Welcome back Bootcampers! We’re jumping back in on the subject of conflict, with the “other” Bob. Today the guys get down to the important subject of how to have the “conflict” conversation.
First, a little definition on one of the important characteristics of Replanters, the willingness to confront.
Willingness to Confront: the replant pastor with a willingness confront is able to willingly but not eagerly, navigate conflict with directness, love, humility, patience and wisdom, driven by a love for the church and her members.
As they jump in here’s the resource mentioned: Crucial Conversations. A crucial conversation is any conversation where you know, there will be opposing opinions where there’s strong emotions and the stakes are high.
Here are some quick insights when it comes to crucial conversations
We need to look at an entire pattern – not just an instance
It is important to prepare for crucial conversations
Avoid jumping to the “worst” interpretation of an offense
Here are some tips to be more productive during times where you are having crucial conversations.
Be self aware-know what your triggers are and what is taking place inside of you.
Ask yourself in that moment: “Why am I feeling this way?”
Understand what story you are telling yourself.
Avoid making the fool’s choice: which is when I believe in the heat of the moment that everything is either or.
Check out the rest of this EP for some incredible helps on dealing with conflict.
Get the help you need for your church’s website and web-presence. Our great sponsor, One Eighty Digital can get you headed in the right direction.
A fun fact about me is that I am terrified of frogs. I don’t know why, or when the fear of frogs started. I just know that when I get near one, something in me is convinced that the frog’s mission in life is to jump on my face. I break into a cold sweat and walk to the other side of the street or sidewalk to avoid them. I don’t think they’re cute, and no, you can’t convince me otherwise. I feel similar feelings about snakes, but snakes aren’t typically going to jump on me and I am 100% CONVINCED that the frog will. We live beside a pond, so the spring and summer months are basically full of me zigzagging around the neighborhood in an effort to avoid frogs lying in wait to pounce on me while I take my dog out for a walk.
As scared as I am of frogs, there is something else that prompts that same “fight or flight” response for me: Conflict. I am what some might call “conflict-avoidant.” For me, conflict triggers the same response that frogs do– I break out into a cold sweat and start looking for a way to get around it. I just want to be through it as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately for me, conflict in ministry is as inevitable as the frogs in my neighborhood. It’s not a matter of “if” we experience conflict in church, it’s a matter of “when.” Sometimes the conflicts are simple, a small matter easily resolved. But some conflicts are bitter and hard, and they can leave us wounded and weary as we seek resolutions.
Our initial response to conflict can be very revealing of who we are as a person. There are those like me, for whom conflict is uncomfortable and frightening. We may have grown up in a household where fighting was common, or where showing emotions was not acceptable (either extreme can lead to conflict avoidance). Or you may be someone who looks forward to conflict as an area where you can assert yourself or your ideas. But something we should remember is that when we are faced with conflict, we are often reduced to our natural, self-destructive sin nature.
Knowing how to manage our conflicts is the key to seeing conflict properly– not as something to be afraid of, but instead as something to embrace. Too often, we think of conflict as a sign that we are failing. “If I was doing better, I wouldn’t have these issues,” we think. But the truth is, conflict can be a sign of health! In fact, handled correctly, conflict can provide us with great opportunities for spiritual growth and relationship building.
The Starting Point for Handling Conflict
On the Replant Bootcamp podcast this week, JimBob2 walked through what it looks like to handle conflict appropriately with the help of Michael Hare’s book, When Church Conflict Happens: A Proven Process for Resolving Unhealthy Disagreements and Embracing Healthy Ones. As a church conflict consultant, Hare has helped hundreds of people resolve conflicts in a healthy way.
Hare describes conflict in three categories:
Unhealthy conflict- this type of disagreement often goes unrecognized until interpersonal disputes and church factions arise
Benign conflict- this usually occurs because of organizational deficits and oversights that are unintentional
Healthy conflict- disagreements that are recognized, acknowledged, and responded to in a biblically constructive manner.
When we are presented with a conflict, the most helpful question isn’t “what are you fighting about?” Instead, we need to look for the root of the disagreement. It’s not about the carpet color being changed, it’s more likely about the memories associated with the carpet or the fear of change in general. When we seek to understand the underlying emotions, we are cultivating a better church culture. Hare writes, “The manner in which church leaders respond to conflict sets the tone for the entire congregation and either provides a godly example of the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ or pushes conflict under the surface causing all kinds of trouble both in the present and in the future.”
