A Review of Christ-Centered Conflict Resolution
It was my joy and honor to write this review posted today at The Gospel Coalition website.
To read the article click here.
A Worship Song I Wish Every Church Would Sing
One cannot overstate the blessing from God of prolonged peace and unity within a congregation.
So says the inspired song writer in Psalm 133:
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
The Gettys have given us an easy-to-sing, biblically-credible version of the text with which to bless our churches.
We owe them our thanks. We sing it at Trinity.
I commend it to pastors and worship leaders everywhere.
Where I’ve Been & Why I’m Back
I can hardly believe my last post came 44 days ago. That’s way too long an absence from the blogosphere. But it couldn’t be helped. I lived out of a suitcase for over a month. We arrived home to Idaho just last week. Time to restore schedule order!
Where I’ve Been
As reported back on February 6, I needed to return to Orlando for repairs on my teeth. It took two visits to my dentist but we got things squared away. The bridge has been perfect ever since. So glad to have that in the rearview mirror!
As Jan and I suspected, the Lord planned much more for me in terms of serving others while visiting the tropics. Every day saw appointments of all kinds–several of which involved placing copies of my book in the hands of even some surprising folks.
My good buddy Les and I got together for lunch. We first met in our neighborhood book club. We share a love for reading. Les makes no bones about being an atheist. I take the opposite stance as a Christian theist. We couldn’t be further apart in our world views, but we maintain a robust friendship for which I am most grateful. When he asked for a copy of my book, I was thrilled to gift him a copy!
Upon returning from Florida to Idaho, I gathered up Jan the next day to head for Los Angeles. Our new Idaho church offered to take me to John MacArthur’s 50th anniversary celebration at this year’s Shepherds’ Conference. Jan and I tacked on a trip to friends who still attend the first church I pastored fresh out of seminary.
We thoroughly enjoyed every moment spent in Dave and Sheri’s home. Our visit to Grace Evangelical Free Church gave my bride of almost two years another peek into my history. I was greatly encouraged by memories shared with friends at the church of how they felt God used my brief time there from 1982-85.
Why I’m Back
Online I mean. I want to resume my quest for helping believers champion unity in their churches by excelling in peacemaking. I want to help more folks like this brother.
It gave me a huge thrill to find my book at the Baker Publishing team section of the Shepherds’ Conference resource tent. I encountered John, a Southern California church planter, on the floor with my book among the stack he planned to purchase. I introduced myself and shared my delight to see him with a copy. He smiled and said, “I buy everything on this subject I can get my hands on.” To which I replied, “May your tribe increase!”
John gets the message of The Peacemaking Church from Ephesians 4:1-3. If we’ve been transformed by grace through the gospel of Jesus, then we will be eager, do-our-best preservers of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
I look forward to adding to this cause in future posts as the Lord leads!
A Book Review Amazon Declined
You learn all kinds of things publishing a book.
Whenever anybody tells me they have read The Peacemaking Church, I’m so very grateful and appreciative for their investment of time and effort.
Additionally I request that they post a fair and honest review at online sales giant Amazon. Everything Baker Publishing tells me about getting my book out into the world depends upon a strong showing in these evaluations.
Twice now folks willing to do that have reported back to me getting shut out of Amazon due to their lack of purchases over the past twelve months. Go figure.
I asked one of those readers if he would grant permission for me to post his review on my blog. He graciously consented.
Pastor Heffelfinger offers valuable perspectives for the pursuit of unity among the saints. He puts before us the challenge to endeavor to be the kind of people who treasure a unified Church; who are vigilant in turning the spotlight inward to identify corrosive idols so that, as he proposes, “[T]he best fight your congregation ever experiences is the one you never get into in the first place.” The truths presented in The Peacemaking Church are weapons in a believer’s arsenal that will awaken (or perhaps reawaken) beautiful, powerful insights unique to the function of this Body to which we belong. Pastor Heffelfinger has lived out these insights, and the case he presents will only help to strengthen your own peacemaking quotient.
I wrote this book in the hopes of making readers peacemaking strong. Jan and I continue to pray that the Lord will use it to that end with whomever he will.
Thanks, Jeff, for the kindness of your favorable review and especially for ending on the word quotient!
Question: What will you do in 2019 to help strengthen your peacemaking quotient?
Biblical Peacemaking Resolutions to Make in the New Year
At this time of year when many of us make New Year resolutions, consider adding to the usual drop-some-weight-exercise-more kinds one of these not-so-common peacemaking types to your 2019 list:
1. I resolve with the Lord’s help to pursue the happiness of a peacemaker and be rightly called a child of God (Matt. 5:9).
2. I resolve with the Lord’s help to celebrate the good and pleasant gift of unity within my church and to pray for its ongoing reality (Psalm 133).
3. I resolve with the Lord’s help to do my best to help maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace within my church (Eph. 4:1-6).
4. I resolve with the Lord’s help if possible, so far as it depends upon me, to live peaceably with all (Rom. 12:18).
5. I resolve with the Lord’s help to do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but in humility of mind to consider others more important than myself (Phil. 2:3).
6. I resolve with the Lord’s help to look out not only for my own interests but also for the interests of others and thus have the same attitude as that of the Lord Jesus (Phil. 2:4-5).
7. I resolve with the Lord’s help to put to death sinful anger by promptly initiating peacemaking conversations whenever they become necessary (Matt. 5:21-26).
8. I resolve with the Lord’s help to enlist help from within my church for assisted peacemaking mediation when efforts to do personal peacemaking fail to achieve reconciliation (Matt. 18:15-20).
