It is tiring work. It is battle work. It is Messiah work. But we are compelled to persevere, because serving this way is at the heart of our calling as pastors, as mediators (188).

I’ve come to agree with all of that more than ever over the last fifteen years of pastoral ministry.

As a result, I read the Scriptures regularly with an eye for what will help churches guard unity and pursue peace.

In the next few posts, I want to focus on Paul’s letter to Philemon for its emphasis on forgiveness. So much of peacemaking involves both asking forgiveness and granting forgiveness.

And the book does involve that.

Onesimus, the thieving runaway slave become a Christian with Paul’s help (v. 10) in a Roman prison, needs forgiveness; Philemon, himself a convert of Paul (v. 19) and Onesimus’ owner, needs to forgive the wrongs done to him.

But the more I drilled down in my study of this shortest and most personal of Paul’s letters, I gained a different perspective on the thrust of Philemon.

What unfolds beautifully and powerfully in these twenty-five verses is the stunning ministry of the apostle Paul laboring busboy-like as a peacemaking mediator to bring the two estranged men together in reconciliation!

It appears Paul took Jesus quite seriously in Matthew 5:9 when He said, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Philemon presents a text-book example of how to act out the virtue Jesus longs to see embraced by each and every one of His followers.

The gist of things reads like this: Effective peacemakers go out of their way to broker reconciliation between estranged parties.

Paul became quite attached to Onesimus after his spiritual birth. He calls him my very heart (v. 12). He describes him as useful (v. 11). He even felt tempted to keep Onesimus with him for his services while still imprisoned (v. 13).

But he knew at the very least that would constitute a breach of faith with his brother, Philemon. So he rightly chose to send him back.

But how to do that knowing so much damage remained unresolved?

Paul’s strategy in this masterful letter gives us five practices of effective peacemakers who excel in helping mend broken relationships.

They lead with specific affirmation. They pray with singular aim. They engage with sincere appeal. They mediate with skillful aplomb. They invest with sacrificial action.

These will be the focus of my next posts.

Question: When has someone helped you mend a broken relationship and what did that look like?

JUST SAY NO TO “E-MAULING”

Three Steps to Avoid Making Conflict Worse by E-mail

Difficult Conversations

Jan laughed out loud while texting on her phone.

She went to input the word “e-mail” only for her finger to slip from the “i” to the “u.”

It came out “e-maul.” I had to laugh too.

Then it hit me. It happens. We get “emauled” by someone upset with us or vice versa.

Know what I mean? Not so funny, is it?

Criticism, judgment, blame–just to name a few of my favorite things–can come packaged in blistering digital correspondence.

The temptation is all too familiar as well. Fire back a well-deserved “e-maul” in return!

Before long a conflict grows.

Practicing three guidelines when reading an “e-maul” can help prevent an escalation of tensions.

These come from Stone, Patton, and Heen’s bestselling book Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most (pp. 274-75).

One, question your attributions. E-mail as a form of serial monologue works great for information and affirmation.

It rarely, if ever, contributes to effective confrontation.

It lacks the non-verbal cues necessary to help size up a sender’s intentions–tough enough to read in face-to-face dialogue–behind what’s written.

The authors suggest a first step:

Remind yourself that you don’t actually know their intentions. Your initial reading is likely to be off-target as on. The sender may have mixed or even positive intentions, or, most often, no particular intention about you at all.

Two, hit pause. If an “e-maul” hijacks you with strong negative emotions, take a timeout.

Walk away long enough to allow for a more rational balanced response. More from the experts:

Often you’ll have the strange sensation of wondering why you felt so bent out of shape. But if, after taking some time, you’re still revved up, move to step three.

Three, pick up the phone or talk in person. I can’t improve on this counsel:

Bottom line: You can’t resolve an e-mail conflict with e-mail. For all practical purposes there are no exceptions to this rule. Once any sort of emotion enters the arena — annoyance, confusion, hurt, anxiety — it’s time to switch your mode of communication. “But I’m a good, clear writer,” you think. “I’ll be extra careful and thoughtful, and I’ll even take the high road.” Don’t get suckered in. Anything you write during a conflict can be taken the wrong way. … So save yourself a heap of trouble and pick up the phone or talk in person.

The ancient wisdom writer warns, A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Prov. 15:1).

What goes for dialogue goes double for e-mail monologue–or should I say “e-maulologue?”

Just say no to “e-mauling.”

Question: What other tips do you have for a peacemaking ethic when it comes to using e-mail?

A PEACEMAKER’S PRAYER

Ken Sande’s Help for Praying Like a Peacemaker

Ken Sande & Me

Last week I was privileged to reconnect with my good friend and peacemaking mentor, Ken Sande.

He spoke for the opening plenary session at a conference hosted by Ambassadors of Reconciliation.

RW360, Ken’s ministry championing a biblical approach to emotional intelligence, distributed copies of the following: A Peacemaker’s Prayer (used by permission).

Oh Lord God,
today I am called to be a peacemaker,
but I am unfit for the task.

By nature I am a peace-faker
and a peace-breaker,
so I myself need help.

Others ask me to understand and guide them,
but my ears are dull, my eyes are dim,
and I lack the wisdom they need.

But you, Lord, have all they need,
so I come to you for supply.

Make me fit for your purposes,
so I might serve them
and honor you.

Cleanse me from my own sin,
so I will not add to their problems;
take the logs from my eyes
so I can remove the specks from theirs.

Fill me with your Spirit,
so they may benefit from your fruit:
love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Give me wisdom from above,
so I might be pure and peace-loving,
considerate and submissive,
full of mercy and good fruit,
impartial and sincere.

Open your Word to my eyes
and to my heart,
so I will have a steady lamp
to light our path.

Strip me of my own agenda and desires,
so I might look only to others’ good
and be absolutely worthy of their trust.

Help me to model everything I teach,
so others can see the way.

Give me humility to admit my weaknesses
and confess my wrongs,
so others might do the same.

Draw me again and again into prayer,
where you can strengthen and correct me.

Make me submissive — help me to show
that I myself am under authority.

Help me to treat others
as I want to be treated,
so they may see
the essence of your Law.

Make me creative, versatile, and adaptable,
so I can adjust to the surprises ahead.

Help me to accept others
as you have accepted me,
and thus bring praise to your name.

Give me faith and perseverance,
so I will not doubt your provision
or abandon your principles,
even when others fight against them.

Grant me the gift of encouragement,
to give others hope
and help them believe
that our labor is not in vain.

Help me to model your forgiveness,
so relationships are healed
and your Gospel is revealed.

Grant me discernment so that I may read
the deep waters of others’ hearts,
sort fiction from fact,
and know when it’s time to act.

Give me boldness and courage,
tempered with kindness,
to confront others in love,
so they might see their errors
and find their way back to you.

Help me to prepare thoroughly
and not presume upon your grace.

Make me just and fair,
so that even if people disagree
with my counsel they will believe
that I treated them well.

In short, Father,
please give me the Spirit of Christ,
so that I might walk in his steps
and guide your people
into the path of your peace.

My prayer is that you will make this prayer a regular part of meditative reflection.

May it help shape you as a peacemaking force in every situation.