Category Archives: conflict

The Missing Piece in our Social Discourse

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8

“We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Our culture is in great need of reconciliation. The divisions between us just seem to grow larger and larger every day. Likewise, the Christian church is in need of reconciliation. The same cultural and political divisions which have wreaked havoc outside the church seem to have had a similar effect even within the church. And as long as we use social media to try and resolve it, we will only make it worse. You see, there is a huge missing piece in our social discourse these days, one that is critical to human relationships. However, this particular missing piece is, by design, missing from social media. In fact, its presence makes for horribly boring–even ineffective–communication in the realms of social media. That missing piece is humility.

In every genuine reconciliation, there is a point where both parties have softened their hearts enough to be able to begin seeing the issue through the other party’s eyes.  It happens to a person when he/she is humbly willing to admit to himself that maybe, just maybe, his/her perspective is not complete.  It is a moment of sudden clarity, when he/she understands (probably for the first time) that he/she has been a bit arrogant and self-centered.  This softening represents a profound shift in the relationship.  …

Church that Defies Conventional Wisdom

And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. Genesis 6:13-14

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

When it comes to building churches, there is no shortage of conventional wisdom. And in matters of church growth, church finances, and (alas) church conflict, the “church world” is loaded with advice and counsel. Moreover, add to that the wisdom of the secular world about how to build a corporation or how to lead an army or how to have a winning team (much of which wisdom gets imposed on church leadership), and you could fill a library with all the ways that it makes sense to build a church.

But God is not impressed with our conventional wisdom…never has been. At a time when the world had never even seen rain before and over a project schedule of some 100 years or so, God had Noah build an ark. On dry land. In the middle of a wilderness. There was absolutely nothing conventional about it. In fact, Noah was surely considered to be a crazy old drunk by pretty much anyone who knew him during this time, and his “project” was 100 years of sheer nonsense.

So, as I consider how incredibly closely Noah had to be walking with the Lord in order to rightly understand his assignment and to then fulfill it, I am captivated by the thought of just one church, one local body of believers, equally sold out and tuned in to God. Can …

The Blinding Power of Bitterness

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:6-7

blind bitternessAt the very front end of Cain’s anger and frustration, before it had lead to anything permanently damaging, God warned him.  “Cain, you better get control of this anger, or it will get control of you.”  Well, that’s my paraphrase.  God was warning Cain about a part of the human condition to which we often turn a blind eye: anger is not something to leave unattended.  Unresolved anger, you see, turns into bitterness.  And bitterness, over time, is a disease that spreads into our heart, our eyes, our brain, and a host of other places.

I have seen it way too many times in my ministry to churches in conflict.  When passions get high and anger is left to fester over time, finding the truth about what really happened can become nearly impossible.  That is because anger makes for a horrible historian.  It twists the truth and blinds us to what really happened.  The longer we stay angry, the less credibility we have for reporting what happened.  However poor our retention rate is for facts and figures we have seen or heard, our retention rate for what we felt is almost perfect.  So, in situations which anger us, if that anger is left alone to do its dirty work, we later remember how we felt and then back into the rest of the facts in a way which supports how we felt. In other words, our brain fills in the gaps and recalls events in a way …

Don’t Bother Asking How I Voted

In our ministry, we refer to it as the “Principle of Perceptions”…it is one of our 5 Principles of Unity in the church. It simply states: I have some responsibility for how others perceive me. It is simple to state, but it becomes awfully complicated in application. There is a scriptural principle which calls upon each of us to take reasonable measures in order to preserve our testimony before others. The more leadership responsibility we have (i.e., the more influence we have), the greater those measures become.

self-reflectionWhere relationships are concerned, perception is far more important than reality. In our relationship, if you perceive me to be an abuser, then that perception will affect our relationship whether I actually am an abuser or not. In our relationship, if you perceive me to be a racist, then that perception will impact our relationship whether I actually am a racist or not. In our relationship, if you perceive me to have anger issues, then that perception will dictate much about our relationship whether I actually have those issues or not. And so on and so forth…you get the picture.

So, where relationships are concerned (and where my ability to be a leader or influencer in your life is concerned), I simply must take some responsibility for how I am perceived. I must always weigh the cost of my choices on that scale. There will be times when I must go ahead and choose in such a way which costs me that influence. And there will be other times when I will choose to sacrifice my freedom in order to preserve my influence with you or with others. This is life. This is leadership. And, most importantly, this is what following Christ entails.

So, it was with terrific  sadness that I left the …

Re-Focus: The Role of the Church in Spiritual Warfare

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven…And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Revelation 12:7-8, 11

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Ephesians 6:10-13

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Psalm 20:7

boys-and-swords

I remember playing “soldier” when I was a little boy. My friends and I would make up battlefield scenarios and spend hours and hours playing them out. We pretended to be sentries and infantrymen, and pilots and marines. We pretended to fire guns and swing swords and throw grenades. We crawled on our bellies and climbed trees and ran and hid. We manned pretend prison camps and planned ambushes. But you know what we never did? We never pretended to be communications officers whose job it was to communicate but who rarely ever actually “fought”. We never pretended to be the guy running BEHIND the other soldiers, carrying all the communications equipment but rarely ever firing a cannon. …

This Kind Cannot be Driven Out by Anything but Prayer

 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Mark 9:26-29

prayerI can still remember the first church dispute I officially mediated. I had been involved in literally hundreds of mediations as an attorney/mediator, many involving issues worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Then there was this conflict in a tiny church involving a dozen or so people and I thought to myself, “How hard can this be?” I remember whispering a short prayer or two on my way to the church, thinking this would be a simple matter to iron out…three, maybe four hours, tops. Two days later, the church was split, the pastor was gone, and I had almost certainly done more damage than good. It was easily the most humbling experience of my life.

