Identifying with Nehemiah

This was what I said at the beginning of the quarterly business meeting of King’s Grant Baptist Church in December 2022.

Before I read a Scripture tonight, I want to share something that came from Lynn Hardaway, our Director of Missions with The Bridge Network. I read it on August 9. This is a part of his email series called push to start.

If you feel like walking away from pastoral ministry, you’re not alone. All across the country, as Barna Research pointed out in March 2022, that 22% of pastors have seriously considered quitting full-time ministry. That is up 13% since January 2021. These are tough times to be a leader in any organization, especially in an organization, like the church, that is completely dependent upon the volunteer attendance of its members.

Barna point out three main drivers causing pastors to resign: immense stress, loneliness and isolation, and then the political divisions in the nation. Anecdotally, I would add the lethargy toward the church in the lives of post pandemic Christians and the feral anger and dissatisfaction many are displaying coming out of a two-year lockdown. He goes on to compare these pastors, who have decided to leave the ministry, to Jonah and his call to a specific work. And now we find ourselves in the hold of a ship setting Sail toward Tarshish.

I just wanted you to know that this is happening all across the country, not just here. Barna does his research. Tonight, I want you to know, after being 15 years, that I love this congregation. When Pastor Skip and Dan Cooper met with me that summer before my arrival on Labor Day weekend in 2007, God was opening a door for me to come and serve here, and you affirmed that calling by approving the recommendation of the personnel committee to bring me on staff. So, tonight, I just want you to know that God has not released me from that call.

I realize that we’ve had several things going on with the previous two pastors. Many times when you get badgered and bullied, there comes a certain point when you just asked the question, “why am I still doing this?” But I realize that God has me here for such a time as this, He has some reason. Likely it is to walk with you through this pastoral transition. I don’t know what it is, but my hope is that we can work through whatever is going on to get back to the task and the mission that God has given to us.

That’s why I’ve included those handouts, they are basically clippings from my reading over the last several months, about churches and mission and change, note especially the one about Canoeing the Mountains.

I want to share with you today a Scripture that comes out of Nehemiah’s story. Nehemiah 6:2-9. Dan preached on Nehemiah a couple of weeks back but but when I went back to read the chapter on my own, I had to ask God, “are you saying something to me personally?”

Nehemiah 6:2
Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, “Come, let’s meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they were plotting to harm me.

This was reminiscent of the ambush meeting at the home of one of my members. Amy (our children’s minister) and I attended with about 20 people who have proven to be antagonistic to the state of the church and the change that gradually happened over the world-wide pandemic. We thought it would be a conversation to set straight some one the misinformation that has permeated the members, some were outright lies that persist even when third parties have attempted to set the record straight. When it was all over, I thought this verse was appropriate, “they were plotting to harm me.”

Nehemiah 6:3
So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and am unable to come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”

Nehemiah tells them that he is doing a good work, and cannot stop this good work to come down to your meeting. That spoke to me. God was telling me to keep my eyes on my calling and to maintain the good work that He has started. Let the church grow in spite of the negativity of a few.

Nehemiah 6:4-5
Then they sent messages to me four times worded in this way, and I answered them with the same wording. 5 Then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same way a fifth time with an open letter in his hand.

Nehemiah had repeated invitations to meetings and then there was an open letter presented to him. All I could think about was certain members having repeated meetings with my pastor to complain about what they didn’t like, and to belittle his leadership and authority. Then came the infamous 10-page letter of complain, criticism, and bullying.

Nehemiah 6:6-7
In it was written: “It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; for that reason you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports. 7 You have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, ‘A king is in Judah!’ And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let’s consult together.”

Nehemiah is accused by the opposition of ulterior motives for his building project. We know while you’re building this wall, according to the report, you plan to be their king. And you even appointed prophets to prophesy in Jerusalem saying there’s a new king of Judah. You know this report will get back to the true king so I suggest that you come to our little meeting.

So much misinformation and outright lies. I never told the PSC to not bring in a potential preacher. 1) All I suggested is that the preacher they bring in should be trained in relational conflict and experienced in transitional pastoral change. The PSC chair pulled the trigger on that one. 2) Who would ever believe that I have enough relational clout to tell “one influential member of the PSC” to do or not do anything? Apparently I quashed one candidate and no amount of truth will change some people’s minds.

There was a false story that I was doing all I could to mold this congregation into a purpose driven church. This means, remove the choir, dress casually, marginalize the older members, and making authoritarian decisions without the congregation voting (referring to the needed change to our schedule in 2021 and then an adjustment in 2022). While I read Rick Warren’s book, I never used a 25-year-old text to architect a takeover of the church.

Nehemiah 6:8-9
Then I sent a message to him saying, “Nothing like these things that you are saying has been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.” 9 For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, “They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done.” But now, God, strengthen my hands.

Nehemiah’s response is, “you know that you’re lying, you were making this up in your own head.” There is no truth in any part of your story. He adds that the opposition was just trying to intimidate them. They wanted to break their resolve and to stop the good work. so he prayed for strength to continue the work.

When I read this, I was reminded of the noble mission that God has given us, to fulfill the great commission and live out the great commandment. We’ve got to do these if nothing else. We have to remember that whatever we do, no matter what our personal preferences, no matter anything, the mission trumps everything.

Something came to my attention the other day, a text from one of our members, about the city of Chesapeake allowing the Satanic Temple to start a Satan Club in one of their public schools. Imagine that, an after school program in our elementary school called the Satan Club. Like our children need a club influenced by a the father of lies teaching them to be free-thinkers and reject the authority of parents over their lives. As a church, our mission is to be out in our community, to be salt and light, fulfilling the mission that God has given us. This satanic activity is happening because we are not on the front lines. This is happening on our watch, and the city has to let them in the schools, because if they allow the good news club, for fairness, they have to let in all clubs. That’s what we’re up against. This generation is not the same as it was decades ago. We’ve got to be on the cutting edge of challenging and confronting this darkness. That is our mission, and all the things that we are arguing about and all this conflict, is it about the mission?

No, it is a distraction from the mission. It’s about power and control. Who has control Jesus’ church? A few vocal members believe the pastor is a hired hand, saying, “we pay your salary and you work for us.”

We have a lot of people in this congregation who want to be all about the mission. They want to be disciples. They want to grow in their faith. They want to share the gospel. They want to bring new people in, reaching those who are far off from God. I have to admit that it is often hard to bring people in thinking, “what are they going to do when they hear complaining and grumbling coming from our people?” Will they want to stay here? It’s hard to get people to want to be here. When guests come here, they need to hear about the love of Jesus Christ demonstrated through how we treat one another.

So, my thought is this, we are doing a good work here. And that’s what we need to be about, the good work that God has us doing, the mission. We don’t have time for these complaining meetings, we don’t have time for things like that. As Nehemiah says here, we are not going to come down to attend your meeting and to listen to your complaining. We have a task, a noble work of building this wall, and you will not distract us from that noble work. It’s too important.

I see many families, most of whom are at the other end of the hallway, and we see in that area growth and joy and life. That’s where we’re going to invest because we want to raise children and teenagers in the knowledge of the Lord. If we do that, they won’t even be tempted to go to the Satan Club on their school campus. That’s the good work we’re doing, sharing the light and life of the gospel.

So, I invite you to join us on the good work that God, getting the gospel outside the walls of this congregation. If we need to complain about things, we need to go off to the side, rather than making it center stage. we need to protect the flock from the poison that we get from certain members of our congregation. We have to encourage people to stand strong in the Lord and to be about the mission.

I had to share that Scripture with you tonight because God said something to me. Hopefully you will resolve to be all about the mission and not your personal preferences.

Another thing Hardaway writes in his email, I encourage you to stop looking at your situation through your eyes and try to see the church through the eyes of your next pastor. Man, when I saw that, I thought, “would any pastor want to come here?” I can confidently say, “not until we get back to the mission.” That’s what we need to be doing.

* This is the same meeting where we opened the sanctuary early, for 30 minutes of personal prayer, to sit in the sanctuary in silence and pour out our heart to the Lord, confessing sin, and putting all this at the feet of the one who can change hearts and lives.

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The Peacemaker – Ken Sande

The Peacemaker, by Ken Sande (Please support the author by purchasing the book. The following are highlights from my personal reading).

This wonderful news can radically change the way we respond to conflict. Through the gospel, the foundational G, the Lord enables us to live out the Four G’s of peacemaking. As we stand in awe of his matchless grace, we find more joy in glorifying God than in pursuing our own selfish ends. When we realize that God has mercy on those who confess their sins, our defensiveness lifts and we are able to admit our wrongs.

The primary focus of this book, however, will be on how God can help you as an individual Christian throw off worldly ideas about resolving conflict and become a true peacemaker. Among other things, it will explain How to use conflict as an opportunity to demonstrate the love and power of Jesus When it is appropriate to overlook an offense How to change attitudes and habits that lead to conflict How to confess wrongs honestly and effectively When to assert your rights How to correct others effectively How to forgive others and achieve genuine reconciliation How to negotiate just and reasonable agreements When to ask the church to intervene in a conflict How to deal with people who refuse to be reasonable When it is appropriate for a Christian to go to court

When someone mistreats or opposes us, our instinctive reaction is to justify ourselves and do everything we can to get our way. This selfish attitude usually leads to impulsive decisions that only make matters worse.

Focusing on God is the key to resolving conflict constructively. When we remember his mercy and draw on his strength, we invariably see things more clearly and respond to conflict more wisely. In doing so, we can find far better solutions to our problems.

Escape Responses – The three responses found on the left side of the slippery slope are called the escape responses. People tend to use these responses when they are more interested in avoiding a conflict than in resolving it.

Denial. One way to escape from a conflict is to pretend that it does not exist. Or, if we cannot deny that the problem exists, we simply refuse to do what should be done to resolve a conflict properly.

Flight. Another way to escape from a conflict is to run away. This may include leaving the house, ending a friendship, quitting a job, filing for divorce, or changing churches. In most cases, running away only postpones a proper solution to a problem (see Gen… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Suicide. When people lose all hope of resolving a conflict, they may seek to escape the situation (or make a desperate cry for help) by attempting to take their own lives (see 1 Sam. 31:4).… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Attack Responses – The three responses found on the right side of the slippery slope are called the attack responses. These responses are used by people who are more interested in… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Assault. Some people try to overcome an opponent by using various forms of force or intimidation, such as verbal attacks (including gossip and slander), physical violence, or efforts to damage a person financially or professionally (… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Litigation. Another way to force people to bend to our will is to take them to court. Although some conflicts may legitimately be taken before a civil judge (see Acts 24:1–26:32; Rom. 13:1–5), lawsuits usually damage… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Murder. In extreme cases, people may be so desperate to win a dispute that they will try to kill those who oppose them (see Acts 7:54–58). While most Christians would not actually kill someone, we should never forget that we stand guilty of murder in God’s eyes when we harbor anger… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Peacemaking Responses The six responses found on the top portion of the slippery slope are called the peacemaking responses. These responses are commanded by God, empowered by the gospel, and directed toward… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

The first three peacemaking responses may be referred to as “personal peacemaking,” because they may be carried out personally and privately,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Overlook an offense. Many disputes are so insignificant that they should be resolved by quietly and deliberately overlooking an offense. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11; see also 12:16; 17:14; Col. 3:13; 1 Peter 4:8). Overlooking an offense is a form of forgiveness and involves a deliberate… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Reconciliation. If an offense is too serious to overlook or has damaged the relationship, we need to resolve personal or relational issues through confession, loving correction, and forgiveness. “[If] your brother has something against you… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Negotiation. Even if we successfully resolve relational issues, we may still need to work through material issues related to… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

When a dispute cannot be resolved through one of the personal peacemaking responses, God calls us to use one of the next three peacemaking responses,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Mediation. If two people cannot reach an agreement in private, they should ask one or more objective outside people to meet with them to help them communicate more… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Arbitration. When you and an opponent cannot come to a voluntary agreement on a material issue, you may appoint one or more arbitrators to listen to your arguments and… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

Accountability. If a person who professes to be a Christian refuses to be reconciled and do what is right, Jesus commands church leaders to formally intervene to hold him or her accountable to Scripture and to promote repentance, justice, and forgiveness: “If he… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

The extreme responses to conflict also result in greater losses. Every response to conflict costs you something; you must give up one thing to gain another.

There are also three noteworthy parallels between the two sides of the slippery slope. Both extremes of the spectrum result in death, either through suicide or murder, which are terrible problems in our culture.

There are also some interesting contrasts between the various responses to conflict. First, there is a difference in focus. When I resort to an escape response, I am generally focusing on “me.” I am looking for what is easy, convenient, or nonthreatening for myself. When I use an attack response, I am generally focusing on “you,” blaming you and expecting you to give in and solve the problem. When I use a peacemaking response, my focus is on “us.” I am aware of everyone’s interests in the dispute, especially God’s, and I am working toward mutual responsibility in solving a problem.

The issue of goals reveals a second difference between various responses. People who use escape responses are usually intent on “peace-faking,” or making things look good even when they are not. (This is especially common in the church, where people are often more concerned about the appearance of peace than the reality of peace.)

Attack responses are used by people who are prone to “peace-breaking.” They are more than willing to sacrifice peace and unity to get what they want.

Those who use the responses on the top of the slippery slope are committed to “peace-making” and will work long and hard to achieve true justice and genuine harmony with others.

Let’s begin our discussion by defining conflict as a difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires.

There are four primary causes of conflict. Some disputes arise because of misunderstandings resulting from poor communication (see Josh. 22:10–34). Differences in values, goals, gifts, calling, priorities, expectations, interests, or opinions can also lead to conflict (see Acts 15:39; 1 Cor. 12:12–31). Competition over limited resources, such as time or money, is a frequent source of disputes in families, churches, and businesses (see Gen. 13:1–12). And, as we will see below, many conflicts are caused or aggravated by sinful attitudes and habits that lead to sinful words and actions (see James 4:1–2).

As James 4:1–2 tells us, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. . . .” When a conflict is the result of sinful desires or actions that are too serious to be overlooked, we need to avoid the temptation to escape or attack.

First, you can trust God. Instead of relying on your own ideas and abilities as you respond to people who oppose you, ask God to give you grace to depend on him and follow his ways, even if they are completely opposite to what you feel like doing (Prov. 3:5–7).

Second, you can obey God. One of the most powerful ways to glorify God is to do what he commands (Matt. 5:16; John 17:4; Phil. 1:9–10). As Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8).

Third, you can imitate God. When the believers in Ephesus were struggling with conflict, the apostle Paul gave them this timeless advice: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1–2; see 1 John 2:6).

Fourth, you can acknowledge God. As God gives you grace to respond to conflict in unusual and effective ways, other people will often take notice and wonder how you do it.

Every time you encounter a conflict, you will inevitably show what you really think of God. If you want to show that you love him “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37), then ask him to help you trust, obey, imitate, and acknowledge him, especially when it is difficult to do so.

The other benefit of a God-centered approach to conflict resolution is that it makes you less dependent on results.

God’s highest purpose for you is not to make you comfortable, wealthy, or happy. If you have put your faith in him, he has something far more wonderful in mind—he plans to conform you to the likeness of his Son!

God may also use conflict to expose sinful attitudes and habits in your life. Conflict is especially effective in breaking down appearances and revealing stubborn pride, a bitter and unforgiving heart, or a critical tongue. When you are squeezed through controversy and these sinful characteristics are brought to the surface, you will have an opportunity to recognize their existence and ask for God’s help in overcoming them (Ps. 119:67).

The Bible provides a detailed description of the character traits needed to manage conflict productively.

Motivated. As we have seen, the gospel provides enormous motivation to respond to conflict constructively.

Informed. As a steward, you also need to understand your Master’s will (see Luke 12:47). This is not difficult, because God has written out his instructions for you.

Strengthened. You are not alone when you are stewarding conflict: “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chron. 16:9a; cf. 1 Cor. 10:13). God provides this strength to all Christians through the Holy Spirit, who plays an essential role in peacemaking.

Dependent. At times, conflict can push you beyond your limits. You may have a difficult time understanding how to respond to a particular situation, or you may become so weary that you lose your determination to do what you know is right.

Faithful. Perhaps the most important characteristic of a steward is faithfulness: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). Faithfulness is not a matter of results; it is a matter of dependent obedience.

The Three Dimensions of Peace God loves peace. From Genesis to Revelation, he communicates a deep desire to bless his people with peace and to use them to bring peace to others. Consider these recurring themes: 1. Peace is part of God’s character, for he is frequently referred to as “the God of peace” (see Rom. 15:33; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil.4:9; Heb. 13:20; cf. Judg. 6:24). 2. Peace is one of the great blessings that God gives to those who follow him (see Lev. 26:6; Num. 6:24–26; Judg. 5:31; Ps. 29:11; 119:165; Prov. 16:7; Micah 4:1–4; Gal. 6:16). 3. God repeatedly commands his people to seek and pursue peace (see Ps. 34:14; Jer. 29:7; Rom. 14:19; 1 Cor. 7:15; 2 Cor. 13:11; Col. 3:15; 1 Thess. 5:13; Heb. 12:14). He also promises to bless those who do so (see Ps. 37:37; Prov. 12:20; Matt. 5:9; James 3:18). 4. God describes his covenant with his people in terms of peace (Num. 25:12; Isa. 54:10; Ezek. 34:25; 37:26; Mal. 2:5). 5. God taught his people to use the word peace (Hebrew shalom and Greek eirene) as a standard form of greeting (Judg. 6:23; 1 Sam. 16:5; Luke 24:36) and parting (1 Sam. 1:17; 2 Kings 5:19; Luke 7:50; 8:48). Nearly all of the New Testament Epistles either begin or end with a prayer for peace (Rom. 1:7; 15:13; Gal. 1:3; 2 Thess. 3:16).

There are three dimensions to the peace that God offers to us through Christ: peace with God, peace with one another, and peace within ourselves.

Peace with God Peace with God does not come automatically. All of us have sinned and alienated ourselves from him (Isa. 59:1–2). Instead of living the perfect lives required for enjoying fellowship with him, each of us has a record stained with sin (Rom. 3:23).

Peace with Others In addition to giving you peace with God, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross opened the way for you to enjoy peace with other people (Eph. 2:11–18). This peace, which is often referred to as “unity” (Ps. 133:1), is not simply the absence of conflict and strife. Unity is the presence of genuine harmony, understanding, and goodwill between people.

Peace within Yourself Through Jesus you can also experience genuine peace within yourself. Internal peace is a sense of wholeness, contentment, tranquility, order, rest, and security.

Jesus’ Reputation Depends on Unity – Unity is more than a key to internal peace. It is also an essential element of your Christian witness. When peace and unity characterize your relationships with other people, you show that you are God’s child and he is present and working in your life (Matt. 5:9). The converse is also true: When your life is filled with unresolved conflict and broken relationships, you will have little success in sharing the good news about Jesus’ saving work on the cross.

Similar words are recorded in John 13:34–35, where Jesus tells his disciples that their public witness would be closely related to the way they treated one another: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

The Enemy of Peace – Since peace and unity are essential to an effective Christian witness, you can be sure that there is someone who will do all he can to promote conflict and division among believers. Satan, whose name means “adversary,” likes nothing better than to see us at odds with one another. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8b).

Satan promotes conflict in many ways. Among other things, he tempts us so we give in to greed and dishonesty (Acts 5:3), he deceives us and misleads us (2 Tim. 2:25–26), and he takes advantage of unresolved anger (Eph. 4:26–27). Worst of all, he uses false teachers to propagate values and philosophies that encourage selfishness and stimulate controversy (1 Tim. 4:1–3).

Satan prefers that we do not recognize his role in our conflicts. As long as we see other people as our only adversaries and focus our attacks on them, we will give no thought to guarding against our most dangerous enemy.

Paul also shows that unity does not mean uniformity (Eph. 4:7– 13). He reminds us that God has richly blessed his children with a wide array of gifts, talents, and callings (1 Cor. 12:12–31). Mature Christians rejoice in the diversity that God has given to his people, and they realize that believers can legitimately hold differences of opinion on “disputable matters” (Rom. 14:1). When differences rob us of harmony and peace, however, there is work to do.

Ironically, even though pastors usually neglect 1 Corinthians 6, there are many judges and attorneys who are calling the church to take Paul’s teaching seriously. For example, associate Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia made this observation: I think this passage [1 Cor. 6:1–8] has something to say about the proper Christian attitude toward civil litigation. Paul is making two points: first, he says that the mediation of a mutual friend, such as the parish priest, should be sought before parties run off to the law courts. . . . I think we are too ready today to seek vindication or vengeance through adversary proceedings rather than peace through mediation. . . . Good Christians, just as they are slow to anger, should be slow to sue.5

God Is Sovereign – The Bible provides many examples of people who trusted God even in the midst of terrible hardship and suffering. Our prime example is Jesus.

One reason that Jesus and Paul trusted God so completely is that they knew he was in complete control of everything that happened in their lives.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, we say to ourselves, “If I were God and could control everything in the world, I wouldn’t allow someone to suffer this way.” Such thoughts show how little we understand and respect God.

God Is Good – If all we knew was that God is in control, we could have reason to fear. Indeed, if he used his power arbitrarily, sometimes for good and sometimes for evil, we would be in great danger. But this is not the case. God is good—his power is always wielded with perfect love.

The Path Has Been Marked – Trusting God does not mean that we will never have questions, doubts, or fears. We cannot simply turn off the natural thoughts and feelings that arise when we face difficult circumstances. Trusting God means that in spite of our questions, doubts, and fears we draw on his grace and continue to believe that he is loving, that he is in control, and that he is always working for our good. Such trust helps us to continue doing what is good and right, even in difficult circumstances.

Trust Is a Decision – Your view of God will have a profound effect on how much you trust him. If you do not believe that he is both sovereign and good, trust will be an elusive thing, for a god who is loving but not in control is simply “a heavenly Santa Claus . . . who means well, but cannot always insulate his children from trouble and grief.”11 Such a god offers little security or hope in the face of affliction and fails to inspire either trust or obedience. On the other hand, if you believe that God is sovereign and good, you will be able to trust him and obey him, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Define the Issues – As you evaluate your role in a conflict, it is helpful to clearly define the issues that separate you from other people. Conflicts generally involve two kinds of issues: material and personal. Material issues involve substantive matters such as property, money, rights, and responsibilities.

Personal issues relate to what goes on inside or between persons. These matters involve our attitudes and feelings toward others that result from how we have treated one another.

Overlook Minor Offenses – In many situations, the best way to resolve a conflict is simply to overlook the personal offenses of others.

Check Your Attitude—and Change It One of the reasons we sometimes find it difficult to overlook offenses is that we have an overly sensitive attitude or a tendency to dwell on what others have done. One way to guard against this problem is to check your attitude in the light of God’s Word.

