EPISODE #51 – CHRIST-CENTERED CONFLICT RESOLUTION WITH TONY MERIDA
The Conflict Episode: we’re joined by Tony Merida who stopped by the ‘Ole Bootcamp’ to break down some important concepts from his most helpful book: Christ Centered Conflict Resolution
Here are some of the quick insights:
- Conflict comes from our desires (see James 4:1)
- Understanding the conflict through the lens of the “Grand Narrative” is important.
- God calls us to be peacemakers – this seems to be absent in our culture.
- There are times where a mediator is needed to help others work through conflicts, this is an important and not to be neglected role.
- There are 5-M’s in working toward resolving conflict
- Me First: is there a log in my eye?
- Minor: is this an offense I can overlook?
- Major: is this a major offense?
- Material: does there need to be a restitution of some kind? Materially?
- Mediation: do we need help working through this conflict?
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Show Notes: want to read along while the show plays? Check out this episode’s show notes below delivered by: Descript
TRANSCRIPTS are an approximate account of the audio recording and may not be 100% complete. Audio should be consulted for accuracy.
JimBo Stewart: [00:00:32] here we go. Episode 51 of the Replant Bootcamp. I was looking at it Bob. That means it was actually a right around a year ago that we launched episode zero of the Replant Bootcamp, a resource for replanters, just mainly us chatting and talking and learning about our mistakes and sharing our mistakes so that others can not touch the hot stove like us.
Bob Bickford: [00:00:57] Right. Don’t do what we did.
JimBo Stewart: [00:01:00] Yeah, that’s the whole premise of this whole thing is learn from the mistakes we make along the way.
Bob Bickford: [00:01:05] You know it’s been really good, 50 plus episodes now. And one of the awesome things last week when we were in Kansas city, we got to meet a couple of listeners, the local listeners, and, our good friend, Johnny Upchurch was there who gave us a question. And one thing he said was really awesome. Just a lot of the young guys that are replanting or about to explore replanting have been listening to the podcast over, some months that we’ve been doing this and they themselves have said it’s been really helpful and a lot of fun and they’ve laughed along the way. And they’ve learned along the way. So I think we’ve met that objective in just really thankful for all our listeners and everybody participating.
JimBo Stewart: [00:01:42] Hey, today, I’m excited. We get to go in the way back machine, back to, near the very beginning of my ministry. not the very first pastor I served but, a church I served at in Southeast Mississippi, Dr. Tony Merida kind of came in as I was on my way out. And there was a good several months there almost a year where I got to serve under him. And then when we moved to New Orleans, he and his wife, Kimberly were the only people we knew. In the city of New Orleans.
And we would go and bother them at their house on campus, every once in a while, just cause we didn’t know anybody else, but, Tony, he is the pastor of Imago Dei did I pronounce that the way you guys pronounce that?
Tony Merida: [00:02:24] Yeah, that’s correct. JimBo.
JimBo Stewart: [00:02:25] Okay. Cause I know different people say different ways that ye or I didn’t know how hipsterish you got with it.
But, and then you’re the Dean of Gimke Seminary, and the director of theological training for acts 29, five kids, all adopted. And, most importantly, the most important thing on your resume is the several months that you’ve got to, lead me in Southeast Mississippi.
Tony Merida: [00:02:49] yeah, it’s that. And the fact that I set the record for walks at my college, 71 walks in four years.
Bob Bickford: [00:02:55] So where, what college was that?
Tony Merida: [00:02:58] It’s called University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky. It’s an NAIA school. Someone passed my record up, but I got hit by the pitch. At least half of those walks I crowded and took a lot in the shoulder. Yeah, it was good for any or pastoral ministry.
Bob Bickford: [00:03:12] You crowd the plate a lot. Just get up there real close. Make the pitcher mad?
Tony Merida: [00:03:15] Yeah. Greg Biggio style. Yeah.
Bob Bickford: [00:03:17] Okay.
JimBo Stewart: [00:03:18] I think replanters can, empathize with that, in pastoral ministry in general, you’re going to take it, taking those hits a lot. so let me ask you Tony, on the spot here from your time in South Mississippi, what’s maybe one or two of your favorite memories from that season of ministry?