Most of the time, in addition to the emotions of those involved in the conflict, we also bring our own bias into the equation. When we mediate a conflict, are we looking for compromises that won’t provide lasting resolution? Are we rushing to judge each person instead of listening to both sides? Are we responding with empathy, always keeping in mind Ephesians 4:15 and speaking the truth in love? Are we focused more on the unity of the body than on personal preferences? Emotions run high during conflict, and we must remember that our emotions are at work just as much as anyone else’s.
When we begin from a place of empathy and understand, we are responding redemptively. Hare describes this as something that isn’t natural for us– we have to train ourselves to begin at this point. He writes, “Learning to respond redemptively requires intentionality and discipline; it doesn’t happen naturally. We must be self-aware enough (with God’s help) to recognize when dangerous circumstances arise and be engaged in training ourselves in godliness so our immediate response becomes Christlike instead of defaulting to our old natural, sinful inclinations.”
Hare believes one of the ways we become better at mapping out conflict is to “demystify” it, or to remove some of the “unknowns” regarding conflict. Hare writes that conflict typically happens within 5 overlapping areas:
Intrapersonal: the conflict going on inside the individual person, a spiritual or emotional battle.
Interpersonal: the conflict between two people
Intragroup: the conflict within a group
Intergroup: the conflict between two groups
Structural: something within the organization that creates conflict.
When we are looking at a disagreement, we can typically see where this is happening and address each area accordingly. Hare uses the example found in Acts 6 to illustrate this overlap. In the disagreement among the Greek and the Hebrew widows, we see the apostles acknowledging the interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts and responding with action. They didn’t avoid the conflict; they addressed the issue and found a way to continue the mission of the church.
Another key way we can “demystify” conflict is to look at potential structural causes for conflict. Many church disputes stem from disorganization within the systems of the church. (One group reserves a church vehicle for a conference only to find out another group takes an annual trip to the mountains that same weekend and have never had to sign out the vehicle.) Sometimes bylaws (or the lack of them) can cause misunderstandings. If you’re mediating a conflict between two groups or two people, it can be helpful to recognize areas where your church’s structure has contributed to the dispute and address those to avoid it in the future.
Kingdom Mindsets have Kingdom Resolutions
In resolving conflicts, we must move from a mentality that says “either/or” to one that says “both/and.” Using Acts 6 as an example, we see that the Apostles weren’t looking at the conflict as “Greeks versus Hebrews.” They didn’t feel like one group was more important than the other or that one group was better than the other. They found a way to say both groups are vital and we have to make sure that we are continuing the work of the Lord and making sure the needs of these people are met.
When we look with a Kingdom mindset, we are seeking the kingdom of God over our personal preferences and petty differences. We are looking not just in the best interest of our specific church, but in the best interest of God’s Church, the Bride of Christ. We are recognizing that we love the church too much to allow disputes and conflicts to gain a foothold in our unity and potentially drive a wedge between us.
Our ability to properly map out a conflict can mean the difference between an angry argument or a biblical resolution. Take time today to think about the most recent conflict you experienced. Would you handle it the same way now that you know how to map it out?
(There are multiple resources out there to handle conflict, but one that I found helpful was this list from NC Baptists of 20 ways to resolve church conflict.)
Hey Boot Campers we’re back in action but this time, with another Bob, the Lead Missional Strategist of First Coast Churches, Bob Bumgarner.
In this EP Jimbo and Bob get down to the important work of discussing how to deal with Church conflict. They recommend a great book-When Church Conflict Happens. Here are some of the great highlights.
When conflict happens – you are not a failure.
Conflict always presents opportunities for new thinking, responses, and breakthrough.
There are three facets or types of conflict
Unhealthy – when conflict goes unrecognized
Benign – when church disagreements occur because of oversight
Healthy – a disagreement that is spotted and responded to in a biblical manner
According to Hare, there are are five levels of conflict. Knowing them will help you navigate conflict in a way that can lead to productive healthy progress.