Philippians 4:2–9 Paul does not explain every action that Euodia and Syntyche need to take to settle their differences. Instead, he focuses on the steps they can take to develop a proper attitude toward their situation and toward each other. Paul has broken his instructions into five basic principles, which you too can use whenever you are involved in a conflict.

1. Rejoice in the Lord always. As usual, Paul urges us to be God-centered in our approach to conflict. Moreover, he wants us to be joyfully God-centered.

2. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The second step in developing a proper attitude toward conflict is to “let your gentleness be evident to all” (cf. Gal. 6:1–2).

3. Replace anxiety with prayer. The third step in developing a godly attitude toward conflict is to get rid of anxious thoughts.

4. See things as they really are. As you replace anxiety with prayer, you will be ready to follow Paul’s fourth instruction, which is to develop a more accurate view of others.

5. Practice what you’ve learned. Paul’s final instruction to Euodia and Syntyche (and to us) is both straightforward and encouraging: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.

Count the Cost – Another way to avoid unnecessary conflict is to consider the cost of unresolved conflict. Conflict is often much more expensive than we expect it to be. Unresolved disputes can consume large amounts of time, energy, and money, leaving you emotionally and spiritually exhausted.

What about “Rights”? Some people resist overlooking offenses and settling disputes by arguing, “I have my rights—and it wouldn’t be just to let him off so easily.” Whenever I hear this comment from a Christian, I ask, “Where would you spend eternity if God administered justice that was not tempered with mercy?” The answer is obvious: We would all be condemned to hell.

The truth of the matter is that it may actually be unjust in God’s eyes to exercise certain rights. Much of what is legally permissible today is not right when viewed from a biblical perspective.

Here again the concept of stewardship serves as a helpful guiding principle. Rights are not something you deserve and possess for your own benefit. Rather, they are privileges given to you by God, and he wants you to use them for his glory and to benefit others, especially by helping them know Christ.

These passages describe the root cause of conflict: unmet desires in our hearts. When we want something and feel that we will not be satisfied unless we get it, that desire starts to control us. If others fail to meet our desires, we sometimes condemn them in our hearts and fight harder to get our own way. Let us look at this progression one step at a time.

The Progression of an Idol / Desire – Conflict always begins with some kind of desire. Some desires are inherently wrong, such as vengeance, lust, or greed, but many desires are not.

I Demand – Unmet desires have the potential of working themselves deeper and deeper into our hearts. This is especially true when we come to see a desire as something we need or deserve and therefore must have in order to be happy or fulfilled.

Most of us think of an idol as a statue of wood, stone, or metal worshiped by pagan people. But the concept of idolatry is much broader and far more personal than that. An idol is anything apart from God that we depend on to be happy, fulfilled, or secure.

It is important to emphasize the fact that idols can arise from good desires as well as wicked desires. It is often not what we want that is the problem, but that we want it too much.

As you search your heart for idols, you will often encounter multiple layers of concealment, disguise, and justification. One of the subtlest cloaking devices is to argue that we want only what we legitimately deserve or what God himself commands.

How could I tell which motives were actually ruling my heart? All I had to do was look at how I felt and reacted when my desires were not being met.

I Judge – As my example shows, idolatrous demands usually lead us to judge other people. When they fail to satisfy our desires and live up to our expectations, we criticize and condemn them in our hearts if not with our words.

As David Powlison writes: We judge others—criticize, nit-pick, nag, attack, condemn—because we literally play God. This is heinous. [The Bible says,] “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you to judge your neighbor?” Who are you when you judge? None other than a God wannabe. In this we become like the Devil himself (no surprise that the Devil is mentioned in James 3:15 and 4:7). We act exactly like the adversary who seeks to usurp God’s throne and who acts as the accuser of the brethren. When you and I fight, our minds become filled with accusations: your wrongs and my rights preoccupy me. We play the self-righteous judge in the mini-kingdoms we establish.3 This insight should leave us shaking in our boots!

We cross the line, however, when we begin to sinfully judge others, which is characterized by a feeling of superiority, indignation, condemnation, bitterness, or resentment. Sinful judging often involves speculating on others’ motives. Most of all, it reveals the absence of a genuine love and concern toward them. When these attitudes are present, our judging has crossed the line and we are playing God.

I Punish – Idols always demand sacrifices. When someone fails to satisfy our demands and expectations, our idol demands that he should suffer. Whether deliberately or unconsciously, we will find ways to hurt or punish people so that they will give in to our desires.

This punishment can take many forms. Sometimes we react in overt anger, lashing out with hurtful words to inflict pain on those who fail to meet our expectations. When we do so, we are essentially placing others on the altar of our idol and sacrificing them, not with pagan knives, but with the sharp edge of our tongues. Only when they give in to our desire and give us what we want will we stop inflicting pain upon them. We punish those who don’t “bow” to our idols in numerous other ways as well.

Love, fear, trust—these are words of worship. Jesus commands us to love God, fear God, and trust God only (Matt. 22:37; Luke 12:4–5; John 14:1). Anytime we long for something apart from God, fear something more than God, or trust in something other than God to make us happy, fulfilled, or secure, we worship a false god. As a result, we deserve the judgment and wrath of the true God.

Deliverance from Judgment – There is only one way out of this bondage and judgment: It is to look to God himself, who loves to deliver people from their idols. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:2–3).

Deliverance from Specific Idols – Yet there is more good news. God wants to deliver us not only from our general problem with sin and idolatry, but also from the specific, day-to-day idols that consume us, control us, and cause conflict with those around us.

God uses three vehicles to convey his grace to help us in this identification and deliverance process: his Bible, his Spirit, and his church.

If someone told you that you had a deadly cancer that would take your life if you did not get treatment, you would probably spare no effort or expense in pursuing the most rigorous treatment available. Well, you do have cancer—a cancer of the soul. It is called sin and idolatry.

Replace Idol Worship with Worship of the True God – In his excellent book Future Grace, John Piper teaches that “sin is what you do when you are not fully satisfied in God.”4 The same may be said about idolatry. In other words, if we are not fulfilled and secure in God, we will inevitably seek other sources of happiness and security.

Repent before God. When we repent and confess our sins and idols, believing in our forgiveness through Christ, we also confess our faith in Christ.

Fear God. Stand in awe of the true God when you are tempted to fear others or are afraid of losing something precious.

Love God. Desire the one who forgives us and provides everything we need, instead of looking to other things that cannot save you.

Trust God. Rely on the one who sacrificed his Son for you and has proven himself to be absolutely dependable in every situation.

Delight in God. Learn to find your greatest joy in thinking about God, meditating on his works, talking to others about him, praising him, and giving him thanks.

James 4:1–3 provides a key principle for understanding and resolving conflict. Whenever we have a serious dispute with others, we should always look carefully at our own hearts to see whether we are being controlled by unmet desires that we have turned into idols. These desires love to disguise themselves as things we need or deserve, or even as things that would advance God’s kingdom. But no matter how good or legitimate a desire may look on the surface, if we have gotten to the point where we cannot be content, fulfilled, or secure unless we have it, that desire has evolved into an idol that has diverted our love and trust from God. Fortunately, God delights to deliver us from our slavery to idols and enable us to find true freedom, fulfillment, and security in his love and provision. And as we break free from the desires that have fueled our conflicts, we can resolve seemingly hopeless disputes and become more effective peacemakers. If you are presently involved in a conflict, these questions will help you apply the principles presented in this chapter to your situation: 1. Work backwards through the progression of an idol to identify the desires that are controlling your heart. Ask yourself these questions: a. How am I punishing others? b. How am I judging others? c. What am I demanding to have? d. What is the root desire of that demand? 2. What makes you think that you need or deserve to have any of these desires satisfied? 3. In order to more clearly identify your idols (desires turned into demands), ask yourself these questions: a. What am I preoccupied with? (What is the first thing on my mind in the morning and/or the last thing at night?) b. How would I fill in this blank?: “If only ______, then I would be happy, fulfilled, and secure.” c. What do I want to preserve or avoid at any cost? d. Where do I put my trust? e. What do I fear? f. When a certain desire is not met, do I feel frustration, anxiety, resentment, bitterness, anger, or depression? g. Is there something I desire so much that I am willing to disappoint or hurt others in order to have it? 4. How are your expectations of others magnifying your demands on them and your disappointment in their failure to meet your desires? 5. How are you judging those who do not meet your desires? Are you feeling indignation, condemnation, bitterness, resentment, or anger? 6. How are you punishing those who do not meet your desires? 7. What has God done to deliver you from your idols? What can you do to receive this deliverance? 8. How can you cultivate a more passionate love for and worship of God? 9. Go on record with the Lord by writing a prayer based on the principles taught in this chapter.

Repentance Is More Than a Feeling – Repentance is the first step in gaining freedom from sin and conflict. Repentance is not something we can do on our own; it is a gift of God for which we should continually pray, whereby he convicts us of our sin and shows us the road to freedom (2 Tim. 2:24–26). Repentance does not mean we simply feel sad and uncomfortable. Nor does it involve a mere apology. To repent literally means to change the way we think.

In contrast, godly sorrow means feeling bad because you have offended God. It means sincerely regretting the fact that what you did was morally wrong, regardless of whether or not you must suffer unpleasant consequences. It involves a change of heart—which is possible only when you understand that sin is a personal offense against God himself (2 Chron. 6:37–39; cf. Jer. 31:19). Godly sorrow will not always be accompanied by intense feelings, but it implies a change in thinking, which should lead to changes in behavior.

Examine Yourself – One evidence of sincere repentance is a willingness to thoroughly examine ourselves so that we can uncover both our mistakes and our sins. Mistakes are the result of errors in judgment rather than sin. Although it is right to acknowledge and repair mistakes that have hurt others, we do not need to go through the same in-depth process that is needed to confess and correct our sins.

In fact, we can sin against God by omission—by doing nothing.

Because most of us do not like to admit that we have sinned, we tend to conceal, deny, or rationalize our wrongs. If we cannot completely cover up what we have done, we try to minimize our wrongdoing by saying that we simply made a “mistake” or an “error in judgment.” Another way to avoid responsibility for our sins is to shift the blame to others or to say that they made us act the way we did.

Using Your Tongue as a Weapon – Scripture warns us that the tongue is often a chief cause of conflict. “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person. . . . It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:5–6, 8b). Sinful speech can take many forms.

Reckless words, spoken hastily and without thinking, inflame many conflicts.

Grumbling and complaining irritates and discourages other people. It also takes our eyes off of the good things God and others do for us.

Falsehood includes any form of misrepresentation or deceit (Prov. 24:28; 2 Cor. 4:2), including lying, exaggeration, telling only part of the truth, or distorting the truth by emphasizing favorable facts while minimizing those that are against us. Anytime we use words that give a false impression of reality, we are guilty of practicing deceit.

Gossip is often both the spark and the fuel for conflict. “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends” (Prov. 16:28).

Slander involves speaking false and malicious words about another person. The Bible repeatedly warns against such talk (e.g., Lev. 19:16; Titus 2:3) and commands us to “have nothing to do” with slanderers who refuse to repent (2 Tim. 3:3–5).

Worthless talk can also contribute to conflict, even if you intend no harm. It violates God’s high standard for talking to or about others: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29).

Sinful words contribute greatly to conflict. Furthermore, they can destroy us from the inside out. As 2 Timothy 2:16 warns, “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.”

Controlling Others – Few things cause as much conflict as trying to control other people. Some attempts to control others are blatantly self-serving, such as maximizing our own profit or influence at another person’s expense (Gen. 29:15–30). But the more common type of control involves trying to persuade, manipulate, or force people to do things that simply make our lives more comfortable and convenient.

Breaking Your Word – A great deal of conflict is the direct result of someone’s failure to keep a commitment, whether it was expressed in a contract, a marriage vow, an oath to God, or by a simple yes or no (Matt. 5:33–37; cf. Num. 30:2; Deut. 23:23; Prov. 2:17).

Failing to Respect Authority – Another common source of conflict is the abuse of or rebellion against the authority God has established in the church, the government, the family, and the workplace. All legitimate authority has been established by God, primarily for the purpose of maintaining peace and order (Rom. 13:1–7).

Forgetting the Golden Rule – Perhaps the most common cause of conflict is our failure to follow the Golden Rule, which Jesus taught in Matthew 7:12: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” To see whether you have violated this teaching, ask yourself questions like these: Would I want someone else to treat me the way I have been treating him? How would I feel if I found out people were saying about me what I’ve said about her? If our positions were reversed, how would I feel if he did what I have done? If someone broke a contract for the same reasons I am using, would I feel that was right? If I was an employee, how would I feel if I was treated the way I have treated her? If I owned this business, would I want my employees to behave the way I am behaving?

The Seven A’s of Confession – As God opens your eyes to see how you have sinned against others, he simultaneously offers you a way to find freedom from your past wrongs. It is called confession. Many people have never experienced this freedom because they have never learned how to confess their wrongs honestly and unconditionally. Instead, they use words like these: “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” “Let’s just forget the past.” “I suppose I could have done a better job.” “I guess it’s not all your fault.” These token statements rarely trigger genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. If you really want to make peace, ask God to help you breathe grace by humbly and thoroughly admitting your wrongs. One way to do this is to use the Seven A’s.

1. Address Everyone Involved – As a general rule, you should confess your sins to every person who has been directly affected by your wrongdoing. Since all sins offend God by violating his will, all sins should be first confessed to him (see Ps. 32:5; 41:4).

2. Avoid If, But, and Maybe – The best way to ruin a confession is to use words that shift the blame to others or that appear to minimize or excuse your guilt. The most common way to do this is to say, “I’m sorry if I’ve done something to upset you.” The word if ruins this confession, because it implies that you do not know whether or not you did wrong. The message you are communicating is this: “Obviously you’re upset about something. I don’t know that I have done anything wrong, but just to get you off my back I’ll give you a token apology. By the way, since I don’t know whether I have done anything wrong, I certainly don’t know what I should do differently in the future. Therefore, don’t expect me to change. It’s only a matter of time before I do the same thing again.”

3. Admit Specifically – The more detailed and specific you are when making a confession, the more likely you are to receive a positive response. Specific admissions help convince others that you are honestly facing up to what you have done, which makes it easier for them to forgive you.

4. Acknowledge the Hurt – If you want someone to respond positively to a confession, make it a point to acknowledge and express sorrow for how you have hurt or affected them. Your goal is to show that you understand how the other person felt as a result of your words or actions.

5. Accept the Consequences – Explicitly accepting the consequences of your actions is another way to demonstrate genuine repentance. The prodigal son demonstrated this principle. After acknowledging that he had sinned against God and his father, he decided to say, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men” (Luke 15:19).

6. Alter Your Behavior – Another sign of sincere repentance is to explain to the person you offended how you plan to alter your behavior in the future. On a personal level, this could involve describing some of the attitude, character, and behavior changes you hope to make with God’s help.

7. Ask for Forgiveness (and Allow Time) – If you follow the six steps described above, many people will readily say they forgive you. If the person to whom you have confessed does not express forgiveness, however, you may ask, “Will you please forgive me?” This question is a signal that you have done all that you can by way of confession and that the responsibility for the next move has shifted to the other person. This will often help the offended person make and express the decision to forgive you.

Not every confession will require all seven steps. Minor offenses can often be handled with a fairly simple statement. The more serious the offense, however, the wiser it is to make a thorough confession using all of the Seven A’s.

You Can Change – The final step in finding freedom from a particular sin is to work with God to change your attitudes and behavior in the future. This process fulfills the third opportunity of peacemaking, namely, growing to be more like Christ.

God is eager to help us to grow and change (see Phil. 1:6, 2:13; Rom. 8:28–29; 1 Cor. 6:9–11; 2 Peter 1:4). There is no sin or habit in your life that cannot be overcome by his grace.

Pray. Thank God for the saving work he has already done in your life and ask him to give you faith to believe that you really can change.

Delight yourself in the Lord. As we saw in chapter 5, the best way to squeeze idolatrous desires out of our hearts is to learn to love and worship God with all our heart, mind, strength, and soul.

Study. The Bible frequently emphasizes the close connection between transformed thinking and growth in character (Rom. 8:6–8; 12:1–2; 1 Cor. 2:9–16; Eph. 1:17–19; 4:22–24; Phil. 1:9–11; Col. 1:9–12). Wisdom, knowledge, and understanding—all involving our minds—are important prerequisites to spiritual fruitfulness.

Practice. As Paul warned the Philippians, we cannot change unless we put what we are learning into practice (Phil. 4:9).

Jesus is clearly calling for something much more loving and redemptive than simply confronting others with a list of their wrongs. He wants us to remember and imitate his shepherd love for us—to seek after others to help them turn from sin and be restored to God and those they have offended.

As these and many similar passages indicate, we need to let go of the idea that showing someone his fault always requires direct confrontation. Although that approach will be appropriate in some situations, we should never do it automatically. Instead, we should ask God to help us discern the most winsome and effective way to approach a particular person at a particular time and to open the way for genuine reconciliation.

The Bible clearly commends face-to-face meetings as an important step in reconciling people, but it does not teach that this is the only way to begin a reconciliation process. In fact, it is sometimes better to involve other people in resolving a conflict before trying to meet personally with someone who has wronged you.

However, whether we begin with a private meeting or work through intermediaries, we must not let personal preferences or cultural traditions divert us from seeking genuine reconciliation, which requires a sincere expression and confirmation of confession and forgiveness.

First, many of the passages related to restoring relationships clearly contemplate a direct conversation between the conflicting parties (see Matt. 5:23–24; 18:15; Luke 17:3). Second, Scripture provides many examples of marvelous reconciliation that came about after personal meetings between people who had wronged each other, including Jacob and Esau (Gen. 33:6–12), Joseph and his brothers (45:1–5; 50:15–21), and Paul and the apostles (Acts 9:27–28). Third, the Bible also gives examples of disastrous results when the involvement of intermediaries allowed the parties to delay or avoid personal meetings involving genuine confession and forgiveness.

If Someone Has Something against You – If you learn that someone has something against you, God wants you to take the initiative in seeking peace—even if you do not believe you have done anything wrong. If you believe that another person’s complaints against you are unfounded or that the misunderstanding is entirely the other person’s fault, you may naturally conclude that you have no responsibility to take the initiative in restoring peace.

There are several reasons why you should initiate reconciliation even if you do not believe you are at fault. Most importantly, Jesus commands you to go.

Finally, you should initiate reconciliation out of love for your brother and concern for his well-being.

Bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness are serious sins in God’s eyes.

When Someone’s Sins Are Too Serious to Overlook – God also calls you to go and talk to someone about a conflict if that person’s sins are too serious to overlook. This is why Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). It is sometimes difficult to decide whether another person’s sin is so serious that you need to go and talk about it.

Is It Dishonoring God? – Sin is too serious to overlook if it is likely to bring significant dishonor to God (see, e.g., Matt. 21:12–13; Rom. 2:23–24). If someone who professes to be a Christian is behaving in such a way that others are likely to think less of God, of his church, or of his Word, it may be necessary to talk with that person and urge him to change his behavior.

Is It Damaging Your Relationship? – You should also go and talk about offenses that are damaging your relationship with another person. If you are unable to forgive an offense—that is, if your feelings, thoughts, words, or actions toward another person have been altered for more than a short period of time—the offense is probably too serious to overlook.

Is It Hurting Others? – An offense or disagreement is also too serious to overlook when it results in significant harm to you or others.

Is It Hurting the Offender? – Finally, sin needs to be addressed when it is seriously harming the offender, either by direct damage (e.g., alcohol abuse) or by impairing his or her relationship with God or other people.

A Christian’s responsibility to help others deal with serious sins can be understood more clearly by studying two particular words used in Galatians 6:1. In this passage Paul told the Galatians to restore a brother who is “caught in a sin.” The Greek word that is translated as “caught” (prolambano) means to be overtaken or surprised. Thus, the brother who needs our help is one who has been ensnared when he was off guard.

It also helps to understand what Paul told the Galatians to do with a brother caught in sin. Instead of ignoring him or throwing him out, the Galatians were instructed to “restore him gently.”

After the Log Is Out of Your Eye – As Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:3–5, you should not try to talk to others about their wrongs until you have dealt with your contribution to a problem.

1. You may simply overlook the offense. Confess your contribution to the problem, let go of what the other person did, and get on with your life. This route will be appropriate if the other person’s sin is relatively minor and has not permanently affected your relationship.

2. You may build on the other’s superficial confession. Your confession may encourage the other person to make some form of admission, even if it is incomplete or halfhearted.

3. You may need to talk about the other person’s sin now. This will be appropriate when the conflict is so serious or the other person’s attitude and behavior is so harmful that the situation must be dealt with immediately or further problems are likely to occur.

4. You may postpone confrontation until another time. This will be appropriate if the matter is not urgent and if immediate confrontation is not likely to be productive.

Bring Hope through the Gospel – When someone has disappointed or offended me, my natural tendency is to come at them with “the law,” lecturing them about what they have done wrong and what they should now do to make things right. This approach generally makes people defensive and reluctant to admit their wrongs, which makes a conflict worse.

As these passages show, when we need to talk with others about their faults, we should ask for God’s help to resist our tendency to hammer people into submission by dwelling on their failures. Of course, we sometimes need to show them where they have sinned and fallen short of God’s ways. But that should not be the primary focus of our words, because judgment inevitably discourages.

Be Quick to Listen – Another element of effective communication is to listen carefully to what others are saying. Knowing this is not our nature, James gave this warning to the early church: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Good listening is particularly important for a peacemaker.

Waiting – Waiting patiently while others talk is a key listening skill. Without this skill, you will often fail to understand the root cause of a conflict, and you may complicate matters with inappropriate reactions.

Attending – The human mind can think at least four times faster than a person can talk. Therefore, when you are listening to someone, your mind may be searching for something more to do. If you allow your mind to wander, or if you start rehearsing your responses, you may miss much of what others are saying.

Clarifying Clarifying is the process of making sure you understand what the other person is saying.

Reflecting – Reflecting or “paraphrasing” is the process of summarizing the other person’s main points in your own words and sending them back in a constructive way.

Agreeing – Agreeing with what another person says is an especially powerful listening response. This doesn’t mean you abandon your beliefs, but rather that you acknowledge what you know is true before addressing points of disagreement.

One reason we are sometimes reluctant to admit being wrong on one issue is that we fear it will seem like we are accepting responsibility for the entire problem.

The Tongue of the Wise Brings Healing – A third element of effective communication is the ability to speak to others in a clear, constructive, and persuasive manner.

Breathe Grace – As we have seen throughout this book, peacemakers are people who breathe grace to others in the midst of conflict. Since we cannot breathe out what we have not breathed in, this process hinges on our moment-to-moment relationship with God.