Tony Merida: [00:03:35] It’s always the people, man, everywhere you go for me. it’s about people and, there’s some of the greatest people I’ve ever met. live in South Mississippi. in fact, we brought seven of them here to plant Imago Dei and, and others have trickled up through the years as well, who are connected to those individuals.
So we, we had a great time, the food in New Orleans, South Mississippi. I really miss, But I lost a lot of weight when I moved. So there was positive to that. it was a great experience. People were very gracious to me. I was a young pastor, trying to lead a big church and, there was a big staff and they were already in place and I was the new guy.
And learned a lot, and really grateful for my time there.
JimBo Stewart: [00:04:15] So I worked at the East Campus with youth and college and you led them through a healthy and amicable, relaunching/replanting of that. And it’s now Hardy Street Baptist Church.
Tony Merida: [00:04:29] Yeah. I think that was the right move. I think that was a healthy move. I felt like that’s what people wanted as well. So I’ve never done anything like that since. So that was a, it was a learning experience for sure.
JimBo Stewart: [00:04:40] Yeah, I can resonate on the food thing. One of the most suffering moments of my entire ministry career was when I moved to Jacksonville, Florida. And one of the first articles I read about Jacksonville, Florida was listing the 50 largest cities in America ranked one to 50 on food and to no surprise, New Orleans got number one out of the 50 largest cities in America and Jacksonville got number 50. And I, I immediately questioned my calling the city of Jacksonville and have desperately missed New Orleans /Southeast Mississippi Gulf coast cuisine. And go back as often as I can.
Tony Merida: [00:05:18] It’s about sacrifices, isn’t it? The Lord has never allowed me to be in a city where there’s a major league baseball team. I think that’s his kindness, to keep me from idolatry.
JimBo Stewart: [00:05:29] Yeah. Yeah. You would probably spend a lot of time there if you did well, good. Tony, we’re glad to have you, you cranked out a book from what I can tell in the introduction pretty quickly. cause you talk about COVID in the introduction and I definitely think it’s a needed topic to be discussed right now, Christ-Centered Conflict Resolution. Tell us just a little bit real quick, how this book came about.
Tony Merida: [00:05:53] Yeah, you’re right. I wrote it in about three weeks. I was writing another book on the church, which I’ve now finished, for The Good Book company. And Lifeway B&H said, Hey, this is a time in which closer proximity, family. staying at home has created lot of conflict. It’s probably been good for some relationships, but it’s also been a negative and it’s created a lot of conflict and for others, we don’t want a big book, we want something that’s readable. We want a pastor to write it. So, imagine a couple comes into your office and their kids are driving them bananas or the spouse is driving them, whatever, you’ve got family conflict, you’ve got neighbor conflict, walk us through some of the key passages and apply them to those situations.
Just like you would as a pastor. So the book is. the way I think about it as if I were a pastor, I would have a stack of them on hand, not because it’s my book, but I’m just telling you how I’m working through it. and if I’ve got somebody in conflict, this is not the end all what I’ve written, but it would be a great little resource.
It’s something that they could read. They could have an understanding of some of the key passages. And I’m really pressing the Christ-Centered part. So it’s about conflict, but it’s really about our hearts, our affection. And when we are adoring him, we want to follow him. We submit it to his leadership.
We submit to what his Word says about reconciliation and forgiveness and these kinds of things. As one writer says, conflict is not so much about skills as it is sin, and so dealing with the uncomfortable parts of conflict that I need to look at my own life first, before I pointed out the weaknesses in others.
It’s that kind of thing that I’m trying to tried to accomplish in this book. There’s a classic book called, The Peacemaker that has been used for years by Ken Sande. This is the Merida version of Ken Sande, much shorter. And I try to get really straight to some of the key points about this particular issue as our pastor for counseling said, when we were riding it, when you’re in a conflict, you don’t want a big book.
And you don’t want a lot of steps. and so I tried to, there are some steps, but I try to avoid, a very complicated mathematical approach to conflict and deal with some of the real key issues.
Bob Bickford: [00:08:05] When we are in conflict, really what’s taking place. what is the root of conflict that we need to understand?
Tony Merida: [00:08:13] So I think there are several, every case is different, obviously. sometimes you are the victim of abuse, whether that’s like serious abuse or you’re just not being treated properly/rightly. Oftentimes though, conflict, as James teaches us in James 4, when he says, he asked the question, why do we have quarrels and fights among us is because our passions are at war within us.
