“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Jesus, in Matthew 5:9 ESV)
“Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14 ESV)
No one can live 66 years without the stinging loss of a broken relationships with friends or spouse or children or family. Such losses may even seem like a living death. How does it happen? In some cases the alienation grows slowly, distance sets in, and we drift apart. Or there may be a series of unresolved and smoldering disagreements that explode. Today, relationships beak through social media or email.
Blessed are the Peacemakers
After years of watching strife bring stinging pain to marriages, families, churches, and my own life, I wondered if there was a better way. Jesus blessed the peacemakers. As far as I knew, I had never met any.If anything, people seemed to shrug their shoulders at the possibility.
After some searching, I found the people who developed a biblical theology and practice of peacemaking. They offered training to help people with their own conflicts and to be equipped to help others. I pursued them. It was immensely valuable to me personally. Scripture does offer a wiser and better way to deal with conflict than the usual hypocrisy or relationship ruining aggressiveness.The key training is found in The Peacemaker.
They also affirmed my general gifting for such a work. So I pursued certification as a conciliator, under a skilled mentor. Once trained, I prayed for God to bring me opportunities to serve. Then I waited. (You can still find this training in a variety of places, most notably here and here.)
The floodgates opened
God heard. To date, I have logged hundreds of hours of working with people during strife. Almost all my work has been within the church, with families, church members, and among elders. Not all of it has been effective (the broken relationship did not heal), but all of it has been fruitful (God helped people grow in their walk with him).
The gift of training
I found that strife and alienation are often tangled messes. It is like a bowl of spaghetti. When faced with profound complexity, wise and experienced mentors continue to give counsel. There was advanced training too — for complex cases and whole church division.
My desire has been to pass it on. I began to train others, starting with the church where I serve. I also worked cross-culturally, training church leaders and Christians in Serbia, where I am part of the faculty of a modular based school.
I plan to do a series of posts about conflict and reconciliation, but let me start with a few observations from experience.
Not common sense
First, no one has the right intuition about how to resolve conflict. No one. They come to me to tell me what they want me to do. “We want you to sit at the table with us so we can resolve this,” they say. When I respond, “Sounds like you want to keep trying the same solution but with more fire power. Why would having me at the table help you?,” they have nothing to say.
The path of peacemaking is counter-intuitive but profoundly grounded in the wisdom of God.
Second, no one likes conflict. But to my surprise, no one wants to experience the pain of a thorough process of resolution. They want it to go away as quickly as possible. Most people (like 99%) would rather put a quick Band-Aid on the problem and live with the pain of a somewhat broken relationship than be shaped and purified in the fire of conflict resolution and reconciliation.
There are some people I cannot and will not help
Third, there are some people I will not work with. Abusers in any form do not need reconciliation. They need a firm hand. Some should go to prison. There is no way reconciliation should be pursued between abusers and their victims.
I also will not work with any Christian who is outside the accountability of the church. Almost all of the Christians I work with want their elders to know they are working with a conciliator. I require them to inform them. But occasionally I run into the Christian who is without oversight. They can say or do anything without consequence. But they cannot work with me.
God’s Truth works everywhere
Fourth, the principles and process can be applied in any situation and any culture of the world. These principles have been applied in cultures all over the world. And no culture, at first, welcomes the principles of peacemaking.
God promises great good to us through conflict
Fifth, God does incredibly good things in the process of reconciliation, even when there is no ultimate reconciliation. God uses conflict uniquely to reveal us to ourselves. He works in the strife to show us what forgiveness and humility look like. He draws us to Christ the Kind and Merciful Redeemer.
Skepticism and Hope
I am sure some will think the Bible and religion have nothing to offer. Worse yet, you may say religion has led to conflict. My response to that skepticism is simple: How successful have non-religious solutions been?
The answer is clear: conflict erupts in every condition of society, and every form of belief. My experience is that the Scriptures, applied with wisdom, with trust in the redemption of God in Christ, bear good fruit.
So, if you are in a conflict, or experiencing the strain of quarreling, or the great loss that accompanies a broken relationship – I know God has something wonderful for you in a process of peacemaking or at the end of pursuing peace. You likely need help getting there. There are resources out there. And you will need someone to work with you. But you can have hope.
Series of Posts
In the next set of posts ,I want to talk about some of what I have learned and how I practice conflict coaching and mediation as a Christian and a pastor.