Make Charitable Judgments – When you are trying to show others where they may need to change, your attitude will usually carry more weight than your actual words. If people sense that you have jumped to conclusions about them and enjoy finding fault in them, they are likely to resist correction. If, on the other hand, they sense that you are trying to believe the best about them, they will be more inclined to listen to your concerns.

Speak the Truth in Love – God commands us not only to speak the truth to each other, but to “[speak] the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15; emphasis added), even to people who have wronged or mistreated us (1 Peter 3:9; cf. Luke 6:27–28; Acts 7:59–60; Rom. 12:14; 1 Cor. 4:12–13).

Talk from Beside, Not from Above – When you need to show others their faults, do not talk down to them as though you are faultless and they are inferior to you. Instead, talk with them as though you are standing side by side at the foot of the cross.

Help Others Examine the Desires of Their Hearts – As we saw in chapter 5, the root cause of most conflict is desires in our hearts that have become so strong that they begin to consume and control us. These desires can become little gods or idols that dominate our thoughts, goals, and actions.

Choose the Right Time and Place – Timing is an essential ingredient of effective communication. If possible, do not discuss sensitive matters with someone who is tired, worried about other things, or in a bad mood. Nor should you approach someone about an important concern unless you will have enough time to discuss the matter thoroughly.

Talk in Person Whenever Possible – As we discussed in chapter 7, communication is most effective when it is done as personally as possible. Therefore, face-to-face conversation is usually better than talking by telephone, because both people can see facial expressions and communicate with body language as well as with words.

Engage Rather than Declare – One of the fastest ways to make people defensive is to abruptly announce what they have done wrong. If you launch into a direct and detailed description of their faults, they are likely to close their ears and launch a counterattack.

Communicate So Clearly That You Cannot Be Misunderstood – Many conflicts are caused or aggravated by misunderstandings. People may say things that are actually true or appropriate, but because they did not choose their words carefully, they leave room for others to misconstrue what they mean and take offense.

Plan Your Words – I cannot overemphasize the importance of planning your words when you need to talk with others about their faults. In delicate situations, careful planning can make the difference between restored peace and increased hostility.

Use “I” Statements – One of the most helpful skills Corlette has taught me is how to use “I” statements. The statements give information about yourself rather than attack the other person—as is the case when you make statements like “You are so insensitive” or “You are just irresponsible.” A typical formula for an “I” statement is “I feel ___ when you ___, because ___. As a result ___.”

“I” statements can accomplish three things. First, they tell the other person how his or her conduct is affecting you.

Second, this kind of statement identifies what the other person has done that you are concerned about.

Third, an “I” statement can explain why this issue is important to you and why you would like to discuss it.

Be Objective – When you are trying to show someone his fault, keep your remarks as objective as possible. While an expression of personal perceptions and feelings may help someone understand your feelings, if you emphasize subjective opinions and judgments too much, you are likely to convey condescension or condemnation.

Use the Bible Carefully – It is often helpful to refer to the Bible as a source of objective truth when you have a disagreement with another Christian. If this is not done with great care, however, it will alienate people rather than persuade them.

Ask for Feedback – When talking to another person, one of your primary goals should be to match impact with intent. In other words, you want to make sure that what you meant to say has actually gotten across to the other person completely and accurately.

Offer Solutions and Preferences – When you speak to others about issues in their lives, be prepared to offer solutions to the specific problems you have identified. If you can show a person a reasonable way out of a predicament, he or she may be more inclined to listen to you. Hope is a key ingredient in promoting repentance and change.

Recognize Your Limits – Finally, whenever you are trying to show someone his fault, remember that there are limits to what you can accomplish. You can raise concerns, suggest solutions, and encourage reasonable thinking, but you cannot force change.

The Matthew 18 Process – A general principle taught in Matthew 18 is that we should try to keep the circle of people involved in a conflict as small as possible for as long as possible. If we can resolve a dispute personally and privately, we should do so. But if we cannot settle matters on our own, we should seek help from other people, expanding the circle only as much as necessary to bring about repentance and reconciliation.

Step One: Overlook Minor Offenses Before you consider involving others in a conflict, it is wise to review the steps that you can take to resolve a dispute in private.

Step Two: Talk in Private If you have wronged someone else, God calls you to go to the other person to seek forgiveness (see chapters 5 and 6). If another person has committed a wrong that is too serious to overlook, it is your responsibility to go the other person and show him his fault, making every effort to resolve personal issues and promote genuine reconciliation (see chapters 7 and 8).

Step Three: Take One or Two Others Along If a dispute cannot be resolved in private, Jesus tells us to ask other people to get involved. “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’” (Matt. 18:16).

By mutual agreement. If you and your opponent cannot resolve a dispute in private, you can suggest that the two of you ask one or more unbiased individuals to meet with you in an effort to facilitate more productive dialogue.

On your initiative. While mutual agreement is always preferable, it is not actually required if your opponent professes to be a Christian. Matthew 18:16 indicates that you may seek help from reconcilers even if your opponent doesn’t want it. Before you take this step, however, it is wise and often beneficial to warn your opponent what you are about to do.

WHAT DO RECONCILERS DO? Reconcilers can play a variety of roles in a conflict. Their primary role is to help you and your opponent make the decisions needed to restore peace.

WHAT IF MY OPPONENT IS NOT A CHRISTIAN? The basic principles of step three can also be applied when the other person does not profess to be a Christian. Some modifications may be needed, of course.

Step Four: Tell It to the Church (Church Accountability) If your opponent professes to be a Christian and yet refuses to listen to the reconcilers’ counsel, and if the matter is too serious to overlook, Jesus commands you to “tell it to the church” (Matt. 18:17). This does not mean standing up in a worship service and broadcasting the conflict to church members and visitors alike, since unwarranted publicity is totally inconsistent with the intent of Matthew 18. Instead, you should inform the leadership of the other person’s church (and probably yours as well) of the problem and request their assistance in promoting justice and peace by holding both of you accountable to God’s Word and to your commitments.4

Step Five: Treat Him as a Nonbeliever As I have shown repeatedly, God calls his people to act justly, seek peace, and be reconciled with others. If a Christian refuses to do these things, he is violating God’s will. If he refuses to listen to his church’s counsel to repent of this sin, Jesus says the church should “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17, emphasis added). Jesus’ use of the word as is significant. Since only God can know a person’s heart (1 Sam. 16:7; Rev. 2:23), the church has no power to decide whether a person is a believer. Instead, the church is called only to make a functional decision: If a person behaves like a nonbeliever would—by disregarding the authority of Scripture and of Christ’s church—he should be treated as if he were a nonbeliever.

In other words, the church should not pretend that things are all right with people who claim to be Christians and yet refuse to listen to God as he speaks through the Scriptures and the church. Treating unrepentant people as unbelievers is sometimes the only way to help them understand the seriousness of their sin. This may be accomplished by withdrawing various membership privileges, such as communion, church office, or teaching Sunday school, and may culminate in revoking their membership status altogether if they persist in their refusal to repent of sin.

Treating someone as a nonbeliever serves three important purposes. First, revoking the person’s membership in the church prevents the Lord from being dishonored if that person continues to act in blatantly sinful ways (Rom. 2:23–24). Second, other believers are protected from being led astray by a bad example or divisive behavior (Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5:1–6). Third, treating someone as a nonbeliever may help the rebellious person to realize the seriousness of his or her sin, turn from it, and be restored to God. This third purpose bears repeating. The intention in treating others as nonbelievers is not to injure them or punish them, but rather to help them see the seriousness of their sin and their need for repentance. Jesus loved people caught in sin enough to warn them of their sinful condition and its consequences and to urge them to repent (e.g., Mark 2:17; John 4:1–18). The church should do no less.6

Many Christians balk at this teaching. Some churches ignore or refuse to implement Matthew 18:17, even though the Bible teaches that God views accountability and discipline as an act of love and an important means to restore his wandering sheep and protect his people from being led astray by sinful examples.

Consider this analogy. When a patient has cancer, it is not easy for his doctor to tell him, because it is a truth that is painful to hear and difficult to bear. Even so, any doctor who diagnoses cancer but fails to report it to a patient would be guilty of malpractice.

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13 Christians are the most forgiven people in the world. Therefore, we should be the most forgiving people in the world. As most of us know from experience, however, it is often difficult to forgive others genuinely and completely. We often find ourselves practicing a form of forgiveness that is neither biblical nor healing.

As Christians, we cannot overlook the direct relationship between God’s forgiveness and our forgiveness: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).

You Cannot Do It Alone – It is impossible to truly forgive others in your own strength, especially when they have hurt you deeply or betrayed your trust.

Neither a Feeling, nor Forgetting, nor Excusing – To understand what forgiveness is, we must first see what it is not. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is an act of the will. Forgiveness involves a series of decisions, the first of which is to call on God to change our hearts.

Second, forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgetting is a passive process in which a matter fades from memory merely with the passing of time. Forgiving is an active process; it involves a conscious choice and a deliberate course of action.

Finally, forgiveness is not excusing. Excusing says, “That’s okay,” and implies, “What you did wasn’t really wrong,” or “You couldn’t help it.” Forgiveness is the opposite of excusing. The very fact that forgiveness is needed and granted indicates that what someone did was wrong and inexcusable. Forgiveness says, “We both know that what you did was wrong and without excuse. But since God has forgiven me, I forgive you.”

To forgive someone means to release him or her from liability to suffer punishment or penalty. Aphiemi, a Greek word that is often translated as “forgive,” means to let go, release, or remit.

But if someone sinned against you, part of their debt is also owed to you. This means you have a choice to make. You can either take payments on the debt or make payments. You can take or extract payments on a debt from others’ sin in many ways: by withholding forgiveness, by dwelling on the wrong, by being cold and aloof, by giving up on the relationship, by inflicting emotional pain, by gossiping, by lashing back or by seeking revenge against the one who hurt you.

Therefore, forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises: “I will not dwell on this incident.” “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.” “I will not talk to others about this incident.” “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.” By making and keeping these promises, you can tear down the walls that stand between you and your offender.

When Should You Forgive? Ideally, repentance should precede forgiveness (Luke 17:3).

When an offense is too serious to overlook and the offender has not yet repented, you may need to approach forgiveness as a two-stage process. The first stage requires having an attitude of forgiveness, and the second, granting forgiveness. Having an attitude of forgiveness is unconditional and is a commitment you make to God (see Mark 11:25; Luke 6:28; Acts 7:60).

Granting forgiveness is conditional on the repentance of the offender and takes place between you and that person (Luke 17:3–4). It is a commitment to make the other three promises of forgiveness to the offender.

Can You Ever Mention the Sin Again? The four promises are a human attempt to summarize the key elements of God’s marvelous forgiveness for us. As a human device, they are limited and imperfect and should not be used in a rigid or mechanical fashion. In particular, the commitment not to bring up the offense again and use it against the offender should not be used to prevent you from dealing honestly and realistically with a recurring pattern of sin.

What about the Consequences? Forgiveness does not automatically release a wrongdoer from all the consequences of sin. Although God forgave the Israelites who rebelled against him in the wilderness, he decreed that they would die without entering the Promised Land (Num. 14:20–23).

Overcoming Unforgiveness – The promises of forgiveness can be difficult to make and even harder to keep. Fortunately, God promises to help us forgive others. He gives us this help through the Bible, which provides practical guidance and many examples of personal forgiveness.

Confirm Repentance – It can be difficult to forgive a person who has failed to repent and confess clearly and specifically. When you find yourself in this situation, it may be wise to explain to the person who wronged you why you are having a difficult time forgiving.

Renounce Sinful Attitudes and Expectations – Forgiveness can also be hindered by sinful attitudes and unrealistic expectations.

Assess Your Contributions to the Problem – In some situations, your sins may have contributed to a conflict. Even if you did not start the dispute, your lack of understanding, careless words, impatience, or failure to respond in a loving manner may have aggravated the situation. When this has happened, it is easy to behave as though the other person’s sins more than cancel yours.

Recognize That God Is Working for Good – When someone has wronged you, it is also helpful to remember that God is sovereign and loving. Therefore, when you are having a hard time forgiving that person, take time to note how God may be using the offense for good.

Remember God’s Forgiveness – One of the most important steps in overcoming an unforgiving attitude is to focus your attention on how much God has forgiven you. The parable of the unmerciful servant vividly illustrates this principle (Matt. 18:21–35).

Draw on God’s Strength – Above all else, remember that true forgiveness depends on God’s grace. If you try to forgive others on your own, you are in for a long and frustrating battle. But if you ask God to change your heart and you continually rely on his grace, you can forgive even the most painful offenses.

Reconciliation and the Replacement Principle – Forgiveness is both an event and a process. Making the four promises of forgiveness is an event that knocks down a wall that stands between you and a person who has wronged you. Then a process begins. After you demolish an obstruction, you usually have to clear away debris and do repair work.

Being reconciled does not mean that the person who offended you must now become your closest friend. What it means is that your relationship will be at least as good as it was before the offense occurred.

Reconciliation requires that you give a repentant person an opportunity to demonstrate repentance and regain your trust.

Although reconciliation can sometimes take place with little or no special effort, in most cases you will need to remember the saying, “If you are coasting, you must be going downhill.” In other words, unless a deliberate effort is made to restore and strengthen a relationship, it will generally deteriorate. This is especially true when you are recovering from intense and prolonged conflict.

In Thought – Even when we say, “I forgive you,” many of us have a difficult time not thinking about what others have done to hurt us. Try as we might, memories of the offense keep popping back into our minds, and we find ourselves reliving all kinds of painful feelings.

In Word – As Luke 6:27–28 implies, the replacement principle applies to your words as well as your thoughts. When talking to others about the person who offended you, make it a point to speak well of the person. Express appreciation for things he or she has done and draw attention to redeeming qualities. Do the same when talking to the offender. Praise, thank, or encourage!

In Deed – If you really want to be reconciled to someone, apply the replacement principle to your actions as well (1 John 3:18). As C. S. Lewis noted, “Don’t waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”4

Cooperative versus Competitive Negotiation – Many people automatically resort to a competitive style when negotiating material issues. They act like they are having a tug-of-war, with each person pulling aggressively to get what he or she wants and letting others look out for themselves.

First, a competitive approach often fails to produce the best possible solution to a problem. When people work against each other, they tend to focus on surface issues and neglect underlying desires and needs. As a result, they often reach inadequate solutions.

Second, competitive negotiation can also be quite inefficient. It usually begins with each side stating a specific position, and progress is made by successive compromises and concessions. Because each compromise typically is about half the size of the previous one and takes twice as long, this process can consume a great deal of time and generate significant frustration.

Finally, competitive negotiating can significantly damage personal relationships. This approach tends to be very self-centered and easily offends others. It also focuses on material issues rather than on personal concerns, perceptions, and feelings.

When you need to negotiate, PAUSE. This acronym stands for the following steps: Prepare Affirm relationships Understand interests Search for creative solutions Evaluate options objectively and reasonably

Prepare – Preparation is one of the most important elements of successful negotiation (Prov. 14:8, 22). This is especially true when significant issues or strong feelings are involved.

Affirm Relationships – A conflict generally involves two basic ingredients: people and a problem. All too often, we ignore the feelings and concerns of the people and focus all our attention on the problems that separate us. This approach often causes further offense and alienation, which only makes conflicts more difficult to resolve. One way to avoid these unnecessary complications is to affirm your respect and concern for your opponent throughout the negotiation process.

Understand Interests – The third step in the PAUSE strategy is to understand the interests of those involved in the disagreement. Only then can you properly respond to the command to “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” In order to identify interests, it is important to understand how they differ from issues and positions.

An issue is an identifiable and concrete question that must be addressed in order to reach an agreement.

A position is a desired outcome or a definable perspective on an issue.

An interest is what motivates people. It is a concern, desire, need, limitation, or something a person values.

Before you attempt to understand the interests of other people, it is wise to make a written list of your own interests. Remembering the three opportunities provided by conflict, you might begin by listing interests related to glorifying God, serving others, and growing to be like Christ.

Search for Creative Solutions – The fourth step in the PAUSE strategy is to search for solutions that will satisfy as many interests as possible. This process should begin with spontaneous inventing. Everyone should be encouraged to mention any idea that comes to mind. Imagination and creativity should be encouraged, while evaluating and deciding should be postponed.

Evaluate Options Objectively and Reasonably – The final step in the PAUSE strategy is to evaluate possible solutions objectively and reasonably so you can reach the best possible agreement. Even if the previous steps have gone well, you may encounter significant differences of opinion when you get to this stage. If you allow negotiations to degenerate into a battle of wills, your previous work will have been wasted. Therefore, instead of relying on personal opinions, insist on using objective criteria to evaluate the options before you. If you are dealing with Christians, refer to relevant biblical principles.

Control Your Tongue – The more intense a dispute becomes, the more important it is to control your tongue (Rom. 12:14). When you are involved in prolonged conflict, you may be sorely tempted to indulge in gossip, slander, and reckless words, especially if your opponent is saying critical things about you. But if you react with harsh words or gossip, you will only make matters worse. Even if your opponent speaks maliciously against you or to you, do not respond in kind. Instead, make every effort to breathe grace by saying only what is both true and helpful, speaking well of your opponent whenever possible, and using kind and gracious language.

Seek Godly Advisors – As Paul says, it is difficult to battle evil alone (Rom. 12:15–16). This is why it is important to develop relationships with people who will encourage you and give you biblically sound advice.

Keep Doing What Is Right – Romans 12:17 emphasizes the importance of continuing to do what is right even when it seems that your opponent will never cooperate. When Paul says, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody,” he does not mean that we should be slaves to the opinions of others. The Greek word that is translated “be careful” (pronoeo) means to give thought to the future, to plan in advance, or to take careful precaution (cf. 2 Cor. 8:20–21). Therefore, what Paul is saying is that you should plan and act so carefully and so properly that any reasonable person who is watching you will eventually acknowledge that what you did was right.

Recognize Your Limits – When dealing with difficult people, it is also important to recognize your limits. Even when you continue to do what is right, some people may adamantly refuse to admit you are right or to live at peace with you. This is why Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18). In other words, do all you can to be reconciled to others, but remember that you cannot force others to do what is right.

Use the Ultimate Weapon – The final principle for responding to a stubborn opponent is described in Romans 12:20–21: “On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Here is the ultimate weapon: deliberate, focused love (cf. Luke 6:27–28; 1 Cor. 13:4–7). Instead of reacting spitefully to those who mistreat you, Jesus wants you to discern their deepest needs and do all you can to meet those needs.

Related Images:

Canoeing the Mountains – Tod Bolsinger

Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, by Tod E. Bolsinger (Please support the author by purchasing the book. The following are highlights from my personal reading).

A couple of years ago I learned that three of my pastor friends around the country had resigned on the same day. There were no affairs, no scandals and no one was renouncing faith. But three good, experienced pastors turned in resignations and walked away. One left church ministry altogether. The details are as different as the pastors themselves, but the common thread is that they finally got worn down by trying to bring change to a church that was stuck and didn’t know what to do. Their churches were stuck and declining, stuck and clinging to the past, stuck and lurching to quick fixes, trying to find an easy answer for what were clearly bigger challenges. What all three churches had in common was that they were mostly blaming the pastor for how bad it felt to be so stuck. “If only you could preach better!” “If only you were more pastoral and caring!” “If only our worship was more dynamic!” “Please, pastor, do something!” (That is what we pay you for, isn’t it?) And to make matters worse, the pastors don’t know what to do either. As a seminary vice president, I am now charged with confronting this reality head-on. Our graduates were not trained for this day. When I went to seminary, we were trained in the skills that were necessary for supporting faith in Christendom. When churches functioned primarily as vendors of religious services for a Christian culture, the primary leadership toolbox was teaching (for providing Christian education) liturgics (for leading Christian services) pastoral care (for offering Christian counsel and support).

Lewis and Clark’s expedition to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase was built on a completely false expectation. They believed, like everyone before them, that the unexplored west was exactly the same geography as the familiar east. This is the story of what they did when they discovered that they—and everyone else before them—had been wrong. And how instructive and inspiring that story can be to us today. Using the story of Lewis and Clark’s expedition and applying the best insights from organizational leadership and missional theology, we will learn together what it means for Christians to lead when the journey goes “off the map.” We will discuss and seek faithful responses to the following questions: How do we lead a congregation or an organization to be faithful to the mission God has put before us when the world has changed so radically? What are the tools, the mental models, the wise actions and competing commitments that require navigation? And mostly, what transformation does it demand of those of us who have been called to lead?

From Lewis and Clark we will learn that if we can adapt and adventure, we can thrive. That while leadership in uncharted territory requires both learning and loss, once we realize that the losses won’t kill us, they can teach us. And mostly, we will learn that to thrive off the map in an exciting and rapidly changing world means learning to let go, learn as we go and keep going no matter what.

To begin, let’s summarize the five vital lessons that make up the structure of this book: The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you. No one is going to follow you off the map unless they trust you on the map.  In uncharted territory, adaptation is everything. You can’t go alone, but you haven’t succeeded until you’ve survived the sabotage. Everybody will be changed (especially the leader).

*REORIENTATION* Christian Leaders: You were trained for a world that is disappearing.

Today’s leaders are facing complex challenges that have no clear-cut solutions. These challenges are more systemic in nature and require broad, widespread learning. They can’t be solved through a conference, a video series or a program. Even more complicated, these problems are very often the result of yesterday’s solutions. They are what Ronald Heifetz calls “adaptive challenges.”7

The changing world around us and even the success we had experienced had brought us to a new place where we would need a new strategy. To paraphrase Marshall Goldsmith, “What got us here wouldn’t take us there.”8

What Is Leadership, Really? – Let’s begin by clarifying what leadership is and is not. Leadership is not authority. It is not the title or position that a person holds. Leadership is different from management. Leadership is not running good meetings, keeping good books, overseeing good programs and making good policies (as important as those are!). Management is a kind of stewardship. Management cares for what is. Leadership is focused on what can be or what must be. Management is about keeping promises to a constituency; leadership is about an organization fulfilling its mission and realizing its reason for being. To that end, let me offer three leadership principles that shape my work in leadership development (mostly in church and nonprofit circles).

Therefore, leadership is always about personal and corporate transformation. But because we are hard-wired to resist change, every living system requires someone in it to live into and lead the transformation necessary to take us into the future we are resisting. The person who takes personal responsibility to live into the new future in a transformative way, in relationship to the others in the system, is the leader. If someone is not functioning as a leader, the system will always default to the status quo.

The culture is changing, the world is changing rapidly, and churches are facing change on an unprecedented scale. Churches and church leaders are becoming increasingly irrelevant, even marginalized. Shared corporate faith is viewed with cynicism at best, downright hostility at worst. The cultural advantage we experience during the seventeen centuries of Christendom has almost completely dissipated. Seminary training for the Christendom world is inadequate to this immensely challenging—transformation-demanding—moment in history. We have to learn to lead all over again.

Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery were about to go off the map and into uncharted territory. They would have to change plans, give up expectations, even reframe their entire mission. What lay before them was nothing like what was behind them. There were no experts, no maps, no “best practices” and no sure guides who could lead them safely and successfully. The true adventure—the real discovery—was just beginning.

Farewell to Christendom – After forty years as a missionary and bishop in India, Lesslie Newbigin retired and returned home to Great Britain in the 1970s. What he found in his beloved homeland was a more difficult mission field than he left behind. He wrote, “England is a pagan society and the development of a truly missionary encounter with this very tough form of paganism is the greatest intellectual and practical task facing the Church.”10 In that one sentence Newbigin challenged the mental model of how the Christians in the West had seen their hometowns and resident cultures for what is now seventeen hundred years. No matter how many times English men and women sang “God Save the Queen,” no matter how beautiful the Christopher Wren cathedrals, no matter the presence of a state-sponsored church where bishops hold seats in the House of Lords, England—and for that matter most of Europe—had become a “pagan society.” Newbigin foresaw that the West was quickly becoming a mission field, and the church needed to “develop a truly missionary encounter” with their friends and neighbors.

Christopher Wright has reminded us that the sending of the church as the apostle to the world goes to God’s very purposes: “It is not so much that God has a mission for his church in the world, but that God has a church for his mission in the world.”13

Alan Hirsch, the mission or “sentness” of a congregation is its “true and authentic organizing principle”: Missional church is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the church’s true and authentic organizing principle is mission. When the church is in mission, it is the true church.14

A Church without Experts We are in uncharted terrain trying to lead dying churches into a post-Christian culture that now considers the church an optional, out of touch and irrelevant relic of the past. What do you do? If you are like me, indeed, like most people, what you do is default to what you know. You do again, what you have always done before.

We can’t see our way to a new way of being, a new response. We are growing more anxious about the decline of the church and the demise of whole religious structures. We don’t know what to do. So we keep trying harder; we keep trying our old tricks. But, of course, it doesn’t work. In Moneyball, an exasperated Billy Beane looks at his manager and tries to urge him to think differently. “It’s adapt or die!” he says. Adapt or die.

What is needed? “A spirit of adventure,” where there are new, unexpected discoveries (serendipities) and ultimately “new perceptions.” To be sure, this is an adapt-or-die moment. This is a moment when most of our backs are against the wall, and we are unsure if the church will survive to the next generation. The answer is not to try harder but to start a new adventure: to look over Lemhi Pass and let the assumptions of the past go.

*REORIENTATION* If you can adapt and adventure, you can thrive. But you must let go, learn as you go and keep going no matter what.

Back to the Pass – As he stepped off the map into uncharted territory, Meriwether Lewis discovered that what was in front of him was nothing like what was behind him, and that what had brought him to this point in the journey would take him no farther. Lewis faced a daunting decision: What would he do now? Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery were looking for a water route, but now they had run out of water. How do you canoe over mountains? You don’t. If you want to continue forward, you change. You adapt. Meriwether Lewis looked at the miles and miles of snow-covered peaks and knew that to continue his journey he would have to change his entire approach.

But what kind of leadership do we need today in a culture that has become again a mission field? What does leadership look like in a day when the moorings of society have become disconnected from the anchors of faith? What is leadership in a world where the task isn’t so much to re-mind as to encounter and engage, to proclaim and demonstrate a completely different world that is available and yet beyond awareness of or even interest to so many? What does leadership look like in a post-Christendom day when we have left behind rivers filled with the waters of shared Christian culture and are facing a new terrain marked by mountains to climb? Ironically, it looks a lot like the earliest church leadership.

The Recovery of Leadership for an Apostolic Church – In their book The Permanent Revolution, Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim recover the concept that the church—literally, “the ecclesia”—is an apostolic movement.2 Nurtured by a fivefold model of leadership (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers) found in Ephesians 4:1-16, they demonstrate that the church’s very nature is apostolic. That is, the church is the embodiment of the work of the original twelve disciples who became the first apostles, “sent” to the world, and equipping and being equipped for the sending. For Darrell Guder this is indeed the very purpose of the ecclesia, the apostolate, that is, “the formation of the witnessing communities whose purpose was to continue the witness that brought them into existence.”3

To live up to their name, local churches must be continually moving out, extending themselves into the world, being the missional, witnessing community we were called into being to be: the manifestation of God’s going into the world, crossing boundaries, proclaiming, teaching, healing, loving, serving and extending the reign of God. In short, churches need to keep adventuring or they will die. We need to press on to the uncharted territory of making traditional churches missionary churches.

Communal Transformation for Mission – At the heart of this book is the conviction that congregational leadership in a post-Christendom context is about communal transformation for mission. Christian community is not merely about connection, care and belonging. Spiritual transformation is not just about becoming more like Christ as an end in itself. In a post-Christendom world that has become a mission field right outside the sanctuary door, Christian community is about gathering and forming a people, and spiritual transformation is about both individual and corporate growth, so that they—together—participate in Christ’s mission to establish the kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Leadership therefore is about the transformation of a congregation so that they, collectively, can fulfill the mission they, corporately, have been given. Every spiritual practice, including preaching, is to serve that end.

Don’t Just Fix the Problem – According to Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, adaptive leadership is not about finding the best-known or most-available fix to a problem, but instead adapting to the changing environment or circumstances so that new possibilities arise for accurately seeing, understanding and facing challenges with new actions.

Adaptive challenges, by contrast, are those that “cannot be solved with one’s existing knowledge and skills, requiring people to make a shift in their values, expectations, attitudes, or habits of behaviour.”6 These are “systemic problems with no ready answers” that arise from a changing environment and uncharted territory.7 These are challenges leaders face when the world around them changes so rapidly that the planned strategies and approaches are rendered moot. This is when the discovery of the Rocky Mountains requires us to ditch the canoes and look for new ways forward.

In this new post-Christendom era, the church leader will be less a grand orator or star figure who gathers individuals for inspiration and exhortation, and more a convener and equipper of people who together will be transformed as they participate in God’s transforming work in the world. To that end, I offer this definition of leadership: Leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.

For Christian leaders today, this is the moment of truth. Are we willing to take the risks and get up the nerve to lead a big adventure? lead our people to face the challenge of a changing world? acknowledge that what is in front of us is not at all like the world where we have previously thrived? clarify and cling to our core convictions and let go of everything else that keeps us from being effective in the mission God has given us? let go of the tried and true default actions that have brought us this far? learn a new way of leading that begins with our own transformation?

While leadership in uncharted territory may or may not require us to move our families to Alaska, Jon’s advice is worth remembering. Adaptation, even adaptive leadership, begins in the nuts and bolts of surviving and thriving, in the lessons passed on by those who are a few steps down the road, in the tricks and tips of “technical competence.” Or to put it another way, unless we demonstrate that we are credible on the map, no one is going to follow us off the map.

Technical Competence – Surprisingly, transformational leadership does not begin with transformation but with competence. At the same time, many of us assume that it begins with character, that is, the personal attributes that make up a good, wise and effective leader. But in reality, the opportunity to lead usually begins with technical competence (see fig. 4.1). The best player on the team becomes the team captain. The expert, the high achiever, the most articulate, the best producer, the smartest, strongest, most attractive are, under most circumstances, tapped for leadership (King Saul immediately comes to mind).

Technical Competence, Stewardship and Credibility – Another way to say this is: Stewardship precedes leadership. Biblically, stewardship is about faithfully protecting and preserving what is most important, about growing and developing the potential of everything and everyone under one’s care. It is about faithfully discharging the duties and carrying out the responsibilities that we have been authorized to do. It is the first and most basic act of being human, the first charge given in the garden to “cultivate and keep” (Genesis 2:15).

Stewardship, therefore, is on-the-map authorization, and technical competence describes the leaders’ ability to do the job they were hired to do—to navigate the known territory—before beginning the transformational leadership process. Before Lewis and Clark asked their men to follow them beyond the Missouri River headwaters into uncharted territory, they led them upriver with both expertise and efficiency.

*REORIENTATION* Before people will follow you off the map, gain the credibility that comes from demonstrating competence on the map.

Only she really wasn’t praying for my leadership at all, she was praying for my faithful stewardship of what she held most dear, the Scriptures and our theological traditions. She was praying that amid all of the things that were changing, I would keep very clear on what wouldn’t or shouldn’t change.

Competent stewardship of souls and communities. Pastors are more than preachers. Christian leaders are not just trusted with the Scriptures; we are also entrusted with souls. And before we can lead our people into uncharted territory, they have to believe that we will spiritually protect and personally care for them along the way. To be truly credible we also have to be shepherds.

In the same way, we are to lead the people of God into the mission of God and to care for each person with the love of the tangible embrace of Christ. We are called to offer both love for people just where they are and to call and equip them to be part of the kingdom mission of Jesus in the world around them. But to be sure, people need to experience the love of God as they are led into the mission of God. If they don’t feel loved, they will likely not let anyone lead them anywhere.

Competent stewardship of teams and tasks. Technical competence for the pastor is measured not only through fidelity to the Scriptures and the spiritual tending of souls and church, but also in the ability to competently manage the organization or institution given to our charge. Pastors of congregations need to be both personal and organizational. If they are not, they likely are not pastors. Spiritual directors, certainly. Evangelists, possibly. Prophets, maybe. Pastoring involves both persons and the communities they are part of. And this is a difficult challenge indeed!

We need to make sure that when our attempts at innovation go awry it’s because we have something to learn, and not because we mishandled an otherwise good idea. Or in the indelicate words of our unofficial team motto, “We can fail, but we can’t suck.”

In the same way, leaders must demonstrate competence in fidelity to Scriptures and traditions, the nurture of souls and communities, and fruitfulness in tasks and teams of people running the work of the church in order to develop the credibility that will be necessary later when the harder work of adaptation and dealing with loss begins.

Beyond Credibility – If leaders are going to take on challenges beyond day-to-day technical ones, competence isn’t enough. Credibility built through technical competence, while crucial, is not enough either. Especially in a congregation. The change needed for a typical traditional congregation to become a missionary congregation is radical and scary indeed. To lead into uncharted territory is to reconsider the cherished narratives and assumptions, and as Ronald Heifetz reminds us, “Refashioning narratives means refashioning loyalties.”

In addition, we need to grasp just how difficult organizational transformation can be. Even if we agree that we are in an adapt-or-die (even adventure-or-die) moment, the urgency of the situation is not enough. When given that particular choice, 90 percent choose dying.7 In a study of those who were faced with exactly that choice—stop drinking or you will die, stop smoking or you will die, change your diet now or you will die, the vast majority choose to risk death.

*REORIENTATION* In uncharted territory, trust is as essential as the air we breathe. If trust is lost, the journey is over.

Building Trust – Trust must be added to credibility. Relationships must be healthy, life-giving and strong. The web of connectedness within the organization must be able to hold each other in the midst of all the chaos that comes from not knowing what is to come.

When we are experienced as congruent, trust goes up; when we are incongruent—when my words don’t match my actions—the trust level goes down. According to Osterhaus, “Trust is gained like a thermostat and lost like a light switch.”

Relational Congruence – Relational congruence is the ability to be fundamentally the same person with the same values in every relationship, in every circumstance and especially amidst every crisis. It is the internal capacity to keep promises to God, to self and to one’s relationships that consistently express one’s identity and values in spiritually and emotionally healthy ways.

As one of my clients, a former Army Ranger and West Point graduate said to me, “The mission first; the men always.”

For Christian leaders this means that ministry is not only the means to bring the gospel to the world, ministry together is how God makes a congregation into a corps that is ready to continually bring the gospel in new ways to a changing world. As missionaries who have been thrown together into unfamiliar surroundings with little more than a sense of call and commitment to each other, when we love each other and are dedicated to our mission, we change.

For Christians who have answered the call to follow the Master who also calls us friends (John 15:15) and gives us to each other as brothers and sisters (John 19:26-27), this relational congruence is even more critical. For the mission of Jesus entrusted to his followers (John 20:21) is expressed to the world through the love that the disciples have for each other (John 13:34-35).

But it is crucial to remember again that the goal of the expedition was not to build a family—it was to find a route to the Pacific Ocean. Similarly, the goal of the Christian faith is not simply to become more loving community but to be a community of people who participate in God’s mission to heal the world by reestablishing his loving reign “on earth as it is in heaven.”

“So, how do you change a church’s culture?” he asked. “Sex,” I answered.

Here is the key idea: The most critical attribute a congregation must have to thrive in uncharted territory is a healthy organizational culture.

The key words in Kotter’s definition are behaviors and values. Actions form the organizational culture, and that culture—like the DNA of a body—keeps reproducing the same values and behaviors. Note again, it’s not the aspired values that shape the church culture but the actual values that produce and are expressed in actual behaviors. It’s not enough to say that “we value creativity” if every creative idea is immediately criticized. It’s not enough for a church to “be committed to evangelism” if there are no adult baptisms. In the words of Dallas Willard, “to believe something is to act as if it is true.”6 A church can say that it values hospitality, discipleship and transparency, but these become part of the DNA of the church only when they are so resiliently present that they happen automatically, by default, because all aspects of the organizational life reflexively support and reinforce them. The actual behaviors of those in authority express and shape the actual values of the organizational culture.

For missional theologian JR Woodward this “unseen culture” is more important than strategy, vision or planning in determining a congregation’s health, openness to change and missional conviction.7 A church culture built on meeting the needs of its members will struggle with implementing changes that depend on putting those self-interested needs aside. A church that has expressed its devotion to God in the beauty and majesty of its worship will unconsciously resist a new informal service where people come in casual clothes carrying cups of coffee.

Numerous organizational writers have said the same thing: “After working on strategy for 20 years, I can say this: culture will trump strategy, every time. The best strategic idea means nothing in isolation. If the strategy conflicts with how a group of people already believe, behave or make decisions it will fail.”9

Alignment Toward a Healthy Culture – JR Woodward writes, “While management acts within culture, leadership creates culture.”10 Creating a healthy culture with the capacity to experiment, innovate, take risks and adapt is one of the primary preparatory tasks of a leader. That culture creation work rests on identifying the gaps between aspired values and actual behavior, and then working with the leaders to bring every aspect of the organization into alignment with the core ideology (core values, mission, primary strategy).

Perhaps in a previous generation where a highly regulated, centralized and authoritative structure was commonplace, some could argue that shared values could be enforced through power, position or other incentives. But today a genuine culture shift requires voluntary submission to shared values. No longer will church members simply accept the values of their leaders as their own. No longer will people dutifully submit their own ideals for the sake of a group. Before leaders begin any transformational work, cultivating a healthy environment for aligned shared values to guide all decision making must be a priority. Indeed, the values must be truly shared.

John Kotter puts it this way: “How does culture change? A powerful person at the top, or a large enough group from anywhere in the organization, decides the old ways are not working, figures out a change vision, starts acting differently, and enlists others to act differently.”21

Love – We protect what we cherish. Love drives us to hold on to what is dear and cling to what gives us meaning and life. But it is also because of love that we are willing to change. It is a great paradox that love is not only the key to establishing and maintaining a healthy culture but is also the critical ingredient for changing a culture. Which takes us back to my answer to my colleague John, who was eating chips and salsa. How do we change the culture of a church? What if the default way of functioning is one of self-preservation? What if the behaviors of the leaders have created a culture of entitlement rather than discipleship? What if the church culture is focused on preserving American Christendom or worse? When the church’s default behavior, way of functioning, its organizational DNA is now hindering the very thing that must be done to fulfill the mission God has given us, how do we change it? And if “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” then how do we change the culture before we are eaten alive? Well, how do we change any DNA? Through sex. You have to birth something new.

Ronald Heifetz said, “You don’t change by looking in the mirror; you change by encountering differences.”24 To be sure, fear of differences can keep us resolutely committed to the status quo, to rejecting what seems foreign and to circling the wagons to keep out the intruder.

I looked at him and said it again. “You change the DNA of any living organism through birthing something new. The new birth won’t be all you or all them but a new creation, a new living culture that is a combination of the past and the future you represent. But you have to communicate that you really love them, or they will never let you close enough to them to take in the different perspective, experiences and vision that you bring. Right now, they know you are disappointed in them, and they don’t want to do anything but resist you. But seeing and embracing differences, if we know that we are loved and cherished just as we are, is also the way that we become open to the new possibilities. Love precedes change.”

The most critical attribute that a congregation must have if it is going to thrive in uncharted territory is a healthy organizational culture. When leaders are perceived as technically competent, they gain credibility in the eyes of their followers. When they are perceived as relationally congruent, trust is established. When credibility and trust are mobilized to create a healthy organizational culture, then we are ready to embrace the thrilling and daunting task of entering uncharted territory.

Adaptive Leadership: Loss, Learning and Gaps – Adaptive leadership is about “letting go, learning as we go, and keeping going.” It’s about loss, learning and gaps: “Adaptive leadership consists of the learning required to address conflicts in the values people hold, or to diminish the gap between the values people stand for and the reality they face.”4

This mode of leading raises up and sheds light on the competing values that keep a group stuck in the status quo. For churches, competing values like caring for longtime members versus reaching out to the unchurched, assuring excellence in ministry programming versus increasing participation with more volunteers, giving pay raises to staff versus bringing on a new hire, assuring control and unity versus collaboration and innovation entail conflict about things of equal or near equal value. Because they are both valued, the competition for resources and the decisions that need to be made can put individuals and congregations into a most vulnerable moment. Like a person with one foot on the platform and one in the train, the moment of adaptation exposes the gaps within a system and forces the leadership to ask painful questions: What will we lose if we have to choose one of these values over the other? What must we be willing to let go?

Adaptive Capacity – Adaptive capacity is defined by Heifetz, Linsky and Grashow as “the resilience of people and the capacity of systems to engage in problem-defining and problem-solving work in the midst of adaptive pressures and the resulting disequilibrium.”5

I looked back at the others, and while some still thought it was something we should do, they agreed it didn’t help kids feel more connected. Indeed, we had been doing it and we still have the problem of teenagers not feeling part of the church community. Youth Sunday hadn’t worked after all. So, I asked, “If we knew that Youth Sunday hadn’t worked to help teenagers feel more connected to the church, why did we suggest it?” After talking about it a while we came to the conclusion that we were talking about it, because it was the only thing we knew how to do.

But I’m trying to point out that when we get to moments of deep disorientation, we often try to reorient around old ways of doing things. We go back to what we know how to do. We keep canoeing even though there is no river. At least part of the reason we do this is because we resolutely hope that the future will be like the past and that we already have the expertise needed for what is in front of us. And facing the “geography of reality” and the inner uncertainty that arises within us is extremely difficult.

*REORIENTATION* When our old maps fail us, something within us dies. Replacing our paradigms is both deeply painful and absolutely critical.

Lewis exemplified what happens to most of us when we are confronting rapidly changing circumstances: even though the evidence is around us, we cling to the previously held assumptions as long as possible. Now, to his credit and as an exemplar for us, Meriwether Lewis wasted no time in casting off that assumption once the brutal facts of his situation were clear.7 There was no water route, there were miles and miles of snowcapped mountain peaks in front of them, they had no trail to follow, food was scarce in this rugged terrain and winter was coming. This is the canoeing the mountains moment. This was when the Corps of Discovery faced for the first time the breadth of the challenges posed by the Rocky Mountains and came to the irrefutable reality that there was no Northwest Passage, no navigable water route to the Pacific Ocean. This is the moment when they had to leave their boats, find horses and make the giant adaptive shift that comes from realizing their mental models for the terrain in front of them were wrong.

Recommitment to Core Ideology – First, by continuing on, they recommitted to their core ideology. At the core of adaptive work is clarifying what is precious, elemental—even essential—to the identity of an organization. The core ideology of any group functions as both a charter and an identity statement. This is who we are, we say. If we stop being about this, we stop being.

For church leaders, moments of disequilibrium like Lewis and his party faced at the top of the Continental Divide certainly bring our own motivations into focus: What are we really called to? Is it just to professional success or personal security? Is it merely to get more people in the church pews and dollars in the offering plates so our congregations can keep offering religious services to those who desire them? Is church leadership nothing more than an exercise in institutional survival? Or isn’t there a higher purpose, a set of guiding principles, a clear compilation of core values that are more about being a community of people who exist to extend God’s loving and just reign and rule in all the earth? This moment forces us to face and clarify our own core beliefs. And for each organization, this facing-the-unknown moment asks us particular questions we need to answer honestly together: Why do we exist as a congregation, institution or organization? What would be lost in our community, in our field or in our world if we ceased to be? What purposes and principles must we protect as central to our identity? What are we willing to let go of so the mission will continue?

Reframing Strategy – They reframed their strategy. With a recommitment to core ideology (values and mission) there is a critical moment to reframe the strategy for the mission at hand. In adaptive leadership, reframing is another way of talking about the shift in values, expectations, attitudes or habits of behavior necessary to face our most difficult challenges. It is a way of looking at the challenge before us through a different lens and in seeing it differently finding the possibilities for a new way of being and leading.13

New Learning They relied on new learning. At the heart of adaptive leadership is learning. To put it bluntly, if you are not learning anything new, it is not adaptive work. It might be a good, necessary, wise, even vital strategy. But if your group is addressing a new challenge with an old solution, relying on a best practice or implementing the plan of a resident expert, then the solution is a technical one, not adaptive.

In moments of uncertainty and disorientation, leaders own internal adaptations; that is, the work that leaders themselves have to do to clarify their own motives, identity and mission is the necessary precursor to the work that the entire community will have to do. When a leader and a people together resist the anxiety that would lead to throwing in the towel or relying on the quick fix, but instead look more deeply—recommitting to core values, reframing strategy and relying on learning—this enables them to gain the just-in-time experience necessary to keep the expedition going.

At the heart of adaptive leadership for the church is this conviction: The church is the body of Christ. It is a living organism, a vibrant system. And just like human bodies, human organizations thrive when they are cooperating with the wisdom of God for how that system is designed, how it grows and how it adapts to changing external environments.

This is what adaptive leadership is all about: hanging on to the healthiest, most valuable parts of our identity in life and letting go of those things that hinder us from living and loving well.

*REORIENTATION* In a Christendom world, vision was about seeing possibilities ahead and communicating excitement. In uncharted territory—where no one knows what’s ahead—vision is about accurately seeing ourselves and defining reality.

Leadership Vision – Every book on leadership talks about vision. Leaders, it is assumed, are visionaries who have the unique ability to see past the horizon, to see the future coming before anyone else and prepare the organization to meet that challenge. That is surely a valuable ability. But leadership vision is often more about seeing clearly what is even more than what will be. As the former CEO and leadership author Max De Pree has famously written, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”1

This system definition is assumed in the working definition of leadership we are using here: Energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.

