Rachel Held Evans’ latest book raises hard questions
Rachel Held Evans was brought up in the Bible Belt…
Many church leaders find themselves in the middle of squabbles. Sometimes they must try to promote healing after there has been grave damage done to one or more members. Leaders are often at a loss for what actions to take. Let me suggest that a good place to begin is Alfred Poirier’s The Peacemaking Pastor: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Church Conflict.
(I know the word “pastor” gives many of us pause, yet we can assign biblical meaning to the word and read “elder” in its place.)
Poirier, a minister and mediator, spends many pages describing the causes, dynamics, theology, doctrine and resolving of conflict. In my view, all these pages could be condensed. An abridged version would be more attractive.
Some of Poirier’s theological points seem to contradict, but they neither enhance nor detract from the helpfulness of the book.
Poirier includes a helpful graphic called “The Slippery Slope.” It categorizes the many ways people deal with conflict. It is Poirier’s conviction that conflict starts with somebody sinning, although the kinds of sins that lead to conflict often are sins that people brush off as “little” sins or “that’s just my personality” sins —being impatient or getting angry too easily. Sometimes the root sin is a big whopper, too.
Poirier believes it is the duty of a counselor to figure out where people in conflict have sinned and hold them accountable to make amends in a biblical way. Those who sin should recognize the pain they cause and truly repent.
Repentance involves more than saying “I repent” or “I am sorry.” Poirier carefully describes the features of a quality confession. For example, address everyone involved. Avoid “if, but and maybe” statements. Accept the consequences. Alter your behavior. Allow time.
I have to say, the biblical method of conflict resolution (Luke 17:3-4) will not sit well with many church members. The emphasis has, for too long, been on forgiveness and not confession. We need to extend comfort, protection and sympathy to those who have suffered, and we need to hold people accountable when they have caused damage.
This book will function like a toolkit for any church leader who wants to promote peace in the face of circumstances that work to divide the fellowship.
NEIL SHORT worships with a house church in Safford, Ariz.
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