And the first chapter of the book is about how cravings in the words of David Palisson underlie conflicts. All right. and we know this just experientially. if I don’t get what I want, I will take it out on people. And these are not always, sinful cravings. They might be, but sometimes it’s just, an inordinate desire for a good thing that has been disturbed or disrupted, like you might desire comfort and rest. That’s a good thing. And when you don’t get it because of your kids’ behavior, it can really cause you to lash out improperly and in anger or whatever. The desire for food is a good thing. The desire for vacation, and then you get on that vacation and it’s sanctification through vacation.
Not, it’s not very restful at all. It’s people at war with each other because their passions are at war within them. And I think that’s one of the most difficult things for people to admit and do is to actually do self-examination before I point out the flaws in others . As Jesus talked about the log in our eye, before we look at the speck in someone else’s.
And it might very well be they are the primary reason for the conflict, but we should at least do the soul searching because at the end of the day, one of the things that, it’s a hard truth to embrace, but it’s an important one I think is that conflict is an opportunity for growth. And so doing that work of self examination, the only thing I have to lose is the sin that I see there and repent of.
And blessed riddance to that. And it might be very little, but you’re at least doing it. And in doing the work of reconciliation, or, having an awkward conversation with someone that you’re at odds with, that’s an opportunity for you to grow. That’s an opportunity for them to grow.
And so we don’t always have to see conflict as this crushing thing to be avoided. we certainly don’t delight in it. We’re not seeking conflicts, but. how we resolve them and the importance of resolving them is really vital for, or our spiritual growth. And I think most people have been Christians for a long time, can look back and see various conflicts that they’ve had that’s actually turned out to be something that’s positive. and, so we don’t always get the resolution that we’re looking for in conflict. that’s why Romans 12 is important where Paul says, as far as it depends on you, if possible, live at peace with everyone. You know there’s a little exception there of, it may not be possible, but as far as it depends on you, you seek to live peaceably with everyone.
JimBo Stewart: [00:11:06] Yeah, I appreciate how Paul gives, I quote that verse all the time to people whenever they’re dealing with conflict, because Paul gives you two outs there, if possible. And so far as it depends on you, you do your part. And then if it’s possible, then be a peace, but sometimes that’s not going to happen.
Our audience is all potential replanters guys considering replanting, dying churches, or guys who are replanting or revitalizing, struggling churches, and almost 100% of the time when you walk into a dying church, a struggling church, you’re walking already into tension and conflict. And I think right now in this season, we’re at not just the close proximity that COVID has given us with the racial tension, the political tension, the mask versus no mask. And, all the I, every pastor I talk to right now feels absolutely exhausted with the constant tension from about a thousand different angles. And so for just a brief moment, give us maybe pointing to the gospel where we have hope, and that Christ centered emphasis as a pastor, And even in the midst of, it seems like 5,000 angles of tension right now.
Tony Merida: [00:12:21] Yeah, you’re right. It’s a hard time to be a pastor, man. It’s a real hard time. You know what I’ve tried to say to our churches, a couple things, one on all these issues my aim is to simply be a biblical expositor. Okay.
So, when you hear something that might not be in alignment with your political biases? Know that I have zero political agenda. if I’m talking about loving neighbor or doing justice, I am not a Marxist. I’m not on a political side. Teaching the Bible. Okay. If I talk about personal responsibility.
If I, talk about being an entrepreneur and creating business and I’m not necessarily a Republican, I’m not on this other band. I’m my one aim as your pastor is to teach the Bible and to care for you. I also told them if I make statements or if I seem sympathetic to particular causes not causes, but individuals in our church who might align with certain causes.
I’m not necessarily in that cause. So don’t do this guilt by association. What I am trying to do is care for people who are hurting in my church. And even if you think they shouldn’t be hurting, the reality is they are hurting. And my job is not to first and foremost, go in and try to clarify all these things in their minds and here to be frank, I’m speaking about, a good number of our African American members who have been really bothered by, the events of this year and, we’ve reached out and try to serve and have meetings. And I’ve made some statements. That’s not to say that I’m in alignment with everything that is communicated on that news. What I have though, is a responsibility to shepherd our people where they’re at and to lead them into Christ-likeness.