9. I resolve with the Lord’s help to cultivate a welcoming spirit toward others who differ with me about preferences and choices of conscience and refuse to judge them when God can make them stand (Rom. 14:1-12).
10. I resolve with the Lord’s help to intercept relational disruptions wherever possible by deferring my rights to others (Genesis 13).
11. I resolve with the Lord’s help to honor and respect my church leaders for their hard work in the Lord and will endeavor to maintain truth-in-love communication with them at all times (1 Thess. 5:12-13).
12. I resolve with the Lord’s help to be kind and to forgive others for their offenses as God in Christ has forgiven me (Eph. 4:32).
14. I resolve with the Lord’s help to avoid gossiping about others and sowing discord within the body of Christ (Prov. 6:16-19).
15. I resolve with the Lord’s help to use my tongue only to speak what is good for the building up of others for giving grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:29).
Question: Which of these resolutions do you sense matters most for you in 2019?
Three Reasons I Wrote “The Peacemaking Church”
The wisdom writer warns: “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecc. 12:12). As it was in Solomon’s day, so it remains today.
According to one source, publishers around the globe have produced nearly 2.3 million books this year. On November 20 my book will join the collection. Why add to this endless making?
I wrote The Peacemaking Church for three primary reasons.
One, there is a story to tell. Not just mine, though I describe my share of personal examples–mostly a number of painful blunders along the way. This is an entire church’s journey.
I explain in the introduction that Orlando Grace Church suffered traumatic conflict twice in its history. The painful details bear no repeating. No need to reopen old wounds.
Our story begins with a fierce campaign to cultivate a culture of peace to prevent a third meltdown—if we could possibly help it.
Thus far, hiccups notwithstanding, we have managed to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3). That story needs telling.
Two, there is a need to meet. In his foreword to the book, Ken Sande opens with a redacted version of Matthew 18:20. “Where two or three come together in Jesus’s name . . . there will soon be conflict.”
The New Testament reflects that reality. Just observe the sheer volume of texts which address some form of conflict therein!
Anyone hanging around church for any length of time will likely confirm the same. It doesn’t matter where you go.
It was true in metro Orlando for me. I saw it on a recent trip overseas. It exists right here in my new home in rural Idaho.
And it doesn’t take much to set off a firestorm of trouble. In the introduction to my book, I cite Twenty-Five Silly Things Church Members Fight Over to make the point–like the length of the worship leader’s beard!
I wrote The Peacemaking Church to add a proactive, stay-out-of-trouble resource to the Baker suite of books currently addressing reactive strategies for dealing with conflict.
I ask this question right up front: What if the best fight your church ever has is the one it never gets into in the first place? This approach needed addressing in a book like this.
Three, there is now a tool to help. I appreciated every endorsement commending The Peacemaking Church, but Pastor Alfred Poirier, author of The Peacemaking Pastor, well distilled what I hoped would come across in the pages.
Out of the pain of church conflict comes a refreshingly biblical and practical guide for building peace, resolving conflict, and preserving unity in the body of Christ.
Biblical and practical sum up my hopes for The Peacemaking Church. I wrote it to root church leaders and followers alike in the Scriptures and to equip them with tools which will help make them heavyweight champions of peace and unity in their churches.
Three Steps for Preserving Peace When Your Feelings Get Hurt
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.
Twelve Lessons for Cultivating a Culture of Peace in a Church
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).
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.
(Cake artistry by the incredibly gifted Michele Richert!)
How Two Made One Stay One
Jan and I recently observed our first anniversary. We celebrated the many ways God has been good to us—not the least of which is the unity we enjoy as husband and wife.
How does a couple made one in marriage stay one over time? Consider these keys for maintaining marital harmony.
One, make oneness a priority (Eph. 4:3). Gospel-shaped people do their best to preserve unity in relationships.
Before Jan and I make any significant decision, we ask one another how it will impact our relationship’s oneness. We decide together.
Two, count oneness a gift (Psalm 133). Don’t take it for granted. Recognize it as a blessing from God. Thank him often for it!
Three, consider oneness a stewardship (1 Cor. 4:2). I use the term “stewardship” often. As a concept, it helps orient me to my various responsibilities. A steward protects and manages the affairs and possessions of another.
In marriage, that involves several things.
First, I pray for our oneness. Jesus modeled this in the way he interceded for his people (John 17:21).
Second, I work for our oneness. Nothing matters more here than watching out for Jan’s interests, not just my own. Philippians 2:3-4 constrains me:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Let me tell a story on myself (with my wife’s permission of course).
Last Christmas Jan shared with me her desire to have two of her kids and their children over to decorate our tree. It happened to fall on a Saturday—down time for me.
Rather than welcoming the idea, I pushed back. Given the sometimes-exhausting demands of pastoral ministry, I described even extended family involvement as “debit time,” not “credit time.”
In the middle of the conversation, my dear wife suddenly burst into tears, her hand-clasped head collapsing into her lap.
Please understand—Jan gets my need to back off periodically from people-time to refuel. She is dialed in to my interests and needs.
But at that moment last December, God convicted me of a dismal lack of concern for her interests.
She cares deeply about stewarding effectively her relationships with extended family. God has used her to show me some of my deficiencies in this area.
I pledged to regard any further opportunities with both sides of the family as credit-time only. In fact, we plan on coloring eggs this Saturday with one of our grandsons.
How does change like this happen? How can an inherently selfish man like me pray and work for oneness in marriage?
I believe for our oneness.
Believe what? Knowing that only God can transform my patterns in marriage, I trust anew in his power working in me through the gospel of Jesus (Phil. 2:5-11).
The gospel alone empowers two made one to remain one, anniversary after anniversary.
Question: What means do you employ to promote marital oneness?