The lesson there had nothing to do with mediation skills. It had everything to do with prayer.

Working through conflict and entanglement among God’s people almost always presents problems at a spiritual level. Hence, using merely secular problem-solving models and processes will never be adequate. Relevant, perhaps…maybe even helpful; but not adequate in and of itself. Spiritual problems require Spiritual solutions…and ALL spiritual solutions bubble up out of deep and meaningful prayer. To ever expect otherwise is, well, spiritually immature.

Peacemaking among God’s people is far more than just surface-level problem solving, and it involves a great deal more than just compromise and negotiation. Spiritual solutions involve …

The Parable of the Unmerciful Driver

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21-22

The kingdom of Heaven is like when you’re driving home on Friday evening and the interstate is a parking lot with cars bumper to bumper for like miles and miles and there is this one pitiful car trying desperately to get in line but nobody will let him in because everybody is being a jerk and this poor guy is sitting there with his blinker on waiting and waiting and waiting and so you decide to be the good guy and you let him get in front of you. Good job. You are a Christ-like person. But then along comes another pitiful soul in the exact same situation and he pulls up along side the first guy hoping the first guy will let him get in front of him because he’s thinking, “this guy just had mercy shown to him so surely he will show a little mercy as well” and, frankly, you’re thinking the same thing which is why you are so angry when the first guy WON’T BUDGE and will not show any mercy at all to the second guy. Suddenly, you’re not thinking nice things anymore. You just want to do physical harm to the first guy’s car for being such a jerk. You’re thinking, “Hey, I showed you some mercy, what’s your problem!?” And that is like the kingdom of heaven.

As a church mediator working with conflicted congregations, I have come to believe that the sin posing the most significant threat to church unity today is the sin of unforgiveness. I cannot …

The American Church: Tempted in the Wilderness

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 4:1

The church in America is in the wilderness. That’s not such a bad place to be. It’s a difficult place, often a painful place, but it’s a place God often leads his people when He has some difficult lessons to teach them or preparations to be made. And the American church certainly has some difficult lessons to learn. Moses learned in the wilderness, as did Elijah. The people of Israel learned in the wilderness. And Jesus went there as well, where he experienced some critical “perspective builders” in the form of temptations. The American church, while in the wilderness, is experiencing temptations as well. If there were ever a story written about it, the way Jesus’ story in the wilderness has been written, the enemy’s temptations of the church might go something like this…

temptationsI. The devil said to them, “If you are the Church of God, tell these people to become members.” As bread represents a basic necessity for our body, believers (i.e., members) represent a basic necessity for the Church. There is not a church leader anywhere who, when describing the church he/she serves, is not tempted to describe it at some level in terms of number of members. It is one way we measure our effectiveness in mission. Every evangelistic outreach is measured this way. And since we all want to be seen as “successful”, the temptation here is to move as many bodies as possible from the “prospect” category to the “member” category as quickly as possible. The temptation is to use emotional pleas, scare tactics, or other forms of manipulation toward an all-important “decision”. And what the church is left with, especially over the long term, …

Conformed to this World

Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

protestsIn his letter to the Romans, perhaps the most complete theological treatise we have from the apostle Paul, a veritable high-definition picture of the gospel-centered worldview, when he finally turns the corner from the heavy theology in chapters 1-11 and begins to address the very, very practical question of how, then, we should live, Paul begins that counsel with a simple charge: we should look different from the world. That is his very first word of practical counsel. Be transformed. Be different.

And so, when we (as the church) respond to the world around us exactly like the rest of the world responds, it is safe to say we have failed. None of us want that. We all despise failure. Some of us even have an unhealthy fear of it. So, let’s succeed, shall we? Let’s be transformed! Let’s not look like the rest of the world.

But that is harder than it might seem. Sometimes, we have been IN the world for so long, we do not even realize that we are looking more and more like it. So, here are some reminders. Here are some ways the world behaves to which we, as God’s people, would do well NOT to conform. Spelling them out here, just so we can remember.

1. When the world sees a racially-charged incident brewing in Missouri, it runs to the fight like a bench-clearing brawl in a baseball game. Everyone sees the fight and realizes their “tribe” may be involved (or ought to be involved) and immediately begins seeing the “facts” through the lens of their cause, …

Love the Porcupines…Quills and All

the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 1 Corinthians 12:22-25

porcupine quillsI’ve learned to be careful in my application of Paul’s “body parts” metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. Once you start assigning body-part descriptions to individuals in your church, the discussion can all go south pretty quickly. The truth is, most of us would rather not know what body part many in our church would use to describe us!

I am thinking today about the “difficult” people in the church, the “porcupines” (painful to love), the ones Rick Warren describes so eloquently as the EGR people (Extra Grace Required). Paul would describe them as “seeming to be weaker” or ones “we think less honorable” or “unpresentable parts”. These are the people we generally would prefer not to be around, the ones we wish would try visiting another small group rather than ours (except that we would not wish that on any of the other leaders). These are the extremely high-maintenance folks with negative outlooks on everything and everyone. They are “projects”, needing lots and lots of attention. They are exhausting.

As I consider this category of fellow believers, my first thought is to question whether or not I am perceived as one. I think it is worth our while as leaders to examine the evidence of how influential we really are …