Archives for Christian Mediation

How Does Your Church Manage Conflict?

Rare is the church that has no conflict at all.  The question is not whether your church has conflict, but how the leaders in your congregation deal with it. 

Sometimes church leaders have a strong urge to stifle conflict.  This is a response driven by fear.   The problem is that ignoring the conflict doesn’t make it go away.  To the contrary, pretending that nothing is wrong can make matters worse.  Stifling the expression without addressing the cause leaves the splinter to fester deep within the wound, causing further irritation and even infection.  Some refer to this as faking peace. 

The problem is that a faked peace is not an authentic peace.   Two things can happen.  If the cause of the conflict remains unchecked, the issue will escalate and lead to worse division.   Sooner or later, the facade of a faked peace will come falling down.  Denial of a problem merely delays (and even worsens) the inevitable day of reckoning.   Or, something equally worse happens.  People leave the church.  One survey has shown that of every ten people who are “unchurched,” five of them claim to be Christians.  Of those five  “unchurched people” who claim to be Christian, two of those five have left the church because of some painful event.   In other words, looking at the numbers, we can extrapolate that 20% of the unchurched people in the USA have left the church because of some unresolved conflict.   As this illustrates, “faking peace” has a very serious cost. 

On the other hand, there’s the other extreme, of a congregation that squares off against one another, forming factions that fight, lobby for position, and wage personal attacks against one another.  Rather than faking the peace, call this breaking the peace. 

Peace “breakers” deal with conflict in negative and destructive ways that are all too familiar:  by engaging in name calling and trash talk, through polarization and staking out extreme positions, by failing to take responsibility, by blaming others, by failing to listen or communicate, by failing to consider reasonable proposals, by escalating conflict through adoption of extreme “winner take all” positions that leave no room for compromise.  The peace breakers marginalize others, let anger (including self-righteous indignation) govern their actions, take “I win, you lose” positions, and are callous to the effects of using verbal barbs which leave their opponents wounded on the battlefield of conflict. 

The peace breakers are the worst nightmare of the peace fakers.  The peace breakers take over churches like a motorcycle gang, revving their engines and wearing leather jackets that say “My way or the high way,” and causing the less adversarial members of the congregation to run for shelter in churches elsewhere that seem more welcoming. 

So, how to deal with this?  Develop conflict competence! 

Does your church’s staff and leadership development program include training in conflict resolution skills?  Is your congregation equipped to address conflict in ways that uplift one another, that affirm the love that God has for each of God’s children, at the same time you work through conflict?  Is the gospel of peace and reconciliation not just part of  your weekly message, but is it part of your witness in how you live your congregational life?  If the answer is yes, great.  On the other hand, If this is not something your congregation or church leadership has given close attention to, consider seeking some training for your congregation in healthy leadership and conflict resolution skills.  

The potential for conflict exists in every congregation.  Conflict can be handled in positive or in negative ways.   Help your congregation develop skills in making peace. 

If you would like to consult privately about your church’s needs and what resources may be available, call 803-414-0185 or send email to PeaceWrkr@gmail.com .

Love, Embodied

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”  (1 John 4:7-9)

Enjoy this video: 

Skye Jethani has said:  “Judgment causes us to see the other not as a person, but as a thing, as less human and therefore less valuable. And once we do that to a person or a group of people, it opens the door to all kinds of terrible evil — segregation, injustice, abuse, even genocide. . . . The Christian’s job is to agree with God that every person you meet was worth Jesus dying for. We cannot ascribe that kind of value and dignity to people and condemn them as worthless at the same time. It’s just not possible” (Quotation is from “Judge Not”, http://www.skyejethani.com/judge-not/595/, accessed October 29, 2010).

Deeper Theory of Peacemaking

The model for peacemaking comes from deep, spiritual theory of compassion and love.  Learn more in this slideshow.  Far from being easy, simple, or cowardly, waging peace requires insight, courage, and compassion. 

