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Friday, July 6, 2012

"Redeeming Church Conflicts"

TITLE: Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care
AUTHOR: Tara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012, (254 pages).

This book is not about Church conflicts. It is about redeeming people. It is about restoring one's focus on Christ. It is about learning the biblical way of becoming a united body of Christ. Based on Acts 15, the authors give readers a 'why' as well as 'how-to' manual for implementing a biblical peacemaking process. As an ekklesia, a called-out people of God, we are warned against submitting to two extremes of the "slippery slope." The first extreme is to escape from conflicts through denial, through flight away from the problem, or suicidal methods that essentially deprives oneself of any reconciliation, and in the process, denying the Church of a valued member. The second extreme is through "attack responses" like assaulting the other party, going the way of litigation that bogs down the entire Church testimony, and in the worst case, murder of one another, especially character assassination. The authors define redemption as follows: "Redeeming church conflict means intentional dependence on the humbling and heart-changing grace of Christ's Holy Spirit by turning relational crisis in the church into compassionate care as you take every thought and deed captive to him" (17).

Barthel and Edling use four core principles to help turn crisis of conflicts into opportunities for compassion and care. The first principle is "perspective," which is to cultivate a clear understanding of who the Church is, and what it means to trust God. This means keeping a firm grip of the ways of God instead of the ways of the world. It means learning to seek counsel from the wise among us and outside of us. It means learning biblical peacemaking resources. It also means honing a sharper focus on eternity purposes, God's attributes of love, and letting them all apply to our actions, our desires, and our deep-seated beliefs.

The second principle is "discernment," which is primarily about being honest with our heart's motivations, and being earnest about conforming ourselves with God's perspectives. This means continued discussion and debate among people in question. Ask about the purpose of our talking. Is it to change others, or to change ourselves? Or is it to be humble to acknowledge we are not as right as we think, or others as wrong as we made them out to be? It also means learning to ask the "best questions," not just the right questions. This requires substantial reframing of every concern into a beneficial, eternal, and most appropriate question. Questions like:

  • How does it best serve the people of God, and not personal interests?
  • What is Jesus' first priority among many other priorities?
  • Is this the best use of the limited resources we have?
  • How can we ourselves be changed to think, act, and behave more Christlike?
  • Have we listened carefully, fairly, and humbly?
  • Have we loved our brothers and sisters the way God wants us to love them?
  • Have we become spiritually blinded by self-concerns that we fail to see God's concerns?

The third principle is "leadership" which means recognizing any spiritual idols of self, and learning to lead by providing appropriate responses that are biblical, accountable, and sacrificial. This principle also involves learning to fulfill our God-given duty and not be enslaved by self-love or personal selfish desires. Leadership means caring for the flock, like a Shepherd for the sheep. This section can be really hard to read for leaders, emotionally speaking. It is a chapter for serious self-examination for moral failure, immaturity, failing God's expectations of us, personality differences that fail to honour God, and many more. The authors warn us against four dangerous and harmful kinds of leaders. Failed leadership has often lost sight of the main purpose of being a leader. They adopt a "hired-hand" mentality that forgets the holy duty in favour of one's position and status. They lack leading by example. They have no long term vision. Most importantly, a leader needs to lead by following Christ. This leads on naturally to seeking out accountability to one another.

The fourth principle is "biblical response." Though this has been interspersed among the earlier three principles, this principle has to do more with the whole church, together. It is the summary, the ultimatum of the church. It means confessing to one another our wrongs, our sins, and our unforgiveness. It means forgiving one another unreservedly. It means loving even those, our harshest critics. This fourth principle is demonstrated through overlooking one another's weaknesses, being reconciled to one another, willing to negotiate for the better of the Church, desire to mediate or be a part of the mediation process, and to be willing to be accountable to one another, even to our worst of friends. For more serious, we may need to seek arbitration help.

My Thoughts

There are many goodies and tips to take away from this book. I like the 4Gs of Peacemaking:

  1. Glorify God: focus on our purpose
  2. Get the log out of your eye: resist judging
  3. Gently restore: inner reflection
  4. Go and be reconciled: outer action

I also like the frank manner in which the conflicts are approached, like the "slippery slope" responses, the case studies of LCC, and the four promises of forgiveness. The authors do not mince their words when it comes to grabbing the bull of conflicts by the horns.  They know that letting the bull loose is risking the fragile glassware and china in the shop. Once broken, it may never be repaired. The key is redeeming in the light of God's Word, God's love, and God's direction. Far too many leaders say and think all the right ideas, but fail to put them adequately into practice. This book takes away any excuse not to practice forgiveness. It restores the need for us to recollect God's perspective. It sharpens our need for discernment. It increases the importance of leadership by example. It boldly calls for a biblical responses as individuals as well as as a body. Very importantly, conflicts are here to stay, which is why it is critical to cultivate long term character change instead of short-term magic steps. The former grows in loving growth while the latter treats conflict management like a disposable diaper. The problem with diapers is that it forgets that babies poo/urinate all the time. If conflicts are never ending, make sure our works of redeeming church conflicts never end as well.

Peacemaking is not a one-off project. It is a life-long endeavour. As long as sinful people are around, be prepared for conflicts. As long as love is present, there is hope for redeeming church conflicts. As long as we let God be at the center of all our lives, grace will be present abundantly. This book is a bridge to help readers see exactly that.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

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