Seven Guidelines for Peaceable Spiritual Leaders
A colleague of mine in ministry calls himself “a conflict magnet.” I can relate. When I reflect on my thirty-year tenure in pastoral work, I wince over more relational battles than I care to remember.
My 2018 Journey post included disappointment in the way I navigated two particularly painful meetings. I suspect most pastors identify with the challenges which come with inevitable church conflict.
The apostle Paul prepped young pastor Timothy for handling opposition in a God-honoring way:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
Paul addresses the way pastors must engage people in conflict. In terms of what not to do, he commands only this: do not be quarrelsome.
The Greek word for quarrelsome comes from the root mache from where we get our English word macho. In Acts 7:26 it’s used for an actual physical fight. Pastors are not to be fighters, combatants–tackling conflict in a belligerent, contentious manner. That pattern disqualifies elders from office (1 Tim. 3:3). It reveals heart idols and passions yet to be conquered (James 4:1-2). There is a better way!
Seven Guidelines for Staying Peaceable in Conflict
One, faithfully embrace your identity. Pastors are first and foremost servants. Paul may have in mind the prophet’s Suffering Servant (Isa. 42:1-3). We must take our cue from Jesus who did not quarrel (Matt. 12:19).
Two, kindly engage your world. Pastors must show love (1 Cor. 13:4) by being kind to all without exception. If every believer must avoid quarreling but be gentle and show perfect courtesy toward all people (Titus 3:2), how much more should God’s shepherds.
Three, diligently use your skills. Able to teach. Elders serve because God has equipped them to instruct others in godly living (2 Tim. 4:1-2). Guide opponents into passages which address issues at hand. Let the Word of God do its powerful work (Heb. 4:12).
Four, patiently endure your offenses. Opponents will do you evil at times though undeserved. Plan on it. I’ve been called names. I’ve had my motives misjudged. What to do when attacked? Bear up under the evil with the Lord’s help (1 Pet. 2:21-24).
Five, gently correct your opponents. Whether for false teaching, immoral behavior, or other wrongs, people will need admonishment (1 Thess. 5:12). Do it gently (Gal. 6:1). Picture the way a mother cares for her children and a father exhorts the same (1 Thess. 2:7-12).
Six, humbly trust your God. No other truth in this text will help more to keep you from turning macho in a conflict. Pastors don’t make anybody change direction; God is the one who gives the gift of repentance leading back to the truth. Rest in that. He has to work and is always working (John 5:17).
Seventh, prayerfully fight your real enemy. Paul ends by reminding that Satan ultimately ensnares someone taken captive by sin. Never forget the true nature of the fight–spiritual warfare. Put on the whole armor of God and pray at all times for all the saints (Eph. 6:10-20).
Helps for Growing as Peaceable Pastors in Conflict
There are three resources that have helped me immensely toward a peaceable path as a pastor. A recent post featured Alexander Strauch’s book, Leading with Love. I commend it again. Alfred Poirier’s book The Peacemaking Pastor is another must read for pursuing peaceable ways in ministry.
Pastors, let us be peaceable, non-macho servants of our gentle, lowly-in-heart Master (Matt. 11:29)!
Question: What is a lesson you’ve learned about spiritual leadership which is peaceable with others in conflict?