The church is not a collective but a communion. A local congregation is not just a collection of individual people but also the love, commitment, values and mission they share. A healthy church, like any healthy living thing, is always defined by the nature, quality and behaviors of the relationships.

For a church this means that when the members, the relationships and the mission of the church are aligned and working symbiotically toward a shared purpose, the church functions well. People are both loved (relationship) and challenged (purpose). There is both a commitment to depth and authenticity (relationship) and space to welcome new people (purpose). There is an ability to accept people as they are (relationship) and to be continually transformed into the likeness of Christ (purpose). There is a deep desire to enjoy life together (relationships) and use our resources and energy to serve others (purpose). Relationship and purpose are expressed in as wide a variety of ways as the diversity of the people (the elements) that make up the system.

Because every church has a different DNA code, Ronald Heifetz suggests that at the heart of any adaptive work are three key questions church leaders need to wrestle with together:12 What DNA is essential and must be preserved? What, in the words of Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, “must never change”? What are the key elements of our theology, tradition, ministry practices and organizational culture that must be maintained at all costs because to lose them would be to lose our identity? Just as we discussed in chapter seven, for Lewis and Clark, water route was not as essential as discovery, and for churches, before we consider changing or adapting anything, we must first determine what is truly sacred. What DNA can be discarded? What elements of our church life, while important to us, are not essential? What can we stop doing or let die so we can free resources and energy for new forms of ministry? What do we need to celebrate for the impact it made in another day or circumstance that has outlived its usefulness? Or what do we need to set aside because there is no energy for or interest in it any longer? As we will discuss at length, this is the critical issue. “People don’t resist change, per se. They resist loss,” Heifetz and Linsky remind us.13 What DNA needs to be created through experimentation? What essential part of the church’s identity and mission needs to be adapted to a new day, environment or opportunity? How can the church keep doing the things it is called to do, but in a way that resonates, connects, serves and challenges people who wouldn’t otherwise pay it any attention? What potential healthy partners will create the possibilities of birthing something new?

Declining Attendance and an Anxious, Adaptive Moment – There is nothing that freaks out a pastor like declining attendance numbers. While most of us try hard not to show it, when the Sunday morning crowds thin out, we take it personally. When we look at the attendance reports and see the decrease, it is tempting to make excuses, blame other factors or just deny it entirely.3 If we do acknowledge the decline, we want to jump right in and turn it around. There is nothing that screams for a quick fix like less people in the pew (unless it’s decreased giving too).

Immediately, in the brainstorming session, elders and staff started suggesting strategies for dealing with decline. We should offer a more practical sermon series. The one you are doing now is pretty heady. We should get the kids more involved, let’s put together a new kid’s choir. We could do some better marketing. And so on. We did what most people do when faced with an anxiety-producing problem: we try to fix it as quickly as possible.

It’s All About the Process – The first component of developing adaptive capacity is to realize that it’s a process of learning and adapting to fulfill a missional purpose, not to fix the immediate issues. For Heifetz, adaptive leadership tries to look behind what might be a symptom to bring health and growth to the larger system. In this way, adaptive leadership is different from what I call “directional leadership.” Directional leadership offers direction and advice based on experience and expertise, while adaptive leadership functions in an arena where there is little experience and often no expertise.

Adaptive leadership, again, is about leading the learning process of a group who must develop new beliefs, habits or values, or shift their current ones in order to find new solutions that are consistent with their purpose for being.

Heifetz, Linsky and Grashow describe it this way: Adaptive leadership is an iterative process involving three key activities: (1) observing events and patterns around you; (2) interpreting what you are observing (developing multiple hypotheses about what is really going on); and (3) designing interventions based on the observations and interpretations to address the adaptive challenge you have identified.5

Observations – Observations are the data points for understanding a system. When a leadership team is on the balcony, their first task is to get as many different observations that are as objective as possible about the situation. In the observation stage, therefore, the group must intentionally withhold interpretations or interventions in order to gather as much data as possible.

The National Football League uses a video system called “All-22” for all professional football games. It’s a video system that records the entire game from overhead so that all twenty-two offensive and defensive players on the field are in view in any one play (or shot). It is standard for coaching and strategizing practices. Teams use it to take snapshots throughout the game and even fax pictures to the sidelines so coaches and players can get a broader perspective of what they can’t see while on the field.

*REORIENTATION* Leadership in the past meant coming up with solutions. Today it is learning how to ask new questions that we have been too scared, too busy or too proud to ask.

In autumn 2012, when our attendance did not come back from the usual summer slump, we decided to resist the temptation to either deny the problem or default to previous strategies, and instead made a plan to get as much perspective as possible. We decided to interview a cross-section of people we hadn’t seen in worship in at least three months, asking every elder, deacon and staff person to identify three people they knew well who they also hadn’t seen in church since the following spring. They asked their friends three questions: When were you most excited or felt the sense of deepest connection to our church? What was happening during that time in your life and in the life of our church? What has changed in your life or in the church since then that may have affected your sense of connection or excitement about our church? What is one wish/hope/dream you have for the future of our church?9 Note that none of these questions asked why they weren’t in worship, but tried to get bigger observations to serve as data points. Each interviewer wrote down the answers and then sent them on to one of the elders who collected and collated the responses for presentation the following month.

Listen to the songs beneath the words. In the interpretation stage we look for patterns we wouldn’t normally notice.

Very often I ask my coaching clients to consider the question, What is the song behind the words that is keeping us all dancing? In other words, what deeper tune of the church is getting played in this circumstance? What is going on in this situation that nobody is talking about but is affecting the whole system of the church?

Because of the gap between cause and effect, it is difficult to diagnose the true underlying causes of most problems.

We discovered that we didn’t need so much to attend to our worship as to our web of connections. We needed to focus our attention not on how to increase Sunday morning attendance but on how to strengthen and increase more points of connection for people, which would enable us to better pastor people through life transitions.12

Protect the minority voices. “People don’t learn by staring into a mirror; people learn by encountering difference,” observes Ron Heifetz.13 The interpretation step is only productive if there is freedom to explore as many different interpretations as possible, and especially the opportunity to hear from usually ignored voices.

David McRaney, author of the book and the blog You Are Not So Smart, writes about “survivorship bias,” that is, the tendency to look only at the “survivors” or “stories of success” and draw conclusions about reality.14

When they examined the planes, they discovered that they were shot up most on the bottom of the plane, on the wings and near the tail gunner. So, the engineers made preparations for putting more armor there. But one statistician, Abraham Wald, challenged the underlying assumption by pointing out that the planes they were studying were the survivors—these are the planes that were not shot down. In other words, Wald said, this is exactly where we should not put more armor—a plane can survive even if shot up in the bottom, wings and near the tail gunner. So they needed to look at other areas of the plane to reinforce. Through several tests they discovered that adding more armor to the ailerons, engine, stabilizers and around the pilot made the planes safer. Only listening to a different interpretation allowed them to find the right solution.

Raise up competing values. Any musician (and I am not) knows that harmonies in music are made up of concurrent concordant and discordant notes that sound in tension with each other and finally come to a resolution. That simultaneous tension of silence and sound, of notes that blend well and those that are related but different create the music that fills the ear and the heart.

The final piece of the interpretation lens is to begin to raise up these values for discussion and consideration. Some common competing values dilemmas are Do we serve our longtime church members who pay the bills, or do we innovate to reach new people and risk angering the stakeholders? Do we have a mostly professional staff that provides excellence in ministry program, or do we want a strong, involved laity to use their gifts? Do we want a centralized organization unified around clear objectives, or do we want a more creative, collaborative system that is nimble, innovative and able to experiment with new ideas?

Innovative interventions will always be resisted. Most of us don’t come to church to experiment. Even the idea of experiments raises anxiety. Most of the time the system will be inclined to shut down any experiments before they even begin. Growth, transformation and adaptation always means loss. Change is loss. And even experimental changes signal loud and clear that change—and loss—is coming.

The leaders of one of my church clients did a careful and lengthy study of observations and interventions that led the church to experiment with a contemporary blended worship service in their main sanctuary. They were not going to disrupt traditions of the choir and hymns, the traditional service; they merely were going to add an additional service led by a band to see what happened.

When they installed some new drums in the sanctuary, a number of members of the congregation balked. The pastor assured them that they would not play the drums in the most traditional service. They just needed them available for the contemporary service. Still the members of the traditional service complained: they didn’t even want to look at the drums, let alone hear them.

“Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb,” write Heifetz and Linsky.1 This painful truth brings us to the heart of the necessary adaptive capacity to lead transformational change in uncharted territory. Disappointing people “at a rate they can absorb” is a skill that requires nuance: Disappoint people too much and they give up on you, stop following you and may even turn on you. Don’t disappoint them enough and you’ll never lead them anywhere.

Leadership isn’t so much skillfully helping a group accomplish what they want to do (that is management). Leadership is taking people where they need to go and yet resist going. Leadership, as I have defined it, is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.

Transformational leadership is always a two-front battle: On one side is the challenge of a changing world, unfamiliar terrain and the test of finding new interventions that will enable the mission to move forward in a fruitful and faithful way. On the other side is the community that resists the change necessary for its survival. If adaptive leadership is “enabling a people to grow so they can face their greatest challenges and thrive,” then it is crucial to acknowledge that a significant part of the greatest challenge is internal. Deftly handling resistance and the disappointment that comes along with it so a community of people can accomplish a goal for the greater good is the core capacity of adaptive leadership.

The answer was for me—and my leaders—to develop the adaptive capacity that comes from living out a core, clarifying conviction: The mission trumps. Always. Every time. In every conflict. Not the pastor. Not the members of the church who pay the bills. Not those who scream the loudest or who are most in pain. No. In a healthy Christian ministry, the mission wins every argument.

The focused, shared, missional purpose of the church or organization will trump every other competing value. It’s more important than my preferences or personal desire. It’s more critical than my leadership style, experience or past success. It’s the grid by which we evaluate every other element in the church. It’s the criterion for determining how we will spend our money, who we will hire and fire, which ministries we will start and which ones we will shut down. It’s the tiebreaker in every argument and the principle by which we evaluate every decision we make. Denominational affiliation? Mission partnerships? Financial commitments? Staff decisions? Worship styles? The key question is: Does it further our mission? The mission trumps all.

A mission statement serves the same purpose in a healthy organization. The one in power doesn’t win every conversation: the mission trumps.

If the mission trumps all, then a leader must develop the clarity and conviction to live out that mission no matter the circumstance, no matter whether the challenge comes from the context or the very community we serve.

The emotional processes, ways of relating and being, decision making, symbols, values and other parts of the organizational culture (see chap. 6) naturally work together to keep things the same. The church leadership who calls a young pastor to reach young families thwarts every new initiative. The evangelistic pastor who attracts outsiders to the church is accused of not caring for the church membership. The preacher who was called to bring intellectual depth is chided that she should tell more stories and offer more practical teaching. The elder board that commits to a new vision for ministering to their neighbors will place all the plans on hold in order to attend to denominational issues that have simmered for generations. This is normal.

In this and the following three chapters we’ll look at it clause by clause. It’s that important. I encourage you to commit it to memory. Write it on a Post-it note and put it on your bathroom mirror. Make it your screensaver on your computer. And say it to yourself over and over again: Start with conviction, stay calm, stay connected, and stay the course.4

Start with Conviction – The first question about leading into uncharted territory is not about change but about what will not change. First we determine what is precious, what is worth keeping no matter the circumstances, what will never change, what is the core ideology of the church. Conviction is the core ideology in action.

Every conflict raises the question: Are we clear on and committed to our mission?

*REORIENTATION* There is perhaps no greater responsibility and no greater gift that leadership can give a group of people on a mission than to have the clearest, most defined mission possible.

Because the mission is what matters. The mission trumps. Even more than whether our stakeholders like it, our mission demands that we make decisions based on conviction.

The purpose of the commander’s intent is to empower subordinates to be able to achieve the goals of the mission if the circumstances change and they need to adapt.5 If you tell a group of Marines, “Take the enemy airfield,” that is a very different commander’s intent than “Take the enemy airfield so we can use it ourselves.” The commander’s intent clarifies the goal so that all strategies and tactics (Should we blow up the air traffic control room or not?) can be evaluated.

The mission, when enacted and owned, becomes a conviction that holds and changes us. It is a simple, clear, almost humble statement of the reason we as a congregation believe we are occupying the bit of real estate God has given us at this moment of history.

Getting Clear on Conviction – Before acting on a conviction we actually have to have a conviction. And this takes time. It is the result of study, conversation, humility and discernment. It is formed through processes of self-observation, self-reflection and shared aspirations. Jim Collins describes this mission-statement conviction as a Hedgehog Concept made up of the intersection of three elements: What are we passionate about? What are we constantly talking about, praying about, involved in and concerned about? In the words of Jim Collins, “Nothing great can happen without beginning first with passion.” What do we have the potential to do better than anyone else? Collins says that this is an awareness of self, not aspirations or hopes. It is the humble and clear perspective about the particular value we as a church, organization or ministry have to offer our community or the larger world. It is a statement of uniqueness, not arrogance; a statement of the distinctive contribution we are equipped to make in God’s work in the world. What will pay the bills? What drives our economic or resource engine? What helps us continually create the resources that will keep us going? What brings us partners, money, opportunities and the talent we need to continue our work?6

Mulago requires grant applicants to write a simple proposal with an eight-word mission statement.7 The statement must be in this format: verb, target, outcome. And it can use only eight words.

The Leader’s Mission Within the Mission – For the leader navigating this two-front battle, he or she must have clear convictions about his or her call and purpose. To be blunt: The leader in the system is committed to the mission when no one else is. For the leader the mission always trumps. Again, this is hard.

Another conversation in my office. This time it was an older couple who were new to the church. They were registered for our next new members’ class, but after hearing from some concerned friends about how liberal Presbyterians are, they thought they’d ask me some questions. They told me they had been leaders in three well-known megachurches, but after a falling-out with the pastor they had been without a church home for several months. They started listening to a Presbyterian pastor via podcast and were so impressed they decided to check out our church (even though they had never dreamt of being part of a mainline church). They loved our church. They told me they loved our emphasis on discipleship, reaching out to the unchurched, and proclaiming and demonstrating the kingdom to those who hadn’t accepted the good news. Everything they heard resonated with their hearts, and they decided to join. When they told a friend what they were intending to do, he cautioned them because of what he read in the papers. So, they came to see me. I found out that the Presbyterian pastor they had heard on the podcast was Tim Keller, and I explained that he was part of a different Presbyterian denomination. They had only recently learned that there was not only the Presbyterian Church (USA), our denomination, but others they thought they’d be more comfortable joining. I said to them, “You have heard me talk about our mission to proclaim the kingdom of God to the unchurched. Do you think the people we are trying to reach care what denomination we are in?” They responded, “No, not at all.” “So,” I said, “The mission trumps. As long as we can fulfill our mission, we are not going to spend time or energy on denominational worries. For us, it’s all about the mission.” “But Tod,” the wife chimed in, “the people you are trying to reach don’t care about denominational labels, but people like us do. If you want people like us to join your church, you may want to consider switching denominations.” I looked them and said softly but firmly. “You are not our mission.”

I said it again. “You are not our mission. Our mission is to be a community of disciples who proclaim and demonstrate the good news in every sector of society. We want to reach people for Jesus Christ. Our mission is not to help Christians move from one church to our church. You are not our mission. But . . . I think God brought you here so that you would join our mission. You have a heart for the unchurched and desire to see people come to know Christ and experience his reign and grace in their lives. All you have heard has resonated with you, and you have already begun new ministries here. No, you are not our mission, but I think God is calling you to join us in fulfilling our mission.” The husband looked at his wife. “Honey, I think we’re Presbyterians.” They joined our church in the next class.

The first step in adaptive change is “start with missional conviction”; the second is to “stay calm.” For the leader it is critical to monitor our own emotional reactivity when the anxiety within the church rises. The calm leader is self-aware, committed to the mission (the mission trumps) and focuses on his or her own self in the transformation process.

*REORIENTATION* When dealing with managing the present, win-win solutions are the goal. But when leading adaptive change, win-win is usually lose-lose.

But when we enter the realm of adaptive work—working in uncharted territory—win-win often becomes lose-lose. Transformational leadership and the adaptive change necessary requires us to go beyond win-win to make hard, oftentimes forced choices. When we are faced with limited resources and a new experiment we can’t squeeze into the budget, a choice has to be made: Either the existing programs are going to lose some of their resources or the new experiment will go unfunded.

Heifetz and Linsky inform us that people do not resist change, per se. People resist loss. You appear dangerous to people when you question their values, beliefs, or habits of a lifetime. You place yourself on the line when you tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Although you may see with clarity and passion a promising future of progress and gain, people will see with equal passion the losses you are asking them to sustain. 2

Transformational leadership, therefore, equips people to make hard choices regarding the values keeping them from the growth and transformation necessary to see in a new way and discover new interventions to address the challenges they are facing. And this is done with values that are valuable. Systems theory reminds us that “today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions.”3 This means that the program, ministry, staff person, principle, action or activity in danger of being lost was at one time of great value.

Crockpot Leadership – Imagine you are cooking a meal for a big, hungry family. You decide to make a stew in a Crock-Pot. You get raw meat, hard vegetables, some stock and seasoning. You put it in the Crock-Pot, and with enough time at the right temperature you get a feast. But if the temperature is too high, the meal gets burned; too low and even though a long time has gone by, all you have is hard vegetables and raw meat.

A leader’s job is to regulate the heat. The leader is like the thermostat on the Crock-Pot, keeping enough heat in the system so things begin to change, but not enough that individual parts get scorched.

The Heat of Urgency – There are two forms of heat for bringing transformation: urgency and anxiety.

Instead of patiently waiting for a widespread and true urgency, most leaders settle for the false urgency of attending to the most urgent issue or the one that has the most people in an uproar. Whenever the urgent pushes out the important, we fall into the trap of feeling as if we are busy accomplishing something while we are running on a treadmill—getting exhausted but not going anywhere.6

True urgency, on the other hand, is centered on the passion and vision that comes from developing a clear conviction and mission. It is the urgency of seeing both the reality of the moment and the opportunity God has given.

When we keep our deepest purpose/mission/vision as our true urgency, it should not wax and wane; it should remain the central root of urgency around which we regulate the heat of peripheral issues.

I also often coach my pastor clients to give a yearly “I Have a Dream” sermon in order to keep raising the urgency in the congregation.8 It’s important that the sermon is not shaming or demanding. It’s not a presumptuous “God told me this to tell you” or “this should be your dream” or even “an expert told me that this should be our dream” sermon. Instead this is an honest and very personal sharing of hopes and visions.

The Heat of Anxiety: Is That a Lion or Not? – In the harsh midsummer African heat, a herd of impala finds an increasingly rare water hole. They rush to drink, crowding in, fearful of not getting enough water to sustain them. Suddenly, one impala raises his head in high alert. Immediately every other impala stops drinking and stands at attention. No impala moves, none utter a sound.

If there is a lion and they do run, or if there is no lion and they don’t run, they live another day. But all that matters is: Is that a lion or not?

For leaders the point of calming down is not to feel better; it’s to make better decisions. It’s to make the best decisions for furthering the mission. When people are too hot, they don’t. The only issue is: Is there a lion or not? Is there a threat, or are we making this up? Is this true urgency or false urgency? Do we need to run, or should we stay here, get water and then calmly continue our journey?

For leaders this is the point to remember about anxiety: People who are overly or chronically anxious don’t make good decisions. When anxiety spikes we revert to more primitive ways of being. We fight, we flee, we freeze. We run from danger and leave others to face the lions alone. Or we capitulate and allow the herd to be overrun. We turn on each other instead of working together. We jump to quick fixes; we look for technical solutions to adaptive issues. Transformational leadership is built on leaders making good, wise, discerning decisions for the sake of both the health and the mission of the community—decisions that reinforce the missional conviction—and this requires leaders who are able to stay calm.

Stay Calm – What does it mean to stay calm? That we become a Mr. Spock-like Vulcan with no emotions and complete rationality? No. That would be impossible. To stay calm is to be so aware of yourself that your response to the situation is not to the anxiety of the people around you but to the actual issue at hand. Staying calm means so attending to our own internal anxiety in the heat of a challenging moment and the resistance around us that we are not tempted to either cool it down to escape the heat (thus aborting the change process) or to react emotionally, adding more fuel to the fire and scorching the stew we are trying to cook.

Osterhaus and his colleagues help us understand that the best decisions come out of the Blue Zone. Blue Zone is about serving the mission. Blue Zone decisions are marked by consistency and are focused on effectiveness. In the Blue Zone the mission trumps. But most of the time, when the heat is on, if we are not deliberately conscious to do otherwise, we will operate out of the Red Zone of high emotional reactivity based on one or more of four core issues: survival, acceptance, competence and control. Each person is different, and each person must negotiate different Red Zone issues.

But It’s Cool to Lose Your Cool, Right? – Some of us may be recalling great illustrations of passionate and prophetic leaders who lose their cool. Didn’t Jesus drive out the money changers? Don’t the prophets rail out in condemnation? Doesn’t that turn up the heat? From the 1970s movie Network to so much political discourse today, we assume that if change is going to come, somebody is going to have stand up and yell, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Most of the time when things get heated, people get scorched. The meal is ruined and most is thrown out of the Crock-Pot. The community stops following and starts fighting or fleeing.

Anxious people scurry to quick fixes and work avoidance. But when the leader stays calm enough internally to attend to and regulate the heat of chronic anxiety so that it is instead the clear blue flame of urgency and mission, then transformation can occur.

How do you Regulate the Heat? – This is the delicate work of adaptive leadership. We need our people feeling the urgency and healthy anxiety enough to overcome complacency and move. At the same time we need our people to calm down enough to get beyond technical fixes, false urgency and work-avoidance scrambling. If the system is too cool and needs more heated urgency to change, then the leader’s own heat (passion, truth-telling, conviction, actions) begins to get things cooking. But when the system gets too hot and people are in danger of burning each other or bailing out of the change process, the very presence of a calm, connected leader cools the system down so people can tolerate staying on course.

In his book Just Listen: The Secret of Getting Through to Everyone, Mark Goulston recommends a simple process of self-talk that literally slows the brain processes down. It begins by acknowledging the anxious, angry or fearful feelings and breathing slowly until your heart rate comes down and you are able to hear and respond instead of lash out reactively.