Personal – conflict occurring inside of me personally
Interpersonal – conflict occurring between two people
Intragroup – conflict that occurs within a group of people
Intergroup – conflict occurring between different groups
Structural – something within the organization that creates conflict
Check out the rest of this EP for more great info and helpful tips on dealing with conflict and a coming EP Crucial Conversations.
Don’t let the inner conflict of having a less than great website get you down. Contact our great sponsor, One Eighty Digital and leverage their know how to help your church impact the community by accurately telling your church’s story.
This is part four of a series of five on the characteristics of Godly leaders. Part one, Humility, can be found here, Part two, Goodwill, can be found here, and Part Three, Empathy, can be found here.
My husband started his ministry as a Youth Pastor. We loved working with youth. We found them to be hungry for the Gospel and for truth, and we genuinely enjoyed their goofy immaturity, especially as they tried so hard to be “adults.” We learned so much from the youth we served, but one lesson specifically sticks with us: the difference between positional authority and relational authority.
In positional authority, you have a person’s respect because of your position in their life. As adults, we are used to this authority because most of us have employers who are in the position to speak authoritatively in our lives. Many of us were also raised by parents who expected this type of respect. But in this generation, there is more value placed on relational authority, where a person’s respect is based on your relationship to them. You can’t speak authoritatively in their life unless they value your relationship with them.
We had many adults who volunteered in youth ministry who felt that the youth would respect them because they were parents or teachers, or simply because they were older– positional authority. But what we found is that teenagers responded much better to relational authority. We could earn their respect and the ability to speak truth in love to them when we had a relationship with them. Without it, we were just another adult annoying them with rules and expectations.
Watching this generational switch showed us something: leaders have to show respect to others before they can ever earn the respect of others.
Find Out What it Means to Me
Thankfully, God is not silent on the issue of respecting others. In Romans 12:10, Paul tells us that not only are we to love one another, we should “outdo one another in showing honor.” (ESV, italics mine) We are to respect each other more and more, almost as though respecting each other is a competition we are seeking to win. In 1 Peter, Peter tells us we must respect not only the good and gentle, but also the unjust (1 Peter 2:16-18). And in Matthew 22, Jesus himself instructs us that the greatest commandment is to love God, but the second is to love your neighbor as yourself.
Mankind is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), so when we are respecting others and honoring them, we are respecting Him. Thus the inverse is true– when we disrespect others, we have disrespected the image of God in them. This goes not only for how we treat people with our actions, but especially how we treat people with our words. Ephesians 4 reminds us that we are called to “bear with one another” in an effort to always strive toward unity. When we disrespect others through gossip or slander, we have failed to speak only what is “good for building up” and what gives grace to those who hear us. We must remember that respecting someone isn’t just about our treatment of them when they are around us, it’s also how we speak about them when they aren’t present.
Take Care (TCB)
In case you can’t tell, I haven’t been able to write this blog post without Aretha Franklin demanding respect in my head. I have always wondered what “TCB” meant, and after doing some research I found out it was her shorthand for “take care of business.” So here’s where we as leaders take care of the business of respecting others. There are five imperatives that we must follow if we are going to show the respect to others that we must as Godly leaders.
Honor Others– When someone leaves a conversation with you, do you think they felt honored? Did you respect them as a fellow Christ bearer? Did you treat them with kindness or did you dismiss them with arrogance? A leader who shows respect to others will seek to serve others. How are you serving your team?
Open Communication– Be intentional about how you speak to others. Your words have power, so what are they saying? Are you respectful in how you speak to people? In a recent podcast, Bob pointed out that honoring someone can even mean speaking in a way that honors their expectations toward change. While a visionary leader may want to say, “Let’s do XYZ,” someone who respects others will say, “What do you think about XYZ?” Communicating in a way that honors the opinions of those around you is a way to show that you respect their ideas.
Disagree Productively– While you will certainly have times that you disagree with people, respecting them means that you remember the end goal is always unity. Romans 14 and 15 give us Godly ways to disagree with someone without disrespecting them. Instead of responding to disagreements with personal attacks, we need to ask questions and seek to understand why the other person sees it differently.
Help Others Win– When we respect others, we value what they value. We don’t merely cheer them on, we actively encourage them, assisting in their ideas and goals where we can. We get excited when they win, not jealous or bitter. We respect their passions and hobbies. We show up for them.