Waging Peace

The Four G’s of Christian Conflict Resolution

In earlier blog posts, I’ve written about general principles of Christian mediation and the type of mediation of complex group situations that could be labeled as “church mediation” — mediation for Christian organizations.  This post is for someone who desires to know more.

While there’s no “magic formula” for the process of reconciliation, Kenneth Sande and Peacemaker Ministries have enunciated some helpful methods for remembering the process.  One of these is called “The Four G’s of Reconciliation”.  True to its name, it enunciates four simple”G’s” we can remember as we address conflict:

(1) Glorify God: Ask, “How can I please and glorify God in this situation?”

  • 1 Cor. 10:31 (“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”)
  • Prov. 3:4-6 (“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own uderstanding; in all your ways acknowledge him . . . . “)
  • John 14:15 (“If you love me, you will obey what I command.”)
  • Eph. 5:1 (“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”)

(2) Get the Log out of Your Own Eye (Matthew 7:5). It is important to admit your own wrongs honestly and thoroughly. One’s own wrongs can take two forms. One form is a critical, negative, or overly sensitive attitude that has led to unnecessary conflict. Another form is actual sinful words and actions.

When confessing wrong, the “Seven A’s of Confession” can be helpful:

  • Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
  • Avoid the words if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs)
  • Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)
  • Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  • Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
  • Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)
  • Ask for forgiveness

(See Matthew 7:3-5; 1 John 1:8-9; Proverbs 28:13.)

(3) Gently Restore: the theme is restoration, not condemnation. Galations 6:1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”

  • metaphor of a loving shepherd who goes to look for a wandering sheep and then rejoices when it is found (Matt. 18:12–14)
  • Jesus repeats this theme just after telling us to “go and show him his fault” by adding, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”
  • And then he hits the restoration theme a third time in verses 21–35, where he uses the parable of the unmerciful servant to remind us to be as merciful and forgiving to others as God is to us (Matt. 18:21–35).
  • It is appropriate to overlook minor offenses

As a general rule, an offense should be overlooked if you can answer “no” to all of the following questions:

  • Is the offense seriously dishonoring God?
  • Has it permanently damaged a relationship?
  • Is it seriously hurting other people? And
  • Is it seriously hurting the offender himself?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, an offense is too serious to overlook, in which case God commands you to go and talk with the offender privately and lovingly about the situation. As you do so, remember to:

  • Pray for humility and wisdom
  • Plan your words carefully (think of how you would want to be confronted)
  • Anticipate likely reactions and plan appropriate responses (rehearsals can be very helpful)
  • Choose the right time and place (talk in person whenever possible)
  • Assume the best about the other person until you have facts to prove otherwise (Prov. 11:27)
  • Listen carefully (Prov. 18:13)
  • Speak only to build others up (Eph. 4:29)
  • Ask for feedback from the other person
  • Recognize your limits (only God can change people; see Rom. 12:18; 2 Tim. 2:24-26)

(4) Go and Be Reconciled

Just think, however, how you would feel if God said to you, “I forgive you; I just don’t want to have anything to do with you again”?

Praise God that he never says this! Instead, he forgives you totally and opens the way for genuine reconciliation. He calls you to forgive others in exactly the same way: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:12-14; see also 1 Cor. 13:5; Psalm 103:12; Isa. 43:25). One way to imitate God’s forgiveness is to make the Four Promises of Forgiveness when you forgive someone:

  • “I will not dwell on this incident.”
  • “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
  • “I will not talk to others about this incident.”
  • “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”

If you want to learn more, please let me know and I’ll help you with resources.  My phone number is 803-414-0185.

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More On Faith Based, Christian Mediation

In the first part of this discussion, HERE, I wrote about basic principles of reconciliation and forgiveness.  This is the idea of Restorative Justice, or a justice which restores parties to a right relationship.

There are two other things which set Christian mediation apart from secular mediation.