All I want is for my presence to turn the anxiety thermostat down one click on the dial so we can focus on the urgency of our mission. Peter Steinke notes, “The leader’s ‘presence’ can have a calming influence on reactive behavior. Rather than reacting to the reactivity of others, leaders with self-composure and self-awareness both exhibit and elicit a more thoughtful response.”15

When a leader with conviction can stay calm amid the losses and reactivity of a congregation, then thoughtful, Blue Zone, “it’s all about the mission” decisions are possible. But sometimes being calm is not enough. So, what do we do when the others around us choose to fight or flee because of their Red Zone issues? The opposite of what our human nature does reflexively: we draw closer.

The Church and the Wheelchair – Hal is blind. Gus is an amputee confined to a wheelchair. Alone they would each be what we sometimes call shut-ins. Octogenarians both, they don’t get around very easily on their own. When they come to worship services at SCPC, Hal pushes Gus and Gus directs Hal. They make their way through the parking lot and the patio to their place together in the pew. Gus sits in his wheelchair and gives direction, Hal pushes the wheelchair and follows Gus’s lead, and together they get to where they want to go. And together, and only together, they come to church.

Why is it so difficult for the great idea to become embedded in the culture of the institution? Why does a new missional conviction so rarely become the new way of being, the new strategy for acting, the new normal? Why do so many innovations get stopped before they can be tried as an experiment? This is the demoralizing frustration for so many leaders.

If, as I define it, leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world, then leadership is always relational. It is focused on a community of people who exist to accomplish a shared mission. So, while we start with a missional conviction and regulate the heat by staying calm and focusing on our own self-awareness and personal responsibility, organizational transformation cannot be accomplished through the efforts of one person, no matter how gifted. So, in addition to “start with conviction and stay calm” we add stay connected. Which leads us to the next key principle of adaptive leadership. After finding a missional conviction and regulating the heat, to bring change we must enact relationally.

But human nature being what it is, it’s more effective in a change process for a leader to think not only of one team but six. Six different teams that reflect the different kinds of relationships a leader must attend to in order to bring transformation to the whole organizational system.6

1. Allies. An ally is anyone who is convinced of the mission and is committed to seeing it fulfilled. In this sense, allies are inside the system, taking part of the change process with a stake in it and aligned and in agreement—at least for the moment—with the adaptive changes the leader is attempting to bring.7

2. Confidants. To be a confidant, a person must care more about you than they do about the mission of the organization. Therefore, healthy confidants are usually those outside the system who can give you honest feedback about yourself as a leader in the system. Being a confidant is usually most comfortable and healthy for our friends and family.

3. Opponents. Potential opponents are stakeholders who have markedly different perspectives from yours and who risk losing the most if you and your initiative go forward. Let’s be clear here, if you are leading a change process, opponents are not your enemies in much the same way that allies are not necessarily your friends. Opponents are nothing more and nothing less than those who are against the particular change initiative.

4. Senior authorities. As I have said from the outset, leadership is not the same thing as authority. Authority is your role, your position of formal power, but leadership is a way of functioning. Very often the leader in uncharted territory is not the authorized leader but someone tasked to explore the new terrain. Remember, it wasn’t Commander in Chief Jefferson who crossed the Continental Divide, but two captains.

5. Casualties. In any transformational leadership effort there will be casualties. You can’t go into uncharted territory without risk. Even Lewis and Clark had to bury one of their men along the way. If a leader is “the person in the system who is not blaming anyone,” then the leader is also the one who assumes the responsibility for these inevitable casualties.8 As change initiatives are being proposed, don’t whitewash the losses. Acknowledge them.

6. Dissenters. In true adaptive change there are no unanimous votes. Someone, usually a significant number of people, will say no, no matter what. These voices of dissent are extremely important at every step of the way. The early naysayers are the canaries in the coal mine. They will help you see how opposition will take form and will raise the arguments that eventually will come to full volume.

Every visionary leader needs both a group to keep attending to the necessary work and a team to lead the transformation of the organizational culture. And while they may be one and the same in some circumstances, a great idea needs at least two groups of people to see it through: the maintaining mission group and the transformation team.

The maintaining mission group. The maintaining mission group has to be committed to giving safety, time, space, protection and resources to the project. At first, they don’t need to actually do anything except not create obstacles and not sabotage the change process (a big task, in itself!). At best, they actively voice support, keep a steady hand at the wheel and monitor the inevitable anxiety.

*REORIENTATION* In a Christendom world, visionary management usually comes from the board of directors. In the uncharted world of post-Christendom transformation, leadership will more likely come from a small Corps of Discovery who serve as a transformation team while the board manages the health of the organization currently.

The transformation team. The transformation team is akin to what John Kotter calls a “Guiding Coalition.”11 This group will add effort to the inspiration. They are going to do the work of listening, learning, attempting and, yes, failing. (Remember how many early attempts at building rockets flamed out on the launch pad?) This team needs to be innovative and persistent, cohesive and communicative.

For most leaders I know, and especially for pastors, all of this discussion of the different relationships certainly doesn’t sound like good news. While most of us are good at personally relating to people (praying, teaching, counseling), most of us have not been trained in organizational relationship skills.

Our theology affirms that leadership is a shared task, and the church is meant to be both a safe environment for protecting the community and a group willing to lay down their lives for the vision of God’s kingdom come to earth.

1. Give the work back to the people who most care about it. Are you the only one losing sleep over the challenges you face? Then you need to raise the urgency with a broader coalition of people. When a group of people bring a complaint, don’t jump to fix it but instead engage those who raised the complaint in the process of transformation.

2. Engage the mature and motivated. Let’s face it, most of our work (especially for pastors) is putting out fires, dealing with the resistant, attending to the cranky and trying to appease the complainers. These are part of our work and are indeed the people to whom we are called. But when it’s time to lead on, more and more of your energy must be invested in those who are motivated to grow and take responsibility for themselves.

3. Stay connected to your critics. From The Godfather we learned to “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer,” but that was for self-protection. In this case that great advice is a way to keep trying to turn enemies into friends (not through accommodation but through influence). This is the essence of what it means to “stay connected.”

We tell ourselves that if we don’t back down we’ll do something in anger that we’ll regret. So we do nothing instead. Face-to-face conversations become quick voicemails, phone calls turn into emails, and discussions over lunch become formal letters. After a while, because we are so afraid of the heat, thick walls of ice rise up around us, and while we may be able to see the subjects of our conflicts, we can’t hear or touch them. But when we lose connection, we lose the opportunity to keep gently influencing the system for good. We need at least a light touch on the wheel to steer the car toward the destination of our convictions.

So what is a leader to do? Stay connected. Keep contact. Close the distance with word and touch. When someone writes me an angry email, I call them at home. When someone sends a formal letter of complaint, I invite them for coffee. When people start getting upset, I call a meeting and invite them to talk. The more heated the situation, the closer I want to get to it. Believe me, this is hard. I’m no different than anyone else.

4. Expect sabotage. Which is where we turn next.

So, when we came to the General Assembly, how many of those same leaders who had affirmed our work all along the way made public statements of support? Zero. How many asked to testify to the oversight committee? Zero. How many of those who had hugged me in the hall did anything at all to support its passage? Zero. When I asked for public statements to counter the resistance, one person after another told me that the word had come down from “on high” that they couldn’t be seen “taking sides” in what was a controversial debate. The whole proposal was soundly rejected with the most benign part referred to a committee for further study.

That is the rub, isn’t it? It’s one thing to disappoint and anger the other side, but another thing entirely to endure friendly fire.

Even Lewis and Clark faced their own challenge with sabotage.

If the change process is “start with conviction, stay connected, stay calm and stay the course,” then when you are focused on “staying the course,” expect that it is “your own people” who are going to try to knock you off course. And the key to staying the course is wisely and calmly responding to sabotage. Note the verb here: not reacting, but responding.

Sabotage is natural. It’s normal. It’s part and parcel of the systemic process of leadership. Saboteurs are usually doing nothing but unconsciously supporting the status quo. They are protecting the system and keeping it in place. They are preserving something dear to them. If every system is “perfectly designed for the results we are getting,” it became clear to me that our denominational system exists for institutional self-preservation.

Many who sabotage you will even claim that they are doing you a favor by doing so. Friedman describes these “peace-mongers” as “highly anxious risk-avoiders” who are “more concerned with good feelings than progress” and consistently prefer the peaceful status quo over the turbulence of change—even if change is necessary.

*REORIENTATION* When on the map, leaders could assume that once an affirmative vote was made, the challenge of bringing change was finished. In uncharted territory, where changes occur so rapidly, leaders cannot assume success until after they have weathered the sabotage that naturally follows.

First, expect sabotage. Anticipation is a great defense. To be aware that sabotage is coming will at least keep us from being surprised when it comes.

Second, embrace sabotage as a normal part of an organizational life. Even the saboteurs aren’t really to blame. Systems like stability. Natural survival skills demand it, in fact. You, by bringing change, have upset the emotional equilibrium of the system. The Israelites wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt once things got rough in the desert. Systems always look for and find comfort in the familiar.

Third, don’t take it personally. The people following you may be shooting you in the back, but it’s really not you that they are sabotaging, it’s your role as leader. They are sabotaging the change you are bringing.

Fourth, focus your attention on the emotionally strong, not the saboteurs. We are so focused on quieting our critics, appeasing or answering our accusers and shielding ourselves from the friendly fire that it often knocks us off course. While we need to stay connected to the saboteurs (“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”), what actually keeps the change process going is investing even more time in those committed to growing, adapting and changing for good. Find other calm, courageous people and strengthen and support them.

Last, make it a conviction to stay calm and connected so you can stay on course. Endure. Stick with it. Be dogged and determined.

Leading change is a process not accomplished quickly, and the moments of sabotage are the most crucial times in the change process. At this moment everyone in the system sees the leader’s true colors. Sabotage is not only a test of the leader’s resolve but also a test of the system’s resilience.

Blue Zone Decisions: Staying the Course Amidst Sabotage – The key skill for staying the course amidst sabotage is to make Blue Zone decisions—no matter what. In chapter twelve we explored Osterhaus, Jurkowski and Hahn’s Red Zone–Blue Zone decision making. The Red Zone is “all about me”; the Blue Zone is “all about the mission.” Blue Zone decisions are made as an expression of the core values and healthy principles, and further the discerned, shared mission conviction of the group.

When making Blue Zone decisions, a set of questions are being asked and answered by the leadership group. These questions are different from the Red Zone “me” questions around survival, acceptance, competence and control. They are What furthers the mission? What principles are at stake here? What values are we expressing? What pain must we endure? How will we support those who are experiencing loss?

Whenever I talk about this with groups, the hands shoot up. “This contradicts Jesus. Didn’t he always choose people over principles?” Frankly, no, he didn’t. At least not the way we think of it. If we look closely at the ministry of Jesus, everything he did was for one purpose: to proclaim and demonstrate the good news: “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15 nasb). And as much as he ministered to people as an expression of that mission, he also disappointed people constantly. He left towns while there were still crowds waiting to be healed (Mark 1:38). After a miraculous feeding of one large crowd, he refused to feed another, and some of his disciples left him (John 6:30-66). He disappointed his mother and brothers who wanted him to return home (Mark 3:31-35), he initially refused to heal the Syrophoenician woman because his mission was to the “lost sheep of . . . Israel” (Matthew 15:21-28), and he constantly disappointed ministry leaders because he hung out with the wrong sorts (Mark 2:16-17) and did the wrong things, like healing on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17). Every parable Jesus taught that challenged the status quo (the prodigal son, the woman with the coin, the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to get the one sheep) did not describe his desire to care for and comfort people but, in effect, “I do this because God is like this” (Luke 15) or “I am doing these things because the kingdom of heaven is like this” (Matthew 13). Jesus’ mission was to reveal the presence and nature of God’s reign and rule. That was his purpose. That was his principle. When Jesus challenged the Pharisees, it wasn’t that they were concerned with religious principles and he was concerned with people, but that they had the wrong principles (Matthew 23:15). They valued human tradition over God’s own revelation about his character, his love and what he desires (Micah 6:8). Jesus… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.

For Friedman, failure of nerve is the tendency among leaders to “adapt to immaturity,” that is, to give in to the most anxious elements within themselves or within the community who are clamoring to preserve the status quo and undermining the adaptations and experiments necessary for moving forward and meeting the challenges in front of them.10

A Picture of Courage – My favorite old movie is Casablanca. It’s a classic film with Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid, where Bogie owns Rick’s Café Americain restaurant in Casablanca, Morocco. It takes place during World War II. Casablanca was then a French territory under German occupation. In one of my favorite scenes a group of Nazi soldiers drinking in Rick’s bar gather at the piano and start singing the German national anthem so loudly and without consideration of the number of French citizens sitting glumly around them.

First, leaders must act. Laszlo doesn’t cower at the sound of the German officers singing their songs with such bravado; he stands and heads toward the conflict. He takes decisive action and determines not to let this moment pass by. When the heat is on, leaders head to the kitchen.

Second, when sabotage or opposition appears, leaders continue to calmly stand on conviction in the face of it. Laszlo doesn’t rant. He doesn’t rave. He doesn’t start a fight or call the manager to complain. He goes to the band (very likely French citizens, all) and calls them to act with him. From the backstory of the movie, we know that Laszlo has already suffered for his convictions. He has already spent time in a prison camp. He is being denied exit visas that would take him and his wife to safety. The authorities have him on a watch list, and he is certainly in danger. But nevertheless, he continues to act on his convictions.

Third, leaders inspire. The root word of “courage” is the Latin word for “heart.”

Last, leaders don’t act alone. Yes, Laszlo is first to his feet and willing to stand alone. Leadership requires a missional conviction that takes a stand whether anyone follows or not. But for a leader to become a leader, someone must follow.

Sabotage is indeed the critical issue for lasting change. Friedman calls it “the key to the kingdom.”11 The key capacity: Does the leader have the capacity to hang in there when reactivity is at its highest? If a leader can develop the emotional stamina to stay true to principles when reactivity and sabotage are most evident, the adaptation process reverses itself and the followers begin to adapt to the leader.

The paradox of transformational leaders is that the very conviction that causes the leader to be willing to “disappoint your own followers at a rate they can absorb” is what ultimately—when handled well—wins “your own followers” to join you in your cause. If we as leaders start with conviction, stay connected, calm and on course in the face of opposition, then others around us have both the time and conditions to take on these very convictions as their own.

His name was Jean Baptiste, and because his mother would become the most famous member of the party next to Lewis and Clark themselves, “Pomp” as William Clark would nickname him, would be the youngest member of the Corps of Discovery. Pomp’s mother, Sacagawea, had been born Shoshone. Kidnapped by the Hidatsa when she was eleven or twelve, she was now at sixteen or seventeen years old, one of the wives of a French Canadian trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau. The captains had hired Charbonneau as a guide through the mountains and very quickly they saw the value of having a Shoshone woman to serve as interpreter. While, by all accounts, Lewis and Clark soon took a dim view of Charbonneau’s skills and value to the party, their opinion of—and need for—the teenage mother only grew. A month after she joined the party, Lewis mentions her “fortitude and resolution.” Two months into the journey, they worried about losing their translator when Sacagawea fell ill with a fever. When a canoe capsized, her quick-thinking saved the captains’ journals.1 When the captains needed horses to cross the Rockies, they turned to Sacagawea. She led them to the Shoshone, navigated the tense relationship at the first encounter, and when she discovered that she was translating between Lewis and her own long-lost brother (a most remarkable, tearful and near-miraculous reunion), she helped broker the deal that brought the Corps the critical horses they needed. When her tribe begged Sacagawea to stay, she instead insisted on going with the Corps and continuing the journey. Later, Clark would praise her as the “pilot” that took them through the country.

*REORIENTATION* Those who had neither power nor privilege in the Christendom world are the trustworthy guides and necessary leaders when we go off the map. They are not going into uncharted territory. They are at home.

For many Christians throughout the world today, the death of Christendom in the West simply means there are more brothers and sisters joining them at the margins, more shared experience within the greater church, more equality of leadership roles, more valuing of previously ignored voices and more opportunities for shared witness to a world that is profoundly in need of the gospel. In other words, the deep disorientation for those trained in Christendom can be helped by learning to look to and partner with those who have already been living in post-Christendom marginality.

Entering uncharted territory is like boarding a time machine set for the future. Lewis and Clark made decisions and functioned with a leadership style that was decades, even centuries before their time. A true partnership without one clear leader in “command.” A woman in leadership. A native American woman and a slave given a vote. A soldier released gladly from his duties in order to further knowledge. Could it be that God is taking our churches and organizations into uncharted territory in order for the church to become even more of a witness for the future of the world?

Sometime in the 2040s, the United States will become a true ethnic plurality. During that decade white Americans will no longer be the majority but one of several considerably large ethnic groups. Even more surprising is that those trends are actually higher in the church and especially in seminaries that provide the training for Christian leadership. While white, mainline and evangelical churches are in decline, racial-ethnic churches are growing and predicted to increase even more; seminary enrollments show increases only among nonwhite students.33 In other words, what will soon be true of America is already becoming true in our churches and seminaries.34

*REORIENTATION* Exploration teaches us to see the familiar through a new frame. Exploration brings differentiation. Exploration requires us to become expert experimenters. Exploration demands our best selves.

Differentiation enables the leader to stay with the group in the most difficult moments even when the group is blaming the leader for the difficulties. Exploration so challenges our illusions of competence, so triggers strong reactions of others and so often leads to enough conflict that it requires differentiation to psychologically endure as a leader.

Escaping the Expert Expectation – One of the signs of an organization that is resisting change is what Heifetz calls “the flight to authority.”22 Instead of accepting the adaptive challenge of learning and being transformed, the congregation, company or even family will decide to elect an expert to the do the work for them. The expert becomes the “technical solution,” which is actually “work avoidance” that creates the illusion that something is being done (“We brought in an expert to solve it!”) when in truth nothing is changing.

The internal and psychological stress of leading, exploring, learning and keeping an organization on mission is demanding. The fear of failure weighs heavy on all types of leaders, but perhaps even more so for pastors. When failing can mean losing your job (survival), community (acceptance), reputation (competence), even the possibility of failure can make us feel out of control.

The most tragic tale of the Corps of Discovery, however, is the suicide of Meriwether Lewis. Today, Meriwether Lewis would be treated for severe depression. Even then, it had been noted by Jefferson that Lewis tended to get melancholy and exacerbated it with alcohol. But during the expedition, neither the depression nor any signs of excessive alcohol abuse were ever noted by Clark or the other men.

*REORIENTATION* While on-the-map leaders are praised for being experts who have it all together, uncharted transformational leadership is absolutely dependent on the leader’s own ongoing exploration, learning and transformation.

But if I could meet with that group today, I would say something completely different. “If you want to keep your church from dying,” I would say, Focus on your own transformation together, not on your church dying. Focus on the mountains ahead, not the rivers behind. Focus on continually learning, not what you have already mastered.

Leaders thrust off the map in a rapidly changing world must trust that God is taking us into uncharted territory to extend the healing, justice and loving rule of God to all the world, and at the same time to transform us. The great discovery in following Christ into his mission is that we find ourselves being continually formed to be like Jesus. By doing the work of the kingdom, we become like the King. Leadership into uncharted territory requires and results in transformation of the whole organization, starting with the leaders.

Perhaps that is the most important thing to remember: God is taking us into uncharted territory to transform us. The great discovery in following Christ into his mission is that we find ourselves. And the beautiful paradox is that the more committed we are to our own transformation, the better leader we will be.

*Reorientation Recap* You were trained for a world that is disappearing. If you can adapt and adventure, you can thrive. But you must let go, learn as you go and keep going no matter what. In a Christendom world, speaking was leading. In a post-Christendom world, leading is multidimensional: apostolic, relational and adaptive. Before people will follow you off the map, gain the credibility that comes from demonstrating competence on the map. In uncharted territory, trust is as essential as the air we breathe. If trust is lost, the journey is over. When our old maps fail us, something within us dies. Replacing our paradigms is both deeply painful and absolutely critical. In a Christendom world, vision was seeing possibilities ahead and communicating excitement. In uncharted territory, vision is accurately seeing ourselves and defining reality. Leadership in the past meant coming up with solutions. Today leadership is learning how to ask new questions we have been too scared, too busy or too proud to ask. There is no greater gift that leadership can give a group of people on a mission than to have the clearest, most defined mission possible. When dealing with managing the present, win-win solutions are the goal. But when leading adaptive change, win-win is usually lose-lose. In uncharted territory visionary leadership is more likely going to come from a small Corps of Discovery while the board manages the ongoing health of the organization. In uncharted territory, where changes occur so rapidly, leaders cannot assume success until after they have weathered the sabotage that naturally follows. Those who had neither power nor privilege in the Christendom world are the trustworthy guides and necessary leaders when we go off the map. Those without power or privilege are not going into uncharted territory. They are at home. Exploration teaches us to see the familiar through a new frame and demands that we become our best selves. Uncharted leadership is absolutely dependent on the leader’s own ongoing exploration, learning and transformation.

Given all of this Lewis and Clark imagery, it is probably no surprise that I tend to think of myself as a “take the hill” kind of guy. I like a challenge. I resonate with the idea of being a leader of a mission. One of my colleagues is rather different than I am. Maybe he’s seen enough pain in lives and congregations to be skeptical of the kinds of “charges” leaders like me seem to relish. My colleague has been called to minister to a church in the middle of a retirement home. He tells me with a sigh of great satisfaction that he spends his days “hugging and kissing, teaching and ministering to some of the greatest saints you’ll ever meet.” Sometimes I am jealous of him, and I get the sense that sometimes he thinks he’s supposed to be more like me. I take the hill; he cares for grandma. And I think most of us assume that these are two different types of callings. It is common to hear talk about the differences between missional ministry and chaplaincy, between leading and caretaking. But I think those distinctions reveal both our own projections about ourselves and a convenient way to avoid what is true about all Christian organizations, especially churches: We all have hills to take, and all of our organizations are filled with grandmas. None of us in church leadership get the luxury of a single-focused call, no matter how important we think it is. None of us get to handpick our own Corps of Discovery with nothing but the best, bravest, faithful, loyal and mature. Every church and Christian organization I know is filled with people of varying degrees of competence, courage and capacity to embrace change.

We have to love the kindly grandmas and grandpas, cute little children, cranky aunts and uncles, overcommitted brothers and sisters, and sometimes irascible and often inspiring teenagers with whom God has called us to be spiritual family. Then we have to try to motivate that group to work, sacrifice, give and take on the responsibilities of furthering the mission of the kingdom as we are called to do it. We are a family that wants to sit together cozy by the campfire, but we have to get up and charge the hill (at potentially great cost). To me this is the most demanding aspect of being a Christian leader: The complexity of it all.

Christian leaders, especially, live in an emotional field filled with competing values.2 Remember our earlier discussion about the nature of a family business (chap. 12)? We love, care and value each other with a kind of unconditional love and, at the same time, we need to make decisions based on the conditions of what will further the spiritual “bottom line” of furthering our mission. We are all called to take the hill—with grandma.