Express Gratitude– The people you serve in your congregation aren’t there because they have to be. While you do have positional authority as the Pastor, you must also cultivate relational authority by remembering that they have chosen to be a part of the church family that God is creating. You respect that choice by being grateful for them and for their contributions. Express that gratitude in various ways– not just verbally, but in writing or in small tokens of appreciation.
Respect- Just a Little Bit
George Foreman once wrote, “Without appreciation and respect for other people, true leadership becomes ineffective, if not impossible.” It’s not enough to merely have positional authority as Godly leaders. We must build relationships on mutual respect to be able to be effective leaders who can speak the truth (in love) to our congregations. We must learn to treat others the way we want to be treated, giving them grace and honoring their story.
Leaders who lead from a place of authority lead people to fear them more than respect them. True respect comes when a team can come together as a family and can acknowledge each person’s value within it, even when they disagree.
For further reading on Respect as a Godly Leader, see Designed to Lead by Erik Geiger, this episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, and this article on the need for Pastors to respect their congregations.
Recently, a Pastor was called up to the front of the church the week before Christmas Day. It had been a difficult four years in the church, and while there was no promise of any raise, at least he knew he would get a Christmas Bonus. The deacons made that clear when he first started.
As he walked to the front, he felt a little bit of appreciation for the hard work he had done over the past year, and was grateful to receive anything extra the church could give for his family. After receiving an envelope as a Christmas Bonus, the church dismissed and he went home with his family.
“How much did they give you?” His wife asked once they got home.
As the pastor opened up the envelope, he stood there, frozen. It was an empty envelope. Thinking maybe there had been a mistake, he called the church treasurer. “Hey _____, I just got home and we opened up the envelope I was given as a Christmas bonus and…”
“Pastor,” she replied, “I was just doing what I was told to do.” Click
With thoughts racing, he began calling some of his deacons. Time and time again, he was met with the same response. The deacons couldn’t meet until the first of the year. They kept pushing him off. Knowing that something was very off, Pastor decided to reach out to his Associational Director of Missions and schedule a meeting with all of the deacons.
At the beginning of the year, he met with the deacons with his DOM present. They began telling the pastor a list of grievances they had collected over his tenure. It was a list of petty complaints and differences. It was just what the pastor feared: the empty envelope was a ruse to see if he would leave. As a result of the mediation that took place, some deacons decided to leave, and others stayed. But the pastor had to deal with this ugly reality:
The church had tried to forcefully terminate him.
In Ep. 174 of the podcast, we were reminded that ministry is not for the faint of heart. We have all heard the horror stories, and perhaps you may have experienced forced termination yourself. Sometimes it happens with secret meetings, met after church hours in a Sunday School classroom. Forced termination can come from a small group of people who have had it out for the pastor as soon as he arrived. We’ve heard it with a letter on the office desk, changing the locks on the doors, or a knock on the door in the middle of the night by a church member. Some may have heard the words, “We had a vote of no confidence…”
I recently was working with a church Revitalization project. When I visited a Wednesday night service, I noticed the pastor’s wife crying. When I asked her what was wrong, she pulled out an anonymous letter she had received in the mailbox. It was from a former member that had left during the current pastor’s tenure. The letter read, “For the sake of this church and God, please take you and your family and leave our church.”
People can sometimes be cruel and hurtful.
A study recently conducted that of all pastors, 23-41% will experience a forced termination once in their career. Four out of 10 pastors will be forced out of their church either by firing or by some sort of pressure that leads to their departure.
Effects on the Church
If you’ve ever been fired from a church, no matter the circumstance, it is deeply painful. We tend to find identity in our vocation, and when being “let go” we start to feel like there is something wrong with us. It is no surprise that many pastors either walk away from the ministry or at least take a leave of absence from the ministry itself after a situation like this.
But there are many effects of forced termination on a church as well. David Myers, a retired Director of Missions from Chattanooga, wrote in an article:
What forced termination does to the soul of the congregation is significant in and of itself, but the practical, logistical impact is also significant. The church may lose members who are unhappy with what has occurred or how it was done. The loss of financial support may result from membership decline or withholding money. The name and reputation of the church is marred in the community and beyond. Hesitant, reserved or negative recommendations of the church are given to prospective new ministers for that church. Many ministers are reluctant to consider relocation to a church that terminated its previous minister.
