Tuesday Re-mix –
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. James 1:23-24
When installing an appliance or putting together a piece of furniture, it seems to me there are levels of understanding. The lowest level is when you know you don’t know anything at all, so you sit down with the instructions first, before you do anything. The next level is when you think you know something about it, so you start without the instructions and soon find that your are in fact an idiot and then sit down with the instructions. The third level of understanding is when you know enough about the task to know that each case is a little different, so you start by sitting down with the instructions.
If there are higher levels of understanding than this, I admit to being totally out of touch with them. I myself typically float back and forth between the first two levels. When my wife sees me walking through the house carrying a tool, she immediately drops what she’s doing and follows me as she grabs the phone and calls for help. I have learned (mostly the hard way) how helpful it is to read and follow the instructions from the beginning. In my case, it doesn’t guarantee success, but it at least prevents me from screwing my table top into the floor, or other such embarrassing results.
When asked how I can mediate congregational conflict in such a wide variety of denominations and churches, how it is possible to effectively navigate church conflict even with little understanding of the culture, the answer seems obvious to me: I just stay focused on the instructions, i.e., scripture. I learned early in this ministry that there is no amount of worldly wisdom or experience which can guarantee a peaceful, successful mediation in a congregational dispute. Emotions are high, the pain runs deep, and volatile relationships are unpredictable at best. There simply is no putting things back together without starting with the instructions: the Word of God.
Interestingly, once you start there, the cultural differences suddenly do not matter much. Scripture has this remarkable ability to cut through culture and the things of this world. I certainly cannot always explain why it works…I just know that it does. That, of course, is what child-like faith looks like. Finding our way through broken relationships requires a child-like faith in the Word of God and what it tells us about relationships. As my Dad always says: when all else fails, try reading the instructions.
Of course, I have from time to time encountered a group for whom the Bible is not the final word…a group who questions its authority. I am always quick to clarify for them that I really have nothing to offer them. I wouldn’t even know where to start. If as a “church” they don’t recognize God’s Word as their supreme authority, then for me it is like trying to put something together with no instructions at all. If the instructions which come with my new appliance are nothing more to me than guidelines, i.e., loose fences to lean against, then chances are pretty good that my new appliance will never work the way it was intended to work. For a Christian, “The Word” should be at the very center of life. For a church, it should be the very foundation upon which all things are built.
When it comes to mediating congregational conflict and all its inherent complexities, I am just not smart enough to come up with my own “wisdom” about how it should go. I am at the lowest level of understanding. So, I start with the instructions. I let scripture order my steps and inform my process. I allow God’s Word to set the agenda. Then, just maybe, there is at least a chance for success at the end of the day.