It was the same would be true for someone. Who’s dealing with some other issue and they’re hurting because of an experience. And I just want to apply the gospel to their hurt. That’s all I want to do. So I think it’s been important to kind of state what you can expect from me and what my motives are.
And at the end of the day, I just keep coming back to the Bible. So I want to use Bible language and not language used in the media. I want to stay thoroughly biblical in vocabulary so that hopefully people will realize that’s all I want to do. Now, in saying all of that, you’re going to get hit on both sides as a pastor . But that’s just part of it, man. This is what we signed up for. So, I also want to say there’s no room for self pity in this vocation that we have, we’re always going to be at some level, provoking people and stirring them up or not intentionally, but just like the Bible and God’s Spirit will do that.
I think one of the things, when it comes to conflict, racial conflict or a conflict in the home, putting everything in the grand narrative is really important. So have creation we’re in harmony with God and one another. We have the fall and Genesis 3, there was the promise of conflict between man and woman.
The very next chapter we see family conflict as one brother kills the next. So an obvious consequence of sin is conflict, but also right in the middle of that conflict passage in Genesis 3 is the promise of the Redeemer. That’s going to crush the head of the serpent. And, we’re promised that Redeemer we’re anticipating in through the old Testament, he arrives in the incarnation.
Paul makes that great statement in Romans 16, that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. I think picking up on the Genesis 3 language. So while we cause of Christ and his coming, we have reconciliation to God and one another. And we have the hope of one day having no more conflict. And that’s what we see at the end of the Bible as conflict is gone.
There’s no more, evil. We don’t have to lock our doors. We’re not at each other’s throats. It’s peace. It’s total Shalom. That’s where all history is headed and that’s a beautiful thing. So I keep telling our congregation, look. the new creation, total Shalom, our blessed hope is not returning to normal.
it’s the eschaton, right? Our blessed hope is not in who wins the election. It’s Jesus Christ coming and making all things new. I just think as you put things in the grand narrative, hopefully for some people, all these other things will be put in their proper perspective. And because if you look at all of history, COVID is going to be a little blip on the historical map.
And so many of the things that we disagree about, like a mask is going to seem so trivial and so silly in light of eternal glory. So I think part of our job is to be biblical to teach the Bible, and to try to put all of these things within their proper narrative. And that’s it. Great advantage we have as Christian pastors who belive the Bible, right?
We have this narrative and it’s a great time to be applying it.
Bob Bickford: [00:17:10] Tony. One of the key points you made is the right proclamation of God’s word helps frame the theological understanding for the body of how we’re going to do conflict, what God has to say about it, how it fits into the grand scheme and the grand narrative. There are sometimes though that the preaching part of it doesn’t address conflict that happens between individuals, right?
So they have to go face to face. They have to get personal with one another. What are some of the things that you’ve put in the book that help people understand when it comes down to me, actually having a conversation with somebody one on one. And dealing with conflict. What do you provide for, us in terms of helpful, teaching and information?
Tony Merida: [00:17:48] Yeah, it’s a great question. so I think, one, I’m trying to highlight the significance of being a peacemaker. It’s a, it’s extremely strange in these days to be one. And by the way, I should mention that we wrote the book before all the racial tensions and not thinking about a political election.
So it just brought up more relevance as the months went on. man is a good book. We need this book. So I’m looking at, Jesus saying, blessed are the peacemakers for, they shall be the sons of God. Like he says, one of the ways, primary ways we reflect his character is by being a peacemaker. And that is significant, but I, growing up, I just didn’t hear a lot of sermons on peacemaking on the importance of being a peacemaker.
It of course reflects the work of Jesus on the cross. It reflects what he came to do to unite Jew and Gentile, right? So this is a big deal. So part of the book is just me saying, Hey, doing the work of peacemaking is really important to seek peace, in pursue it as the scripture teaches us.
Secondly, in James 3, several commentators point out that James, in that section on being a peacemaker, he calls it wisdom from above versus wisdom from below. He gives the qualities of a peacemaker. And they had pointed out that he’s basically taking his half brother Jesus’s, beattitude and teasing it out because Jesus doesn’t really tease it out with the exception of saying certain things about forgiveness, leaving your gift at the altar of going to reconcile. So in that sense he does, but what does it mean to be a peacemaker? So I devote a chapter to that on traits like gentleness being open to reason. the things that James lists, that it, it produces a harvest of righteousness.