Keep disputes between Christians out of the secular courts

A second key goal of Christian mediation is to follow the Biblical mandate not to take cases between Christians before the secular courts.  Bible based mediation therefore is usually structured so that parties first mediate, but they also enter into a binding agreement which provides that their dispute will be submitted to an arbitrator if they fail to agree through mediation.  The arbitrator is generally a person, chosen by agreement between the parties, who is respected as an expert in both secular law and in scriptural principles.

When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers! Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves?  . . .  So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life. If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church?  I am saying this to shame you. Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues?  But instead, one believer sues another, right in front of unbelievers! Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated? Instead, you yourselves are the ones who do wrong and cheat even your fellow believers (1 Corinthians 6).

Protect the Church from corruption

A third aspect of Bible based conflict resolution is so rarely applied in modern times that is it virtually nonexistent.  Namely, expulsion (or excommunication) from the church.   Less radical than excommunication is a type of order which requires a party to do some action in order to remain in fellowship with the Church.  This type of sanction can require such things as mandatory alcohol or drug counseling, with consequences of failure to comply spelled out ahead of time.

And if thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone:  if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.  But if he hear thee not, take with thee one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established.  And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church:  and if he refuses to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican  (Matthew 5:15).

If Biblical reconciliation is something you’d like to discuss, please use these resources to discuss it with the other person with whom you have a dispute.  If you continue to have difficulty reaching agreement, feel free to discuss these principles with your pastor, or call me at 803-414-0185.

Faith Based, Christian Mediation

The process of mediation is not faith based.  Mediation is a good tool for addressing most types of conflict, without regard to faith.  For people who are Christians, however, scriptural principles in the New Testament have much to say not only about the value of settling disputes outside of court, but also about the spiritual ramifications that are inherent in how we respond to wrongs.  Because of these scriptural principles, Bible-based mediation can differ from secular mediation in several respects.

This post is strictly about Christian mediation — mediation among Christians or within church groups (church mediation).

First, a first key goal of Christian mediation is that the parties become genuinely, and authentically, reconciled to one another.  The essence of Christian reconciliation is based on repentance and restoration of a right relationship.  Restoration of right relationship cannot occur until there has been a genuine acknowledgment of wrongfulness of our actions, acceptance of responsibility, and also forgiveness.

Forgiveness can be a challenge.  It goes against the grain, making reconciliation counter-intuitive.  Traditional methods of dispute resolution do not require forgiveness.  The gladiator goes into the courtroom to do battle, and he takes no prisoners.  On the other hand, avoiding a dispute and pretending that everything is “fine” is not healthy, either.  If someone fails to acknowledge brokenness, then they also prevent the possibility of acknowledging error and correcting it.

Christian author Ken Sande has coined terms “breaking peace” and “faking peace” to refer to these two very different, and unscriptural, attitudes toward conflict.  Doing battle, whether through warfare or traditional adversarial litigation, “breaks” the peace.  Ignoring or running from conflict, on the other hand, as we do when we pretend that nothing is wrong, “fakes” the peace.   Christians who sue each in court are breaking the peace.  A church which fails to acknowledge that it has conflict is faking peace. The path which acknowledges conflict yet seeks to forge a genuine resolution that restores right relationships, is to “make” peace.  To “make” peace is more challenging, and requires deep tilling of spiritual ground.  When this effort is successful, the return is profound:  genuine peace and reconciliation.  It’s not just an ideal, it is a potential reality!  So, where does one start?

The way of peacemaking, of reconciliation in a Christian sense, is not just a matter of saying “I’m sorry” and pretending that nothing ever happened.  The middle ground, making peace, involves acknowledging that something went wrong and then extending and accepting forgiveness and grace, for both parties.  Once the dispute is aired and the parties have done what they can to make things right, this opens new possibilities for the miracle of genuine, authentic reconciliation.   (Restoration of right relationships is also the idea behind Restorative Justice — a new application of justice principles which because of its effectiveness is sweeping criminal justice systems across the world.  Restorative Justice is discussed in my secular blog posts HERE and HERE, but it also has strong scriptural support.)