Evidence in Declining Churches?
Since this website deals mainly with Church Replants and Revitalizations, we need to address a specific angle of forced termination. What does it mean if the church you are working with has a history of firing pastors?
It may not be written in the business meeting minutes, but you can often find out by asking several long-tenured members of the church what happened to pastors in the past. There is something wrong with a church that historically has found ways to “let go” of their pastors. For example, many churches have used the word “incompetence” as reason to fire a pastor. But when “incompetence” is defined by decisions a pastor has made that some disagree with, that is not incompetence. When infrastructure and preference take priority over the leadership of your pastor, these are dangerous signs of a declining, unhealthy church.
A church like this has some foundational issues. They are rejecting the biblical teaching of obedience to spiritual authority. When a Pastor has violated any code of conduct, shown evidence of sinful patterns, or put the people of God at risk of danger from false teaching or lack of care, these are real issues that should be addressed under the right structure. A church should be able to rely on their constitution and bylaws to go through the right process, and address any significant issues in the church.
And there are ways that we can prevent this from happening. It’s important that a pastor has a leadership team or a board to filter significant decisions through. But this comes with the understanding that a pastor must lead the way that God is calling him to lead, as long as it lines up with biblical teaching.
What can we do to help a church change their ways of the past?
Go back and address the wrongs of past leaders against them and their families. There is nothing more scarring to a pastor and his family. This pain for the former pastor’s families should be addressed in the church and dealt with in a graceful way.
Remove those who have instigated or been involved with unfounded and unreasonable terminations from leadership positions within the church. Or at least have a hard conversation with them. If a church has some bullies, or a few who like to stir up the pot and be involved in “behind-the-scenes” campaigns, you cannot allow them to persist in places of leadership.
Address informal campaigns to force a pastor out through biblically based, by-law supported church discipline. Church discipline is one of the most neglected practices in the church today. But you would think that a church practice that is distinctly and specifically biblical would be practiced to pursue church health. Every healthy document of church constitution and bylaws should have a member conduct clause and a church discipline clause.
Make careful note of the redemptive actions taken above (repentance, reconciliation, peacemaking, and church discipline), and commit as a church to not let this happen in the future.
If you’ve been a pastor who has been hurt by forceful termination, we know how painful this is. For encouragement and help, check out this article. And this helpful article from the Pastor’s Hope Network. For encouragement, help, and advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team here at the Replant Bootcamp.
“A pastor goes into it thinking he’s going to change the world… He gets fired for changing the bulletin.” Yikes… That is one of those tough sayings that rings true for far too many pastors that I know. They had high hopes of replanting a struggling church but realized quickly that change is hard.
But here’s some good news: change follows a fairly predictable pattern. And if you can exercise tactical patience, you really CAN change the world– or, at least, your church.
Stage One: Uninformed Optimism
Oh man. This stage is absolutely great… while it lasts. Unfortunately, that’s not very long. At this stage, everyone is excited about the change. They’re “ready for change,” they’re “eager for a new direction” and “looking forward to some new ideas.” The optimism is contagious, and there’s a good wave of momentum. This is the stage when a pastor starts planning out some necessary changes and begins talking about them with key people who are mostly supportive.
On the Replant Bootcamp podcast, the guys compared this stage to the Israelites coming out of Egypt. There was joy as they celebrated the First Passover and began to follow God’s direction. They were led by God in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, and they were ready to take hold of the Promised Land God had pledged to them (Exodus 13).
But just like Moses, pastors will discover that after the initial excitement wears off, the congregation will start into the negative Stage Two.
Stage Two: Informed Pessimism
One of the most important things a pastor can do when implementing changes is to communicate. You can’t over-communicate when you are making changes. Your congregation needs to know the what, when, how, and especially why changes are being made. There is a temptation here for most pastors, because once change is communicated, then the protests start. “We’ve done it this way for years– why change now?” “That sounds expensive and like a lot of work. We don’t have the resources for that.” “We don’t want to do something new. We like it this way.”
