Building a Peacemaker Church
If you’re visiting us this morning, we’re in a series called Building and we’re focusing on some building blocks that are necessary for the church to be a healthy, biblical church. That is, building as a verb. But we are also sensing that the Lord is stirring our hearts to pray and give toward a permanent church home – building as a noun.
We know from Matthew 16 that Jesus is building His church, and we also know from the Scriptures that Jesus calls His disciples to work as co-laborers with Him in the building of the church. By His grace the church is built up as each part (each believer) does his or her part. What an amazing privilege we all have to be a part of that building!
This morning’s message is an important message for any church because what we’re going to be looking at is how to deal with and resolve conflict in a way that promotes healthy relationships and glorifies the Lord.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9 (ESV)
Title: Building a Peacemaker Church (Resolving Conflict in a God-Glorifying Way)
Conflict is like fire: it has tremendous potential for destruction, but harnessed properly it has great potential for good as well. Most of us have probably seen the damage that conflict can inflict on relationships. One afternoon I was at a gathering and witnessed a step-father speak harsh words to his son in law about a situation where the son in law probably did use poor judgment. It probably did need to be addressed, but the words were very harsh and cutting and to this day, years later, the parents and their daughter and her husband are not speaking.
Conflict can turn close friends into strangers, husband and wife into ex-husband and ex-wife, it can sever relationships between parents and their children. And it can tear a church apart too.
• I read the sad but not all that unusual story of one man who was part of a once vibrant, healthy, gospel-centered church. He got very sick and when he regained his health two years later he discovered that his once healthy church no longer existed.
• According to Peacemaker Ministries, 50 churches plummet into major, scarring conflict every day in the US. Many of those churches never recover.1500 pastors quit every month due to conflict, burnout or moral failure. Conflict is all too common, and all too devastating to the church.
Every church has a “culture” for resolving conflict
Every church has a culture for resolving conflict. Actually we all have a way of resolving conflict, most of us probably learned it from our families. Some families scream and yell. Other families deal with conflict by giving the silent treatment. It’s the same way for churches: every church has a culture for resolving conflict. It may not be articulated or talked about, but it’s woven deeply in the fabric of the church and it’s how the church deals with conflict. In Grace Community Church we want to cultivate a culture of peacemaking and be a congregation of peacemakers who glorify God and serve people in the midst of conflict. Let’s look at how we can do that. A lot of the things I’m going to share come out of Peacemaker Ministries and I want to recommend the book by Ken Sande called The Peacemaker.
I. The Slippery Slope of Conflict
Peace-maker Ministries has come up with a diagram called the slippery slope of conflict and it shows the three basic ways people and churches can deal with conflict. In the center, on top of the hill, is the peace-making approach. On the left is the slippery slope of peace-faking, on the right is the slippery slope of peace-breaking.
As we look at these responses to conflict, you will probably see yourself somewhere on this graph. Some of us might see ourselves on both sides at different times.
II. The Peace-faking Church
On the left side of the slope is the “escape” response to conflict, the peace-faker. This is the person who doesn’t like conflict and wants to avoid it at all costs.
a. People pleasing
The peace faker often tries to avoid conflict by trying to please everybody. They have a real fear of rocking the boat, and so they become good at being a chameleon: change their thoughts and opinions to match the people around them. Sometimes they’ll go along with things they don’t think is right just because they don’t want conflict.
The peace faker will deny there is conflict as long as they can. They try to look the other way, hoping it will go away, but it rarely does, and usually it only gets worse. Conflicts that might have resolved fairly easily early on become much larger and more difficult to resolve when left alone.
ILL: I was talking to a friend who was sharing about a conflict, but every time he would approach the person, this person would deny that there was a problem. We’re good, nothing is wrong. But it was obvious that there was something wrong. This person probably means well, but by ignoring the problem he is only allowing them to get worse.
The peace-faker will often finally respond to conflict by withdrawing. They are the ones in the family who go to their rooms, lock their doors, and refuse to talk. In the church, often conflict will cause people to leave a church they love and have invested in, as a way of resolving their conflict and finding peace. Pastors will resign at this point out to get out of the battle. Statistics say that most pastors resign because of 8 or less disgruntled people in the church – but those 8 people can seem like a big crowd and not only is it not rare for pastors to resign, many leave the ministry disillusioned.
In the peace-faking church, conflict isn’t dealt with straight forwardly, it is swept under the rug with the hope it will go away. It rarely does.
III. The Peace-breaking Church
On the other side of the slippery slope are the peace-breakers. This is the “attack” response. The peace-breaker looks at conflict as a war that must be fought and won at all costs. They’re not only willing to rock the boat, they’re willing to sink it if that’s what it takes to win the conflict. Sometimes they are so driven by the desire to win that they are willing to see the church damaged if that’s what it takes. If peace-faking churches are destroyed by erosion, peace-breaking churches are destroyed by explosion.
a. Fight (argue, accuse, litigate)
A culture of peace-breakers will be a culture of fighting. The church will come to be characterized by arguing, in-fighting and bitter accusations in a peace-breaking culture. In extreme cases, Christians will turn to litigation to get what they want. Paul tells the Corinthian church: wouldn’t it be better to be wronged.
