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I had been in professional church work as a teacher
or Director of Christian Education for over 21 years. During that tenure, I have witnessed a number
of conflicts within congregations, amongst staff, between churches, and within
our synod; but it did not become as significant an issue until I arrived at a
In Romans 12:18, Paul reminds us to “live at peace with everyone.” Even more importantly, he preceded this phrase with the words, “If it is possible as far as it depends upon you.” Paul makes a clear distinction that we are to try and live at peace with others; but because of our sinful nature, we are destined to have roadblocks to peace. We are destined to have conflict.
· A conflict is a fight between people who think or act differently.
Peacemaker’s defines conflict as:
· A difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s’ goals or desires. (Peacemaker, 4)
“When faced with conflict, we tend to focus passionately on what our opponent has done wrong or should do to make things right. In contrast, God always calls us to focus on what is going on in our own hearts when we are at odds with others.” (Peacemakers, Getting to the Heart of Conflict.) The root of conflict is expressed best in James 4:1, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?” Conflict according to Romans 3:10-18 is apart of our sinful nature, our sinful desires:
Satan does not want us to be at peace; he prefers conflict. However, we have a God who loves us so much, that He desires for us to be forgiven and set free from our sinful responses to conflict and He has designed a means for dealing with conflict that can lead toward real peace.
Based upon scripture, Peacemakers identifies the “4-G’s” as the focus to conflict resolution. They also call this their “Peacemaker’s Pledge:” (Kober, 5)
These four simple statements are reflected throughout scripture as the means for responsible God-intended resolution. Unfortunately, even church people fall into the trap of not practicing the 4-G’s. We fail often.
In the Peacemakers approach they use a spectrum of responses to conflict called the “Slippery Slope” to explain how we should and should not resolve conflict. The spectrum shaped like an upside down half moon includes negative responses on the downsloping ends and positive responses on the higher ground center area. The analogy of a hill with sloping sides is appropriate when we consider our Godly, good intentions to resolve conflicts. It shows how easy it is to slip and slide down toward the sinful and unhealthy responses to conflict. The spectrum is divided into three categories: Escape Responses, Attack Responses, and Conciliation Responses. Each of these categories is sub-divided into more specific responses.
Escape Responses include denial, flight and suicide. These are used especially when a person wants to avoid the confrontation and the consequences of trying to resolve the conflict.
Denial is simply denying that there is a problem or to refuse to do what needs to be done to resolve it. The “blame game” falls under this category as when we are in denial, we find it easier to put the responsibility and guilt on to someone else rather than ourselves. In the old Testament, Eli’s son’s denied their sin and refused to do what needed to be done to resolve their conflict with God and their father (1 Samuel 2:22-25).
Flight is another escape response. This is simply running away. When I was a student at Concordia – Seward, I took an interim animal behavior class. There they talked about how birds have an instinctive behavior called “flight distance.” This is where they fly away when something enters within a comfort radius of their body. As soon as this comfort distance becomes violated, the bird escapes to another location where they feel safe and secure and away from what threatened them. The problem is this escape only post-pones the issue to another time. The exception is in the case of physical harm. If a wife is being beat-up by her husband, she needs to escape the situation by leaving. David used flight to escape from Saul’s spear in 1 Samuel 19:9-10.
Suicide is the last escape response. Unfortunately, “national records show that
suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth ages 10-19.” (
Denial or blame game, flight and suicide are called “peace-faking” because they imply that there is real peace when in reality it is a façade. Escape responses simply delay the conflict to another time.
The second series of negative responses are the Attack Responses: litigation, assault, and murder. These three are used especially when the relationship is based more on competition than reconciliation. It is less interested in maintaining the relationship and more interested in winning the battle.
Litigation is simply taking someone to court. There are times when this may be the only way to resolve a situation, but as a Christian, it should be the last resort. In a world bent on suing everyone, it is no wonder that even Christians deal with their conflicts this way. Romans 13:1-5 tells us that we are to submit to the authority He has put above us. “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” (Romans 13:1) Litigation may seem like the easiest because it puts the pressure for a decision on someone else, but it usually also hurts the relationship.
Assault is literally an attack on someone. This can be done both physically and verbally. Often times our words are more painful than actually beating-up on the body. I felt this way when the board president chose to blast me and the Coordinating Pastor. While he did not physically attack me, his condemnation bruised my self-concept and affected how I dealt with him in the future. Assault also includes the gossip and slanderous statements made to others about people we are in conflict with.
According to Peacemakers, assault can also include a person’s use of power to “damage a person financially or professionally.” (Peacemakers Ministries, the Peacemaker Brochure) Stephen in Acts 6:8-15 also experienced this assault of character, integrity, and profession. He withstood the stress put upon him by the powerful church leaders who desired him to recant his confession of faith – and God blessed him for his steadfast faithfulness.