The Senior Citizen Who Reoriented the Whole World Thomas Jefferson was sixty when he enlisted Meriwether Lewis for his grand expedition. And make no mistake, it was Jefferson’s idea. He had lived in France and was the young nation’s true Renaissance man. He would be the founder of the country’s first public university and as a young man had written most of the Declaration of Independence himself. But he had never traveled more than fifty miles west of the Shenandoah Valley. That lack of personal experience or the physical attributes necessary for such a journey did not slake his curiosity. His personal library contained more books about the region than any other library in the world. Monticello even faced west.5

Related Images:

Identifying with the Apostle Paul

Paul: Apostle of Christ (2018 Film)

Conflict in the church. A member caught in some sinful behavior. Church discipline. What does it mean to forgive? Is church discipline just a self-righteous way to hold a grudge? Or do we have a vendetta against the offender? What about taking the log out of your own eye before you try to remove the speck in the other person’s eye? What about letting the one who is without sin cast the first stone? What about, turn the other cheek? How many times must I forgive my brother, seven times? Jesus said not to judge others, so who are we to judge? He also said to forgive others or the Father won’t forgive you.

  1. In our local context, who are the ones giving the church and the name of Christ a bad name? Can we honestly say that the defenders of truth are giving Jesus a black eye? Or those who are acting ungodly? Are the deacons causing all this conflict by being unforgiving or are they the ones dealing with it? Do we have members masquerading as godly leaders? 
  2. Is the issue our lack of forgiveness of the unrepentant offender? Do we just let it go? Is that the most loving thing to do, just forgive, forget, and move on?
  3. Are we supposed to just accept deception and lying and ungodly behavior in our church leaders?

Why don’t we take a walk through the New Testament to discover what the apostle Paul did when he confronted sinful activity in the church…

What are Paul’s disciplinary steps in Corinth? What did he say about ungodliness? What is the church to do to maintain it’s witness and holiness?

  1. How do we explain 1 Corinthians 5:1-2? Did Paul just tell them to forgive the bad behavior? Are we supposed to rationalize this away as a misunderstanding? Do we just agree that nobody’s perfect? Do we quote Jesus and say, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” What other interpretation can there be for the phrase, “remove him from your midst”?
  2. I have already judged this offender (Wait a minute… Jesus said we are NOT to judge [Matthew 7:1]. I don’t sense a holier-than-thou attitude in Paul, we prefer the word “discernment”) – 1 Corinthians 5:3
  3. Deliver that person to Satan (this seems extreme but it is apparently in the realm of possibility) – 1 Corinthians 5:5
  4. Your boasting is not good (do we boast that we are not the leaven of which Paul speaks?) – 1 Corinthians 5:6
  5. A little leaven raises the whole lump (this is a reality that when we give an inch, the enemy will take much more ground. We must stand for the truth and godliness. One principle of relationships is that we become more like those people we pal around with, the same with leaven in dough) – 1 Corinthians 5:6
  6. Clean out the old leaven (we need the new leaven of godliness, positive peer pressure if you will) – 1 Corinthians 5:7
  7. Don’t associate with that immoral person (more than likely, that person will drag you down more than you will help that person to rise up, again, another principle of relationships) – 1 Corinthians 5:9
  8. Don’t even eat with this so-called brother (Paul is emphasizing the “so-called” brother, questioning whether that person has experienced regeneration) – 1 Corinthians 5:11
  9. We are to judge those inside the church (Jesus said NOT to judge, but this refers to dealing [Matthew 7:1] with internal matters inside the body) – 1 Corinthians 5:12
  10. What part of “remove the wicked man from among yourselves” is ambiguous? – 1 Corinthians 5:13
  11. Are there no wise men among you to settle disputes (godly people are called to act in the midst of conflict) – 1 Corinthians 6:5
  12. The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (while we love to side with forgiveness and the blessings of everlasting life, the consequences of ungodliness cannot be overlooked) – 1 Corinthians 6:9
  13. The goal of church discipline is godly sorrow that leads to repentance, and restoration (not to kick anyone out of the church) – 2 Corinthians 2:3-4
  14. “Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority.” (they did not just forgive and forget, they dealt with the sin in the camp) – 2 Corinthians 2:6
  15. Forgiveness follows repentance (we can personally let it go without repentance, but leaders need time to recover and rebuild trust) – 2 Corinthians 2:7-8
  16. We are not ignorant of the schemes of Satan (we know who is the real enemy here, and Satan desires to take down church leaders to discredit the gospel and the witness of the local church) – 2 Corinthians 2:11
  17. The gospel is veiled to those who are perishing, (they don’t see how their actions are wrong) – 2 Corinthians 4:3-4
  18. “This fight” may be momentary light affliction, producing an eternal weight of glory (so stand strong in the battle, don’t give in to the darkness) – 2 Corinthians 4:17
  19. In fear of the Lord, we persuade men to leave sinful activity – 2 Corinthians 5:11
  20. Cleanse yourself from all defilement (accountability is a great asset) – 2 Corinthians 7:1
  21. Paul did not regret his letter that brought godly sorrow, (the sinner must be addressed or nothing changes) – 2 Corinthians 7:8-10
  22. We are ready to punish all disobedience (“punish” appears to be quite a strong word) – 2 Corinthians 10:6
  23. Paul acknowledges there are Christian workers who are false apostles, deceitful workers, and even Satan disguises himself as an angel is light, and his servants disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (apparently, this is not a new strategy of the enemy) – 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
  24. Paul does not want to show up in Corinth only to mourn over those who have not repented of their evil, who were still acting like pagans (confrontation is for getting people back on track, moving toward repentance and restoration, it is not for condemnation) – 2 Corinthians 12:20-21
  25. Test yourselves to see if you are even of the faith (for those who so easily exhibit ungodly behavior, Paul’s challenge is to see if you are really saved) – 2 Corinthians 13:5

What about in Romans?

  1. Paul rails at those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness – Romans 1:18
  2. God and his truth are self-evident (primarily regarding the existence of God) – Romans 1:19
  3. People (primarily unbelievers) are without excuse and cannot say they have never seen God, didn’t know about him, or know that he is revealed through his creation – Romans 1:20
  4. Their foolish heart was darkened (the light of Christ was not shining. How can a member of God’s forever family walk in such darkness? Well, the short answer is that when someone is in the dark, they figuratively cannot see that they are wrong) – Romans 1:21
  5. Professing to be wise, they became fools (their arrogance was their downfall) – Romans 1:22
  6. They exchanged the truth for a lie (we know that the truth sets us free) – Romans 1:25
  7. God gave them over to a depraved mind (in our stubbornness, sometimes God lets us have our own way, and we suffer the consequences of our poor decisions and actions) – Romans 1:28
  8. They not only participated, they gave hearty approval to those who practice these things (don’t allow yourself to be dragged into the darkness with them) – Romans 1:32
  9. Because of stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself (Paul thought he was all about God’s work until he had the Damascus Road experience) – Romans 2:5
  10. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil (the issue may not be losing one’s salvation because perhaps, some church people have never experienced regeneration. Check out Matthew 7:21-23) – Romans 2:9
  11. The law is written on their hearts, their conscience bearing witness; we know what is right and true (perhaps this can only be stubbornness in not allowing God total control over our lives) – Romans 2:15
  12. Shall we continue to sin? (Paul’s answer is in 6:2, that we are to live as people who are redeemed, not like the world) – Romans 6:1-2
  13. We are to walk in newness of life (if we are saved, act like it and live like it, or at least are on the road of sanctification; we are to look and talk and act differently than the world) – Romans 6:4
  14. Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, or obey its lusts (exercise discernment, sin is a choice, this reminds me of James 4:8) – Romans 6:12
  15. The mind set of the flesh is death (in addition to “flesh,” we might include other things on which we set our minds, those things become idols in the true sense of the word) – Romans 8:6
  16. The mind set of the flesh is hostile toward God (or any idol that we create and becomes a barrier between God and the church, his people, his flock) – Romans 8:7
  17. Seeking to establish a righteousness of our own, we do not subject ourselves to the righteousness of God 9we discern proper behavior by reading the Bible. We cannot elevate our sanctuary furniture or leadership attire to the level of idolatry) – Romans 10:3
  18. Do not conform to the world’s standard (the Phillips translation: don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold) – Romans 12:1-2
  19. Resisting authority opposes the ordinances of God (the context here is governmental authority, but we are to also live as people under the authority of Christ and his earthly leaders) – Romans 13:2
  20. Let us behave properly as in the day (not living one way at church and another way in the world, on the golf course, or the marketplace) – Romans 13:13
  21. Keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to sound teaching, and turn away from them (this reminds me of Titus 3:10-11, these people are enemies of church unity) – Romans 16:17

How about in Galatia?

  1. Paul is amazed that they are deserting Jesus for some other gospel (much of the problem is Jesus plus something else, like becoming a Jew first. What we might do today is more subtle; saved by grace through faith, plus a pulpit, a choir, pastor in a suit, an American flag in the corner of the sanctuary, a hymnal in the pew – Galatians 1:6
  2. There are some people who are disturbing those in the church and distorting the gospel. Trouble-makers in the church is nothing new – Galatians 1:7
  3. Let that person be “accused” (Strong’s G331 a thing devoted to God without hope of being redeemed, and if an animal, to be slain; therefore a person or thing doomed to destruction, anathema, a (religious) ban or (concretely) excommunicated (thing or person):—accused, curse. In Romans 9:3 (this is equivalent to doomed and so separated from Christ) – Galatians 1:8
  4. By doing the right thing, am I seeking the favor of men or of God? (Peter and John dealt with this before in Acts 4:19-21) – Galatians 1:10
  5. Even Paul had to put up with those who would defame his character and accuse him of lying – Galatians 1:20
  6. False brethren sneaked in to spy out our behavior, but we did not yield to them – Galatians 2:4-5
  7. Paul opposed Peter to his face when he did wrong – Galatians 2:11
  8. The rest of the Jews joined in their hypocrisy (we cannot blindly follow a leader without exercising discernment) – Galatians 2:13
  9. Paul saw they were not straightforward about the truth (of the gospel, some believers can be deceptive) – Galatians 2:14
  10. You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched (deceived) you? (it’s like Paul is telling them that they should know better) – Galatians 3:1
  11. Paul fears for them, that perhaps he has labored in vain – Galatians 4:11
  12. Have I therefore become your enemy by telling you the truth? – Galatians 4:16
  13. Paul wished he could change his tone in their presence, but adds he is perplexed about them – Galatians 4:20
  14. Keep standing firm and don’t give in to compromise – Galatians 5:1
  15. The one who is disturbing you shall bear his judgment – Galatians 5:10
  16. Would those who are troubling you mutilate themselves (the topic at the moment was circumcision) – Galatians 5:12
  17. If you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another (read that verse again) – Galatians 5:15
  18. The deeds of the flesh are evident (immorality, impurity, sensuality, anger, disputes, dissensions, factions) and are not to be tolerated – Galatians 5:19-20
  19. Those who are spiritual are to intervene when someone is caught in sin – Galatians 6:1
  20. Whatever a man sows, he will reap (actions have consequences) – Galatians 6:7
  21. As Paul and Barnabas spoke the truth, devout women of prominence and leading men of the city instigated a persecution against them – Acts 13:50
  22. Jews who were disobedient stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against Paul and Barnabas – Acts 14:2
  23. The multitude of the city was divided between the Jews and the apostles (apparently, factions are nothing new) – Acts 14:4
  24. In Lystra, they were accused of being gods, and Paul and Barnabas tore their clothing and had to set them straight (we must confront false teaching and false statements) – Acts 14:12, 14-15
  25. In Antioch, they appointed elders in every church (leaders to protect and strengthen the flock, and further the mission of the church) – Acts 14:23
  26. in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas had such a sharp disagreement, they parted ways – Acts 15:38-40
  27. in Galatia, Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos teaching errors, and they took him aside to explain the way of God more accurately – Acts 18:26

How about in Ephesus?

  1. Change your behavior, walk in a manner worthy of the calling (this is not optional) – Ephesians 4:1
  2. Be diligent to preserve the unity of the spirit (unity cannot be present when the church has divisive leaders usurping authority and control) – Ephesians 4:3
  3. No longer walk as the Gentiles walk (as believers, we have a new character, desiring to conform to the image of Christ) – Ephesians 4:17
  4. Lost people walk in darkened understanding, excluded from the life of God (as children of the light, we cannot be content to walk in darkness) – Ephesians 4:18
  5. Paul expects better behavior since we are saved, you did not learn Christ this way, if indeed you even know him (as believers, we should know better) – Ephesians 4:20-21
  6. Lay aside all falsehood and speak truth (deception has no place in the congregation) – Ephesians 4:25
  7. Let no unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth (as believers, our speech is different than those in the culture around us) – Ephesians 4:29
  8. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God (this is the result of believers behaving badly and the church gets a black eye from the culture, we are supposed to be different) – Ephesians 4:30
  9. Forgive one another (but that comes after one has repented; never exercising retaliation or vengeance) – Ephesians 4:32
  10. Do not allow impurity or immorality among you (as believers, we can’t just let sinning go on unchallenged) – Ephesians 5:3
  11. Don’t let others deceive you with empty words (many people talk a good game but believers embrace the truth) – Ephesians 5:6
  12. You are of the light, so walk like you’re children of light (live what you say you believe) – Ephesians 5:8
  13. It is disgraceful to even speak of the things done in secret, but need to be exposed to the light (above reproach is not being perfect, but we will not bring shame on the Lord or his church) – Ephesians 5:12-13
  14. Be careful to walk as wise men (let’s not embrace the opposite) – Ephesians 5:15
  15. Our struggle is with the forces of evil more than the other person (the enemy seeks to drag us down, taking the church’s credibility with him) – Ephesians 6:12
  16. The seven sons of Sceva are confronted by an evil spirit, knowing these men were not authentic followers of Jesus (I recognize Jesus and I know about Paul, but who are you?) – Acts 19:15-16
  17. Paul challenged the Ephesians elders to be on guard for the flock (elders or leaders of the congregation have a duty to protect the flock from ungodly influences) – Acts 20:28
  18. Paul tells them that wolves will come in to lead people astray (these wolves came into the congregation and deceived the people, they looked much like the rest of us but were in fact, wolves) – Acts 20:29
  19. Paul tells them men from among themselves will arise, speak perverse things, and drawing others away (our speech can draw people away from the gospel message or the church) – Acts 20:30
  20. Paul did not cease day and night to admonish them (this sounds like a lot of admonishment by Paul) – Acts 20:31

How about in Philippi?

  1. We must help fellow believers progress in sanctification, in being sincere and blameless at the coming of Christ – Philippians 1:10
  2. We are to be filled with the fruit of righteousness – Philippians 1:11
  3. Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ – Philippians 1:27
  4. Don’t be alarmed at those who oppose you, which is a sign of destruction for them – Philippians 1:28
  5. You should prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation – Philippians 2:15
  6. Beware of the dogs and evil workers with false theology – Philippians 3:2
  7. We press on toward the high calling of Christ – Philippians 3:12, 14
  8. Have this attitude in you, and if you don’t, may God reveal that to you – Philippians 3:15
  9. Those who set their minds on earthly things are enemies of the cross of Christ – Philippians 3:18
  10. The things you have learned, seen, heard, and received, practice these things – Philippians 4:9
  11. Paul confronted and rebuked the slave-girl who was interfering with their ministry and was annoying them – Acts 16:18

How about in Colossi?

  1. Constantly bearing fruit and increasing – Colossians 1:6
  2. Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing him in all respects – Colossians 1:10
  3. We are delivered from darkness – Colossians 1:13
  4. We are redeemed so we might be holy and blameless and beyond reproach – Colossians 1:22
  5. Paul says to admonish every man and teach every man that he may be presented complete in Christ – Colossians 1:28
  6. Paul wants no one to delude the church with persuasive arguments – Colossians 2:4
  7. Set your mind on things above – Colossians 3:2
  8. Your body must be dead to sin or expect the wrath of God – Colossians 3:5
  9. Don’t lie to one another – Colossians 3:9
  10. Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you – Colossians 3:16
  11. Whatever you do in word and deed, let it be for the Lord Jesus – Colossians 3:17
  12. He who does wrong will receive the consequences of that wrong – Colossians 3:25
  13. Let your speech always be with grace – Colossians 4:6

How about in Thessalonica?

  1. Our gospel did not come in word only but in power, with full conviction, proving what kind of men we are – 1 Thessalonians 1:5 – Our walk must match our talk or our credibility and reputation and witness suffers.
  2. You became imitators of us and of the Lord – 1 Thessalonians 1:6 – Paul expects behavior to be different than when we were in the world.
  3. You all became an example to all the believers – 1 Thessalonians 1:7 – Can people look at you and declare that you are their example to one walking closely with the Lord?
  4. We imparted not only the gospel but our own lives as well – 1 Thessalonians 2:8 – We are not all about theology and Bible study without our lives giving evidence that we are who we claim to be.
  5. We behaved devoutly, uprightly, and blamelessly before you – 1 Thessalonians 2:10 – This is the essence of being above reproach.
  6. Walk in a manner worthy of the God who called you – 1 Thessalonians 2:12 – When God calls us to be perfect as He is perfect, conforming to the image of Christ has to be our lifelong goal.
  7. Paul wants to present these believers holy and blameless to the Lord – 1 Thessalonians 3:13 – The longer we are in Christ, the less the world will be seen in our lives.
  8. God’s will is your sanctification, abstaining from sexual immorality – 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7 – Sanctification is that churchy word that means becoming more like Jesus over a lifetime.
  9. If we continue in worldly behavior, we are rejecting the God who gave us the Spirit – 1 Thessalonians 4:8 – God means business when it comes to our sinful activity.
  10. Protect your heart and mind for when Christ returns – 1 Thessalonians 5:8 – We don’t just fall into sin. It enters through our heart and mind, so guard them both.
  11. Paul urges that we admonish the unruly – 1 Thessalonians 5:14 – Yes we forgive, but this command in instructs us to not allow poor behavior in the church.
  12. Examine everything carefully and hold onto what is good – 1 Thessalonians 5:21 – Let the Spirit of God guide you in the truth through examination and discernment.
  13. Let no one deceive you, the apostasy will come first – 2 Thessalonians 2:3 – This is true for today. Don’t believe all that you hear (even in the church) since Paul tells us that as the end time comes, people will leave their first love and listen to deceptive voices.
  14. God will send a deluding influence so they might believe that which is false – 2 Thessalonians 2:11 – How else can believers choose to believe and pass on lies over the truth?
  15. God chose you for sanctification – 2 Thessalonians 2:13 – Believers simply cannot act like the world around us, we are called to sanctification, acting like Jesus himself.
  16. Stand firm in what you have been taught – 2 Thessalonians 2:15
  17. Keep aloof from any brother who leads an unruly life – 2 Thessalonians 3:6 – Does this actually say to stay away from those who are behaving in an ungodly manner?
  18. You know that you are to follow Paul’s example, who did not behave undisciplined – 2 Thessalonians 3:7 – We must follow the example of our godly leaders and behave in a disciplined manner.
  19. If anyone does not obey our instruction, take special note of that person, and do not associate with him, so that he may be put to shame – 2 Thessalonians 3:14 – What part of “do not associate with him” is acting in unforgiveness, and therefore considered ungodly or unchristian behavior?
  20. Yet do not regard him as an enemy but admonish him as a brother – 2 Thessalonians 3:15 – We always pray that such drastic actions will lead to godly sorrow for the offender, which leads to repentance and restoration, and eventually reconciliation.

Paul addresses Timothy and Titus.

  1. Keep the faith with a good conscience – 1 Timothy 1:19 – the Holy Spirit will tell us when we are missing the mark, and we must listen, unless our conscience is seared.
  2. Some believers have rejected and shipwrecked their faith – 1 Timothy 1:19 – that’s right, some BELIEVERS have shipwrecked their faith.
  3. Paul names two guys that he delivered over to Satan – 1 Timothy 1:20 – this appears to be somewhat extreme, does it not? At what point is this the course of action?
  4. Paul must have again been accused of lying – 1 Timothy 2:7 – since the devil/Satan is the father of lies, even Paul was accused of lying, so those of us standing up for truth are in good company.
  5. Paul gives a standard of conduct and qualities for the church leader – 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (in particular, be above reproach and be of good reputation; don’t bring shame to the Lord or on his church).
  6. Paul talks about deacons (to have a clear conscience, be beyond reproach, first tested, dignified, have a high standing in the faith) – 1 Timothy 3:8-13 – this is something we all ought to strive for.
  7. Some will even fall away from the faith – 1 Timothy 4:1 – at what point does a believer walk away from the faith? I’ve heard it said, “the faith that fizzles at the finish was faulty at the first.”
  8. Some will have a seared conscience – 1 Timothy 4:2 – this may happen when sin does not bother us as it once did.
  9. Godliness is always profitable – 1 Timothy 4:8 – living out what we say we believe is always a good thing!
  10. Accusations against a leader should have 2 or 3 witnesses – 1 Timothy 5:19 – some would like to slander a leader but Paul emphasizes two or three witnesses, perhaps to inhibit those with an ax to grind, and choose to make up stuff (like in Nehemiah 6:8).
  11. The sins of some men are quite evident and are not concealed – 1 Timothy 5:24-25 – most believers can see the deception of a few when confronted with the truth.
  12. Godliness (plus contentment) is a means of great gain – 1 Timothy 6:6 – those who cause relational conflict are not content nor behaving in godliness. Let’s strive for these two qualities.
  13. Serve God with a clear conscience – 2 Timothy 1:3 – When you know God’s call on your life, when you know you are listening to the Lord Jesus, when you walk in obedience using the principles of the shared mission to which God has called his church, we can serve the Lord with a clear conscience.
  14. No soldier entangles himself in the affairs of the world – 2 Timothy 2:4 – when we are all about the mission, the enemy will throw out all sorts of distractions and chaos to sideline the effectiveness of the church.
  15. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed – 2 Timothy 2:15 – diligence means that we have to work toward being effective in ministry. Godliness does not come naturally, but comes supernaturally.
  16. The walk of some men will spread like gangrene – 2 Timothy 2:17 – we know that unchecked disease spreads. Poison will move from the snake bite and eventually damage or even destroy the limb, or even take the person’s life.
  17. The Lord knows those who are his – 2 Timothy 2:19 – we might claim to belong to God but God knows those who are his. One of the scariest verses in the Bible may be Matthew 7:21-23. MANY, on that day…
  18. Flee from youthful lusts – 2 Timothy 2:22 – when godlessness comes calling, don’t flirt with it, run away from it.
  19. Paul desires men to come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil – 2 Timothy 2:26 – we trust that one day those who stir up conflict will come to their senses, repent, and seek reconciliation and restoration. That’s what godly sorrow is meant to do.
  20. In the last days, Paul describe those in the church, concluding that they hold on to a form of godliness yet deny its power (so avoid such men as these) – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 – how true is this statement in the world and also in the church. The Pharisees had a form of godliness but were actually working against Jesus and his mission.
  21. Some men will always be learning but do not come to the knowledge of the truth – 2 Timothy 3:7 – knowledge does not always lead to spiritual maturity; some will still not understand the truth even when they have experienced decades of Sunday School attendance.
  22. Timothy followed Paul’s teaching and conduct – 2 Timothy 3:10 – godly behavior is to be imitated; ungodly behavior must be avoided.
  23. Paul tells them that there are some in the church who profess to know God but their deeds deny him, so they are disobedient and detestable and worthless – Titus 1:16 – Lord Jesus, let this not be us, but, since Paul had to write this to Titus, there is a real possibility that any of us might also fall into this trap.
  24. Always show yourself to be an example of good deeds – Titus 2:7 – live out what you say you believe, let your walk match your talk.
  25. Reject a man who causes factions, after a first and second warning – Titus 3:10-11 (for such a man is perverted and sinning, condemning himself). Paul is talking about a person who is divisive and stirs up conflict.
  26. Paul in Cyprus: Confrontation with Elymas the magician – “You are full of deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness” – Acts 13:10 – Paul was not afraid to confront deception and fraud, speaking truth that needed to be heard.