Gossip is a way of fighting from the shadows. Gossip is gorilla warfare and it’s a way of hurting someone without ever having to confront them or face them. Gossip has torn many a church apart, damaging lives, shipwrecking people’s faith, and bringing a reproach to the name of Christ in the eyes of the world. One of the ways we can help to fight a culture of gossip is not only being committed not to engage in it, but also to be committed to not hearing it. If someone comes to you with a gripe about someone else, don’t give a listening ear, direct them to go to that person.
Here’s something that is good to remember: if someone comes to you speaking ill of someone else, you can be pretty sure they’re talking to someone else about you. Let’s be careful not to speak or listen to gossip.
Another way people try to resolve conflict is through controlling the situation or people. Manipulating through guilt or pressure they try to maneuver things the way they want to go by control. In the church this is the person who looks at their position in the church (whether it is a formal position such as being a pastor or board member or an informal position of just being in the church a long time or having a lot of influence) as giving them the right to make things go the way they want them to.
We all have sinful tendencies in one direction (peace-faking or peace-breaking) and as a church we will be tempted to go in one direction or the other. As Christian disciples seeking to obey all that the Lord Jesus commanded us, we want to make every effort to be peace-makers and cultivate a peace-making culture in our church. The gospel calls us to be peace-makers because through Christ, God has reconciled us to Himself and to one another. How do we grow as peacemakers? Here are some thoughts:
IV. The Peace-making Church
a. See conflict as an opportunity to glorify God
Conflict always provides an opportunity to glorify God and that should be our greatest desire in the midst of a conflict. That’s not usually my first thought: my first thought is, “how do I get what I want out of this situation?” But we should ask, “where is God in this, and how can we bring glory to Him in this?”
One small church found itself in a lawsuit filed by a person who visited the church, slipped and broke his ankle. A lot of people were stunned that they were being sued and angry that this man would do this. But one member stood up and asked the congregation, "How can we glorify God in this lawsuit? Perhaps God allowed this to happen for our good and for this other man's good, and we can make a difference in this man's life. How can we minister to this man who was hurt in our church?"
Sure enough, as they sought to mediate and not fight back, a settlement was negotiated and more important the man continued to attend the church. By trusting and obeying God in a conflict we have the opportunity to reflect Christ more clearly.
b. Get the log out of your eye
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. Matthew 7:3-5 (ESV)
Jesus doesn’t forbid us from helping someone else see their fault, but he tells us we must first honestly examine ourselves in that same area to help ourselves first.
In the midst of conflict, we can be so aware of what the other person is doing wrong. In fact a lot of times that’s all we see. We want to help them by telling them all their problems. What we don’t see is how hypocritical we can be – we might well be dealing with a log compared to the splinter they are dealing with.
ILL: When Janice and I moved into our first home, we were putting down some carpet padding for a large area rug and we needed to cut the padding in a straight line. Janice wanted to use the straight-edge of our coffee table turned upside down to make the long straight cut, but after I spent 10 minutes telling her what a dumb idea that was, and how that just wasn’t how it should be done, and if she had any sense in these things she would know that, oddly enough she lost her enthusiasm for the project and left me alone to cut the padding. Well, after thinking about how I could make a straight cut, I realized I needed something with a straight-edge, something long and straight. You guessed it, I ended up turning the coffee table upside down. I just hoped she wouldn’t come back into the room to see me doing it.
Not only does that demonstrate the foolish pride I brought to the marriage, it also represents a tendency we have to measure ourselves with a different scale than we measure others. What we clearly see as being wrong in someone else, we somehow find rationalizations for ourselves. What really burns us in other people we give ourselves a pass for the same thing. And often we just don’t see our own sin. Sin makes us hyper-sensitive to other’s sins or faults and blinds us to our own sin.
Jesus is saying, look at yourself first. Be honest. Be suspicious of your own heart. Don’t just give your thoughts, your desires, and your motives, a free pass. When others see you dealing with your own heart, and confessing your own sin, they will be much more open to hear observations you have for them.
c. Be quick to listen and slow to accuse
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. James 1:19-20
When we are in a conflict, often anger makes us want to judge the other person and make accusations not only about what they did, but about their motives too. We can be so confident that we know why a person is doing something and we can be so wrong.
James gives good advice, especially in a conflict or potential conflict: be quick to hear. Ask questions and really want to hear the answer to those questions (instead of just listening for more ammo against them). Ask further clarifying questions. Share your thoughts and feelings without accusations. Accusations put the other person on the defensive and throw gasoline on the fire.
d. Go and be reconciled
In the end, our goal should be reconciliation, not winning the conflict.
The Bible is a book about the greatest conflict in history being reconciled: that between man and God. Through Christ we have been reconciled to God and through Christ we have also been reconciled to one another and as Christians we should take it very seriously to walk through conflict in a way that honors Christ.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9 (ESV)
The Lord calls us to be peacemakers, and as we do, we are demonstrating that we are His children, sons and daughters who look like our Father.
• When you are in a conflict, do you listen well? Do you ask sincere questions to better understand the other person’s perspective? Or do you defend yourself and accuse them?
• Which of the three responses best describes you? Peace-faking, peace-breaking, or peace-making?
• Are there any steps the Lord is convicting you to take right now concerning a current or unresolved conflict in your life?
Pray that God will give us the grace to be a peace-making church.