For the party who has been wronged, the act of extending forgiveness comes as the result of God’s grace.   We receive the grace to forgive.  For the party who has done the wrong and who receives forgiveness, acceptance of that forgiveness is also a matter of receiving grace.  In forgiving and in receiving forgiveness, we put into action our words in the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive us our debtors.”

True repentance and forgiveness is not always easy.  The process of giving and receiving forgiveness will involve prayerful self examination, acknowledgment of and acceptance of responsibility for wrongful thoughts or actions, a commitment to genuine change, as well as acceptance of the grace that forgiveness brings.  (The whole idea of forgiveness is worthy of its own article, which can be found HERE.  A key issue in the inner spiritual journey of repentance and forgiveness — both to give and to accept — is to examine one’s sense of righteousness and self righteousness. )   Once we are willing to walk the path of repentance and forgiveness, then comes the step of restoring right relationship.

Galatians 6:1-2 gives a relatively clear admonition concerning the importance of restoring a right relationship with another Christian, a grace we impart to another even when we feel we have been wronged:  “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. . . .  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

What does “restoring gently” mean?  Martin Luther interpreted thusly:

If you see a brother despondent over a sin he has committed, run up to him, reach out your hand to him, comfort him with the Gospel and embrace him like a mother.   When . . .  [a person] has been overtaken by a sin and is sorry . . . [h]e must be dealt with in the spirit of meekness and not in the spirit of severity.  A repentant sinner is not to be given gall and vinegar to drink.

Luther also writes:

The Law of Christ is the Law of love. Christ gave us no other law than this law of mutual love: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another.” To love means to bear another’s burdens. Christians must have strong shoulders to bear the burdens of their fellow Christians. . . . [W]e ought to overlook the shortcomings of others in accordance with the words, “Bear ye one another’s burdens.”  Those who fail to do so expose their lack of understanding of the law of Christ.  Love, according to Paul, “believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13)”

In Matthew 5, Peter asks Jesus to place a measure on just how much is enough.  How much one is really required to forgive?   Peter asks, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  Until seven times?”  In answer, Jesus replied, “I say not unto thee, until seven times; but, until seventy times seven.”

This willingness to look beyond the fact of being wronged is the beginning in the path toward Christian reconciliation.

If you are serious about Christian reconciliation with your Brother or Sister in Christ, consider adopting the following as guiding principles:

  • Be honest with yourself, and with your neighbor: Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor (Eph. 4:25).

  • Prayerfully think about how justice is intertwined with mercy: And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Mic. 6:8).
  • Accept responsibility for your actions, and admit your fault: First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matt. 7:5).
  • Be honest, say what you mean, and mean what you say: Simply let your “yes” be “yes,” and your “no” be “no” (Matt. 5:37).
  • Be compassionate: Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4).
  • Listen carefully to others: He who answers before listening, that is his folly and his shame (Prov. 18:13).
  • Overlook minor offenses: A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense (Prov. 19:11).
  • Be constructive, positive: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Eph. 4:29).
  • Be open to forgiveness and reconciliation: Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Eph. 4:32).
  • Be willing to change harmful attitudes and behavior: He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy (Prov. 28:13).
  • Make restitution for damage you have caused: If a man uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit must pay for the loss (Ex. 21:33-34).

Fundamentally, a person who seeks to do follow principles of Christian reconciliation will seek to follow the Golden rule:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them

do to you,for this sums up the Law and the Prophets”

(Matt. 7:12).  If you are interested in pursuing Christian mediation with a Brother or Sister, please mention this when you speak with me, and I will give you more resources to help you prepare and either resolve the dispute among yourselves or with help.  Additional characteristics that distinguish Christian mediation from secular mediation are discussed HERE (role of prayer in transformative, Biblical reconciliation) and HERE (the “Four G’s” of Biblical reconcilation).

I can be reached at 803-414-0185, and I welcome your questions on this topic.

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