Murder, like suicide is the ultimate extreme response. Murder, obviously is taking someone’s life, but it also occurs when we have such hatred for someone that we harbor extreme bitterness, anger and resentment toward them. Jesus said that these feelings toward another person were as if you committed murder (Matthew -22). Hatred and anger affect how this a church staff ministers to each other and to the congregation and community at large.
assault and murder all are “peace-breaking” in that they seek to end the
conflict through brute force. They use
power to make the conflict disappear, but in reality, the conflict pattern will
simply resurrect though other relationships.
Unless the process of resolution and conflict management is dealt with
and changed, it will simply go from one person to the next and so on. The habits need to be corrected and
re-learned properly if the church staff is going to truly be a
The last area of the Slippery Slope is the area we should desire to use. It is where “peace-making” takes place and it is divided into two areas: Personal Peace Making and Assisted Peace Making. Personal Peace Making includes: overlooking the offense, discussion and negotiation. Assisted Peace Making includes: mediation, arbitration, and church discipline.
Overlooking an offense comes from Proverbs 19:11 where it says: “A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” Sometimes it is simply better to say nothing at all and ignore the offense or conflict. This is probably one of the most difficult things to do, especially if it is a personal attack on you or your ministry. I am not proud of the fact that I can become defensive about my ministry when pushed into a corner. I find that youth ministry often is relegated to lips service only and often receives no real support from church administrators. For this reason, I have had to often defend my ministry in order to re-focus the ministry’s potential.
Discussion is a one-on-one conversation about an issue of concern between the two people. It is not a public debate and does not involve a third party. Matthew 5:23-24 says: "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” We can not in good conscience come before the Lord if we have a burden upon our heart. God desires us to share our concern or confess our sin to this person individually. Matthew clarifies this process even more when it states, "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.
Negotiation is cooperation between the two sides and finding an agreeable middle ground. It is being concerned for a fair resolution for both sides. Negotiation involves being interested in the opposing side’s issues or concerns. Philippians 2:4 reminds us that we should “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
If the church was having financial issues and a reduction in salaries was necessary to maintain the ministry, then I would have willingly negotiated a fair reduction in my salary; however, that was not the case.
The Peacemakers “Pause Principle of Negotiating” helps in the process of any negotiation, even when the conflict is minimal. (Sande, 206)
Overlooking an offense, discussion and negotiation all can be done without any intervention from another person. They simply require a heart desire to repair the relationship and seek reconciliation. The next three, however, do require assistance in the process.
Mediation continues where Matthew left off. It sets up the next step in the process when a person ignores your one-on-one approach and the conflict persists. Verse 16 states: “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” The Peacemakers process encourages the bringing of one or more other people to help in the process. Their sole job is to help articulate the issue and suggest possible mutually acceptable solutions; but their recommendations are not binding to either party.
Arbitration on the other hand is binding. When it becomes apparent that neither side can come to a consensus and the conflict seems to be getting worse, then an arbitrator can be appointed to assess the issue, listening to both sides of the conflict and render a decision. Both sides must agree that the arbitrator’s judgment is the final verdict and the conflict resolved. Paul encouraged arbitration in 1 Corinthians 6:4, “Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church.”
Church discipline is the final section of Matthew 18. After the individual and small group approach has failed to resolve the conflict and bring about confession, forgiveness and reconciliation, and then Jesus outlines a final step. In verses 17-18, Jesus says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Here Jesus gives the church the authority to discipline the professed Christian. This could be through release from volunteer or elected positions within the congregation or could be as extreme as excommunication with the intent of encouraging confession, repentance and reconciliation. It is never the intent of the church to simply get rid of someone – rather, it is the explicit desire of the church to shepherd the lost lamb back to the fold. Sometimes this can be best handled through “hard love”; where the ministry sets boundaries because they hate the sin, but still love the sinner.
The process of conflict management for a Christian must always lead to confession and forgiveness. Peacemaker’s created the “7 A’s of Confession” (Sande 109) to help in this process:
For the people offering forgiveness, there is always Satan’s temptation to not let go of the anger and bitterness. We often say we forgive, but have difficulty letting go of the feelings associated with the conflict. Satan does not desire peace. It is his sole intent to create chaos and when we harbor feelings from conflict we allow Satan to have a foothold on our life. When a person sincerely asks for forgiveness, Peacemakers suggest that we abide by the “4-Promises of Forgiveness:” (Peacemakers Ministries, The Peacemaker Brochure)
The Peacemaker approach is to have the congregation’s ministry staff learn the process of Biblical conflict management. Through their workbooks and text material, they offer a plethora of situational examples demonstrating how to apply these concepts effectively. They suggest keeping a copy of the “slippery slope” on the desk of each ministry staff as a constant reminder of how we are to model scripture’s example of conflict management. Needless to say, any congregation needs to consider a means of resolution or management as conflict is inevitable. Peacemaker is a creative, non-threatening approach to the principles of scripture church staff members say they adhere to. Unfortunately, we are all sinful and have allowed our sinful habits to go against our desire for Godliness – even as church workers. Peacemakers helps a congregation manage their conflicts, strengthen their defenses against Satan’s attack, and focuses the process on Biblical principles. Peacemakers seeks to teach conflict management based upon the teachings of the “real peace maker,” Jesus himself.