In this stage, the benefits of change don’t feel immediate and sometimes the wait can make them seem unimportant. You might forget why you felt so strongly about the changes you were called to make. The cost associated with the change becomes apparent, and the grumbling starts to wear you down.
Again, we can look to the Israelites and see the parallel. In Exodus 14, as the Egyptians are racing toward them, the Israelites look at Moses and say, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:11) Funny isn’t it? The same Israelites who were just a chapter before praising God for His deliverance have abandoned the idea at the first sign of trouble! Suddenly they don’t remember the horror of Egypt, they would rather go backward than to face their fear, which leads directly to stage three.
Stage Three: The Valley of Despair
The costs have been counted, and the people are grumbling. Benefits for change seem far away and your people are struggling to support a change they don’t feel is necessary. You’ve tried to communicate the reasons why, and you’ve fought the good fight. But in stage three, even you will start to question your decisions for change. You will start wondering if this is even worth it.
At this stage, no one is happy. You aren’t happy, your congregation isn’t happy. Heck, even your dog is unhappy at this point. You will look for a way out of this hard struggle. And the easiest way to get out of it? Just go back to the way it was. After all, you rationalize, it wasn’t so bad before. It’s the same feeling the Israelites had when they told Moses, “Just take us back to Egypt!”
Many pastors quit at this point. And it’s definitely tempting to walk away. But beware– this is a watershed moment. If you can stand firm and exercise patience in this stage, you can make it to stage four!
Stage Four: Informed Optimism
Yay! We’re back to an optimistic point! Finally, you are seeing some fruits of your labor. The benefits you knew would come are tangible and people are feeling momentum. At this stage, there is support for the vision and excitement is building. Your congregation has not only embraced the change, they now see the tangible difference it made and are inspired by it!
For the Israelites, this looks like crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land (Joshua 3). They have wandered for 40 years as a punishment for their disobedience and their obstinance. But in crossing the Jordan, they are making a break with their old life and entering into their new life with God in the land promised to them. (We certainly hope you don’t have to wander for 40 years in the desert of indecision, but you should know that most of the time you won’t reach this stage until year 4 or 5 of a replant.) They are ready to take on the task of fulfilling God’s covenantal promise to them.
Stage Five: Success and Fulfillment
The final stage of the emotional cycle of change is success and fulfillment. You are not only seeing your changes and your goals come to fruition, you are creating a whole new culture. This is no longer about small changes, this is about the larger attitude of the church. The church is changing from a “me first” mindset to a church that makes disciples that makes disciples that make the community noticeably better– one with a healthy culture of disciple-making and missional involvement. It’s not change for the next year or two, or even for your time as a pastor there, it is a multi-generational change that lasts long past your tenure.
Looking at our parallel with the Israelites, this is the Battle of Jericho moment. This is complete trust in God and complete success in the mission of God.
How do we get there from here?
Many of you are stuck in those early stages. Can I take a moment to encourage you? Typically, it takes 4-5 years in a replant to see the latter stages of informed optimism and success and fulfillment. During that time, you will feel the temptation to give up. Many pastors give up around year three, when they feel stuck in that valley of despair. But we need you to stick it out, pastor. Your church needs you. Your family needs you. There are battles to be fought and hard times to go through, and we need you to know that there are better days ahead. God has not lost sight of you, and like the Israelites, you will soon see a victory. Keep at it, pastors. God has not abandoned your church– or you.
The Bootcamp boys are back! Jimbo is fired up for the “battle of the boot” game between LSU and Arkansas. The bet is on-will Jimbo wear the Hog Hat or will Bob wear the Pajama top? We’ll see.
Today the guys answer a question from one of Listeners about how to manage boundaries and friendships with members in our congregation. Listen in as we break it down and talk about all the ins and outs of navigating the issues of friendships within a Replant.
Here are some of the highlights
Be wise and cautions toward the person who pursues you constantly-just after you arrive at your church.
Don’t shank it to the left or right-get your website in order. You can do that by calling One Eighty Digital, they can get you up and running with their expertise. Tell them the boys at the Bootcamp sent you.
Drop us a line, a question and a comment, we’d love to hear from you!
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?
We’re super thankful for our podcast partner One Eighty Digital, check them out for your website needs! And let them know that you are a bootcamp listener!
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.