And then at the end of the book, I look at Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians, which is also an encouraging thing, especially for our guys in replanting in situations where you’ve got a lot of conflict, perhaps. Even in a church that Paul loved that he called his joy and crown. And he said that about the church in Philippians 4:1. In the very next few verses, he talks about conflict in this church, which was his joy and crown between these two ladies Euodia and Syntyche.
And he urges this. Unnamed person to be a mediator between them so that they would agree in the Lord. And he says basically that they should be able to be united because their names are in the book of life. They actually belong to the kingdom. So they should be together. So I take that and then I worked through a little, five M’s of a peacemaker.
That, hopefully it’ll be helpful for people. The first M is me first. So whenever I’m in a conflict, I need to examine my own life. By the way, I would use this if I were mediating a conflict. Okay. Second. is minor, should this offense be overlooked? and that’s a really important one because sometimes we just shouldn’t be in conflict.
Okay. Like for me on the mask situation, I’m going overlook this. Like some of these things are weaker brothers, stronger, brother, Christian Liberty. People just need to be taught some of this stuff. It’s preference, it’s preferences. It’s not sin issues. minor.
JimBo Stewart: [00:20:45] The very first conflict mediation I had to do when I started at this church was actually, between two ladies arguing over how to water the peace lilies in our sanctuary. And so there was, so many peace lilies in our sanctuary because every funeral. They would do a, give a big peace lily to the family.
And they would say, if you don’t want to take this home, then you can leave it donate to the church. everybody donate it to the church. And so it was just a jungle of peace lilies all over the sanctuary stage. And. The sanctuary itself. And so they actually scheduled a conflict mediation meeting and it might be the most heated conflict I’ve had to mediate, was the war over the peace lilies.
And so I, I appreciate that question of, is it a minor offense or a major offense?
Tony Merida: [00:21:38] I wish I’d have known that story JimBo, that would’ve went in the book that is the illustration. yeah, yeah, many things need to be overlooked. And again, you’re thinking about this in terms of family as well. like this is hard, but we got to teach it to our kids. They’re often at each other’s throats over minor things, a major does this offense require a process of restoration.
So usually these major conflicts are going to take some time. material is the fourth M. Does this require restitution of property or rights or whatever. So your neighbor’s tree falls on your fence. You need more than an apology. Like he, he should pay for it. You think, this is Zaccheus as he becomes a follower of Jesus and he said, I want to pay back fourfold, all that that I owe. I’m not just going to say I’m sorry guys, but I’m actually going to try to make things right materially.
And then the fifth M is mediation. And I think this was maybe most helpful to the question itself is, do I need someone to help, mediate this conflict could be a pastor it could be a friend. I’m thinking in terms of church, family, I’m not primarily thinking civil, issues out there, in the courts. but do I need to helper? and I think. the two dangers that we’ve thought about with conflict on the ways you don’t want to go, are avoiding conflict or attacking in conflict.
And my experience in the South, and this is just a generalization, there are exceptions to this, has been the passive aggressive, when you don’t deal with it and then there’s a lot of other stuff that goes on that’s not good. And my experience in the North has been more attack you just raise your voice louder whenever there’s a conflict and we really want to deal with it. We want to work through it, and that can be very uncomfortable, but I would say to anybody in a replant/revitalization effort, established church, you’ve got to learn to have awkward conversations with people. You don’t want these conversation. I don’t want them, but I’ve just found that the Lord shows up, man, in some of these meetings that you dread going into.
And I think that’s because he honors this work. Like he cares about, our relational harmony, And the goal is not just to have the absence of strife, but to have the presence of harmony and be united together. And those are some of the things that people could pick up on in the book.
JimBo Stewart: [00:23:58] Tony, I appreciate you taking the time to meet with us, man. I defintely think this is going to be a good resource. It is a quick, easy read. And it’s not super expensive on Amazon. You can grab this and read this and it, it can be a good resource as Tony said to hand out to people who are dealing with conflict, as a way to teach you just some basics of conflict mediation, and just a real quick look at it .
Tony Merida: [00:24:22] Appreciate you guys. Appreciate this podcast, man.