Paul in Jerusalem:

  1. Don’t make it hard for people who are turning to God (like enforcing the traditions of men onto Gentile converts, just abstaining from meat sacrificed to idols, the blood of animals, and engaging in fornication) – Acts 15:19
  2. As believers, we must repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance – Acts 26:20
  3. Paul’s message was not popular but he told Festus that he spoke words of sober truth – Acts 26:25

So, in summary, we forgive personally, because that is what Christians do; but to hold someone accountable for their actions does not mean there is some self-righteous vendetta present. When the sin is against the body of Christ, sinful actions have accountability. We don’t just turn the other cheek, forgive and forget, or keep that person in a position of leadership. We cannot condone that sort of behavior in the church. 

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Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin

This picture is on display in Room 5 at our church. It comes from the Book of Daniel. As the drunken king Belshazzar was at a feast, God sent him a sign: a human hand appeared, floating near the lampstand and writing four words in the plaster of the wall: “Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin.” Then, the hand disappeared (Daniel 5:5, 25).

The king paled and was extremely frightened; he called his wise men and astrologers and enchanters to tell him what the writing meant, but none of the wise men of Babylon could interpret the words.

Daniel was eventually brought before the king and Daniel rebuked Belshazzar’s pride: although the king knew the story of how God humbled his grandfather, he did not humble himself. Instead, he dishonored God by drinking from the sacred items of the temple (Daniel 5:22–23).

Then, Daniel interpreted the words on the wall. Mene means “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end.” Tekel means “you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.” Parsin means “your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:24-28).

Will you pray this prayer over King’s Grant? Lord Jesus, may this not be prophetic and applied to King’s Grant. Pray that our days are not numbered. Pray that God is not finished with us yet. Pray that we can do honest self-reflection to see where we are found wanting and deficient. Pray that God’s kingdom here will not be divided. Father, convict us toward repentance and help us to walk in obedience; exhibiting behavior, attitudes, and speech that are worthy of the God we serve.

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Identifying with the Weeping Prophet

Jeremiah the prophet lived in the final days of the collapse and deportation of the southern kingdom, the nation of Judah. He was, in all likelihood, the last prophet that God sent to preach to the southern kingdom. The two tribes of the southern kingdom were Judah and Benjamin. God had repeatedly warned Israel to stop their idolatrous behavior, but they would not listen, so He tore the 12 tribes apart, sending the 10 northern tribes into captivity at the hands of the Assyrians, in 722 BC. Then God sent Jeremiah to give Judah the last warning before He cast them out of the Promised Land, sending them into the Babylonian captivity, in 587 BC. Jeremiah was called to tell Judah that, because of their unrepentant sin, God had turned against them and was now prepared to remove them from the land He gave to Abraham.

No doubt Jeremiah stressed over the fate of his people, and he begged them to listen. He is known as “the weeping prophet,” because he cried tears of sadness, not only because he knew what was about to happen, but because, no matter how hard he tried, the people would not listen. Furthermore, he found no human comfort. God had forbidden him to marry or have children (Jeremiah 16:2). His friends even turned their backs on him. God knew this was best course for Jeremiah, because He went on to tell him about the horrible conditions that would arrive in a short time, with babies, children, and adults dying “grievous” deaths, their bodies unable to even be buried, and their flesh devoured by the birds (Jeremiah 16:3-4).

Obviously, the people of Israel had become so hardened by the numbing effects of sin that they no longer believed God, nor did they fear Him. Jeremiah preached for 40 years, and not once did he see any real success in changing or softening the hearts and minds of his stubborn, idolatrous people. The other prophets of Israel had witnessed some successes, at least for a little while, but not Jeremiah. He was speaking to a brick wall; however, his words were not wasted. They were pearls being cast before swine (Matthew 7:6), so in a sense, his words were convicting every person who heard them and they refused to heed the warning.

Jeremiah tried to make the people understand their problem was a lack of belief, trust, and faith in God,. They had an absence of fear that caused the people to take God for granted. They stopped putting God first and had replaced Him with false gods, those that would not make them feel guilty or convict them of sin. God had delivered His people from bondage in Egypt, had performed miracles before them, and had even parted the waters of the sea for them. In spite of all these displays of God’s power, they returned to the false practices they had learned in Egypt, even making vows to the false “queen of heaven,” along with performing the other rites and rituals that were part of the Egyptian culture and religion. God finally turned them over to their idolatry, saying, “Go ahead, then; do what you promised! Keep your vows!” (Jeremiah 44:25).

Jeremiah became discouraged. He sank into a deep depression. This can happen to us when we sense our efforts are not making a difference and time is fleeting. Jeremiah was emotionally spent, even to the point of doubting God (Jeremiah 15:18), but God was not done with him. Jeremiah 15:19 records a lesson for each believer to remember in those times when he feels alone, useless, and discouraged and whose faith is wavering: “Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them.’” God was saying to Jeremiah, come back to Me, and I will restore to you the joy of your salvation. These are similar to the words penned by David when he repented of his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-12:15, Psalm 51:12).

What we learn from the life of Jeremiah is the comfort of knowing that, just like every believer, even great prophets of God can experience rejection, depression, and discouragement in their walk with the Lord. This is a normal part of growing spiritually, because our sinful nature fights against our new nature, that which is born of the Spirit of God, according to Galatians 5:17: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” But, just as Jeremiah found, we can know that the faithfulness of our God is infinite; even when we are unfaithful to Him, He remains steadfast (2 Timothy 2:13).

Jeremiah was given the task of delivering an unpopular, convicting message to Judah, one that caused him great mental anguish, as well as making him despised in the eyes of his people. God says that His truth sounds like “foolishness” to those who are lost, but to believers it is the very words of life (1 Corinthians 1:18). He also says that the time will come when people will not tolerate the truth (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Those in Judah in Jeremiah’s day did not want to hear what he had to say, and his constant warning of judgment annoyed them. This is true of the world today, as believers who are following God’s instructions are warning the lost and dying world of impending judgment (Revelation 3:10). Even though most are not listening, we must persevere in proclaiming truth in order to rescue some from the terrible judgment that will inevitably come.

So, Here is a Little Personal Context:

I’ve been at my church for 15 years. In 2007, the mission statement of the church was, “Knowing Christ and Making Him Known,” which was a worthy goal of discipleship that leads followers of Jesus to engage a lost and dying world with the claims of Christ. As disciples, our mission is to reach those who are far from God, share the light and life that Jesus offers, and bring them into the local family of God. The church literally exists for those who are not yet members. Since we have this everlasting life, our destiny is secured, and we want to bring others into the family of faith. Our mission is to do all we can to populate heaven. While we share the gospel with those we know that do not know Christ, we gather as a church to worship and praise our Lord and Savior, and to be equipped for the task that is set before us (Ephesians 4:11-13), which is to help fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and live out the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40). Anything short of that, we become just another social organization that has membership, dues, and social events (like the Tennis and Racquet Club or the YMCA).

In 2017, under the leadership of a new lead pastor, we focused our mission on three key values: community, faith, and love. Here is the statement that was developed, “We exist as a community of faith to extend the love of Christ and His Kingdom in Virginia Beach and to the world.” [ Read More Here ] The three step process included 1) Member (community: guiding people to become members of the family of God and this local church), 2) Minister (faith: stepping up to discover our giftedness and find a place of service to Jesus and people in the church and the community), 3) Living on Mission (Love: this value compels us to seek daily how to be the hands and feet of Jesus, focusing on those who are not yet members of God’s forever family).

Somewhere along the way, church has become more about “us” than it is about those who are not yet members. It’s about what I want, and what I want in a worship service, like hymns out of the hymnbook from 1975, a choir in the loft, wearing robes, with a communion table up front, the altar Bible on display, a deacon reading the Bible and praying each week, with preaching from behind a pulpit, but no longer than 18-20 minutes, and never forget about the flag of the United States of America on the stage and proper attire of coat and tie for leaders (staff, deacons, ushers). While we liked it this way in 1975, I dare say that today’s generation will not want to get involved here when our service and surroundings are so old school. It is as if a vocal few in this congregation are telling our local community, “you’re welcome here, but you need to enjoy old school services like us. Don’t come in here with your new ideas for reaching people and changing anything.” It’s like courting a potential spouse yet maintaining an adversarial relationship. Who wants to get involved with that?

Enter into these hallways of peace and fellowship… division, chaos and plotting for control, “to take back our church.” Somewhere along my 15 years, leadership has become an enemy to subdue or overthrow. [ By the way, three of our six ministerial staff members left us in 2022 (contemporary worship leader, lead pastor, and then pastor of worship), at some point, we all ask ourselves, “Why am I here and what difference does it make?” For me, I was called by God in 2007 to be here, and he has not yet released me from that calling. ]

The challenge we have before us is all about hearing God’s voice and recognizing God’s leadership in the life of our church. Our goal is to speak truth in the midst of misinformation and even disinformation and sabotage. I sense we can have a teaching lesson on each of these points, but I give only an initial observation, noting what happened in Jeremiah’s day and how there is a modern parallel in the American church.

Enter the Example of the Weeping Prophet, Jeremiah.

  • Jeremiah was called by God (Jeremiah 1:4-8) and never sensed a release from that calling. God had a plan from his very beginning, even though Jeremiah was a teenager at the time, and God let him know this was not going to be easy.
  • Jeremiah had a difficult message to tell the people (Jeremiah 2:11-13, 26, 32, 35, 37, 3:20, 25, 4:22, 5:2-3, 23, 26, 31, 6:8, 21, 9:13-16, 11:9-11, 11:22-23). It’s not easy to tell people that they have elevated their personal preferences into a place of idolatry. People don’t want to hear that message and will fight until the very end that their vision of church is all about God and not all about themselves. I have discovered when you try to remove their idols, they attack your character and motivation.
  • Jeremiah offers a word of hope (Jeremiah 3:12-15, 4:14, 7:23, 16:15, 24:5-7, 30:16-17, 31:8-9, 17, 23, 31:38-40, 33:1-3, 6-7). We envision a bright future for our church, one that is multi-generational, together in fellowship, serving together, growing into the image of Jesus together. To be a place of peace, acceptance, safety, and healing. Right now, there is fighting and factions that will drive good seekers away and young believers are now questioning what they have gotten into. Some actually believe that we’re trying to split the church, which was never on our to-do list.
  • Jeremiah dealt with those who did not tell the truth (Jeremiah 5:12-13, 9:8-9). We like to think the best of one another and cannot believe that one of our own would intentionally deceive others, but when someone has an agenda, kindness and civility often go out the window. As I have seen in politics, when the other side declares that you are something (racist, misogynistic, xenophobic), they are generally masking their own characteristics. Our local opposition claims the church staff’s next tactic is to engage in manipulation through deception and their narcissistic leader claims that he is the last obstacle to the staff’s hostile takeover of the church.
  • Jeremiah has people who refused to listen (Jeremiah 6:16-19, 7:24-27). God’s people refuse to listen to one another when they have their own agenda and demands. There have been plenty of conversations revealing little common ground. The USA has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists or considering their demands. What I have noticed over this past year, it doesn’t matter how much concession comes church leadership, it is still not enough, so why bother? If we can get the parties back to the table to have more conversation…
    1. On a side issue, let’s look at three examples in the life of Jesus. When Jesus told the truth to the rich young ruler and he looked over the options, the man chose to walk away. Jesus did not run after him to tell him he would lower the bar or make it easier for him. He didn’t give in to demands, Jesus told the truth and allowed the man to exercise his free will and walk away (Luke 18:18-27).
    2. How about the story of the invitation to the wedding feast? The feast was ready, invitations were sent, and the story is filled with people making excuses about why they could not come. So, since those invited people proved to be unworthy, the invitation went out to anybody who would come in (Matthew 22:1-10). Some grumblers even refuse to enter the sanctuary if a certain preacher has been invited for that week. Imagine for a moment our Savior looking at that behavior and saying, “I died on the cross for you and you can’t enter that sanctuary and worship me?”
    3. Then there is the older brother in the story of the prodigal son. He was disgruntled over the fact that he was at home the whole time (like a long-time church member) and there was such a fuss made over this sinner son who came back (reaching lost people for Jesus). While the father talked to that older son, we have no indication that the older son ever came in to the celebration (Luke 15:25-32).
  • Jeremiah had a word against the temple of the Lord (Jeremiah 7:2-5, 8, 11, 14-16, 30). The people in Jeremiah’s time were so far from God yet they still ran to the temple for God’s blessing. I suppose their hypocrisy was an insult to the living God. Perhaps they sought the gift more than the Giver. Perhaps they asked God to move over just a little bit so they can erect an idol that brought security, comfort, and familiarity.
  • Jeremiah spoke against their apostasy and lies and shame (Jeremiah (8:5, 8, 12, 13:22). I sense that God desires godly men and women speak up and defend the truth rather than allow the lies and misinformation to consume the hearts and minds of the congregation. Our focus has been on admonishing the unruly (1 Thessalonians 5:14) more than evangelism and discipleship.
  • Jeremiah spoke against their hypocrisy (Jeremiah 9:25, see Jeremiah 4:4). The prophet writes about the Jews who are behaving (or in reality), are not Jews. They say that they’re God’s people yet they have little to do with God and do not obey his commands.
  • Jeremiah wept for his people (Jeremiah 8:18, 9:1, 11:14, 14:11-12, 16:2-4, 31:16). I have not yet wept over my situation, but I have wept over the reputation of the church. When Christian people behave like non-christian people, the name of Jesus is diminished rather than magnified. People may give up on the church because of what they have experienced here. May all of us weep over souls who have been and continue to be damaged and abused by what we are experiencing in the congregation.
  • Jeremiah spoke again the idols of the people (Jeremiah 10:3-5, 8). Idols back in the day were these wooden and adorned statues set up to receive worship, which was a big no-no in God’s economy. The first two of the “big ten” commandments deal with having no other gods before YHWY and making an image of him. But today, idols come in all forms and enter into our hearts subtly. None are inherently bad, but we will take a good thing and elevate it to the status of idolatry. Try these on for size: it’s not really a worship service without… a pulpit, choir, robes, communion table, double passing of the communion trays, a deacon reading Scripture, leaders all wearing coats and ties, the large altar Bible up front, and the biggest push-back in worship so far has been the American flag standing in the corner. An idol is anything that comes between you and God. When someone says they will not enter the sanctuary unless the flags are in their regular place, that is a spiritual problem worthy of the prophet Jeremiah.
  • Jeremiah had people plotting against him and should be put to shame (Jeremiah 11:18-19, 21, 17:18, 18:18, 23). There is no place in the church for back-room, deals, meetings, and plots to overthrow it’s leadership. When God’s anointed are following God’s leadership and serving above reproach, with untarnished integrity, shame on those who stir up chaos and dissension over personal preferences that have risen to the level of unreasonable.
  • Jeremiah sets himself up as a righteous sufferer (Jeremiah 12:3) in contrast to the prosperous wicked (Jeremiah 12:1). The question is asked, “why we would stay in a situation that is so hostile?” While we at times question the ease and the prosperity of the wicked and the way of the righteous is often paved with adversity, I’m reminded that Jesus promised hardship in this life. The world will hate you (John 15:18), but we never expected this behavior from the church. Then, I have to come back to Jesus. His biggest critics, and those instrumental in his death, were “church leaders.” Why would I be exempt from hardship when my Lord went through so much for me?
  • Jeremiah has to tell the people that God is angry with their going backward (Jeremiah 15:6). God asked the question, “why have you forsaken Me? You keep looking backwards.” I sense this is at the heart of our situation, some vocal few in our congregation prefer worship to resemble 1975 and reject anything that might be considered modern. We like it the way we like it, and anyone coming here must understand that while they are welcome here, they need to act, dress, and worship the way we like it. New people coming in here have no right to change things; they must adapt to what we prefer here. After all, we are the ones paying the bills around here (that my friend is another topic all together).
  • Jeremiah endured reproach from rebellious people (Jeremiah 15:15). When God’s shepherds seek to lead God’s people, one might expect sheep to follow their shepherd. Rebellion against the God-ordained leader goes all the way back to Moses. It is shameful to be treated with such disrespect, but we endure reproach because of God’s call on our live (1 Peter 5:1-3, Hebrews 13:17).
  • Jeremiah took refuge in and rejoiced in God’s Word (Jeremiah 15:16). When things are at their worst, then God comes through with encouragement in his Word. God speaks truth through his Word and helps us through the adversity of life, even the adversity of ministry.
  • Jeremiah tells the people God is chastising the older generation who should know better (Jeremiah 16:11-12). This passage is condemning because of all the people present, the older ones should now better because they experienced God’s miracles, power, and presence through the stories of the Exodus. Then, they learned the lessons of the rebellious northern and southern kingdoms, seeing how the nations had forsaken the Lord and gone their own way. It should have been a warning to them about turning away from the Lord; they should have known better than end up here. We are similarly walking in the evil and stubbornness of our own hearts.
  • Jeremiah tells the people God has withdrawn his peace from them and he is not to console them (Jeremiah 16:5, 22:10). These verses are so sad, that these should not be consoled, we assume because they are getting what they deserve. Thank God for his grace, but this is a warning to heed.
  • Jeremiah says the heart (our emotion) is desperately wicked and cannot be trusted, so we must trust the Lord (Jeremiah 17:9-10). The worst advice anyone can give someone is to follow their heart. The heart tells you what you are doing is right when it very well might be fighting against God’s plan and design.
  • Jeremiah learns a lesson about God while at the potter’s house (Jeremiah 18:4-6). When the potter smashes the clay and starts over, the Creator of the universe can do the same with us. We are not too big to fail. God can remove his glory and watch us slowly die or start something new in another location.
  • Jeremiah is persecuted by the religious leaders (Jeremiah 20:1-2, 6, 26:7-8, 11) and imprisoned (Jeremiah 37:13-16) and held in a muddy cistern (Jeremiah 38:4-6). Pray that lawsuits will not be filed.
  • Jeremiah cries out and complains to God (Jeremiah 20:7-8) and wishes he was never born (Jeremiah 20:14-15). We all get depressed at times but there comes a point when we turn loose and trust God even more. Jesus tells us that he has overcome the world so we must take courage (John 16:33).
  • Jeremiah recognizes he cannot stop doing what God has called him to do (Jeremiah 20:9-10). If God has not yet released his servant from his calling and ministry, it is best to stay there and not run away. If God is moving someone to another ministry, he will make that clear at the right time. Moving TO something good is very different than moving AWAY from something bad.
  • Jeremiah warns that this house is going to fall (Jeremiah 22:5). If the vocal minority want worship to resemble 1975, this very well may be the preferred future they are embracing. Young families will visit and sense the church is too old school and not return. Existing young families will not feel accepted and will eventually find another church that wants them to be a part of their congregation. Then, with no young people coming into the church, older members will die off one-by-one over the next 10-15 years, until they come to the realization that they need to either adapt to bring in new members or slowly die and close the doors. How sad. This was not the vision of the founders or pastor Jerry. At the start, those planting this church did everything they could to reach people with the gospel. They made changes, sacrificed, adjusted their methods to reach more people, and they grew this church for the kingdom of God. Then somewhere along the way, we got it “just like we like it” and have rebelled and complained at changes that could bring in new families.
  • Jeremiah reminds them that God spoke to them in their prosperity but they had rejected him, so God will sweep away all of their shepherds (Jeremiah 22:21-22), and you will be ashamed and humiliated because of your wickedness. This church has had two recent pastors who challenged us to get out of our comfort zones and be all about the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Both of those shepherds have moved on lead people and organizations who want to do great things for the kingdom of God.
  • Jeremiah says that God will gather a remnant and provide good shepherds over them (Jeremiah 23:3-4). I have always been fascinated with the concept of the remnant. When we hear about 20 percent of the people doing 80 percent of the work, service, attendance, giving, and teaching, I sense the reason is the remnant, the 20 percent. People sitting in the pews does not create a church; but disciples committed to the mission of the church, make the church. Too many people sit on the sidelines watching others and criticizing; they’re not in the game, they are arm-chair quarterbacks. Church is a team sport and we all need to be at practice and in the game.
  • Jeremiah says the people should not listen to the false prophets (Jeremiah 23:16, 30-31) because they are making stuff up, not speaking for God (and he’ll put on them an everlasting reproach that cannot be forgiven – Jeremiah 23:40). When darkness comes over the house of God, the only way to dispel the darkness is to shed light on it. Truth will win over deception, manipulation, and agendas.
  • Jeremiah says that being a false prophet is dangerous (Jeremiah 28:15-17). This is a sobering passage. Don’t go there.
  • Jeremiah teaches about the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). This is the whole reason we do what we do. When people get it, they get it, and it makes all the difference in their lives and in the church. The hearts of the people are transformed. Motivation to follow, serve, and reach out is internal rather than external.
  • Jeremiah writes down what God tells him and the king burns it (Jeremiah 36:23), which is replaced (Jeremiah 36:27-28, 32). Basically, the lesson may be, “the truth hurts” (Jeremiah 36:29-31). Jeremiah is tenacious in getting the message of God to the people. If he can’t be there to speak it, he’ll send his friend to read it. He had an attitude of, “whatever it takes, I’m willing to do it, even if it leads to imprisonment or death.”
  • Jeremiah gets respect for speaking God’s Word and they will listen to it, whether good or bad (Jeremiah 42:4-6). At some point, the people will listen to the prophet’s message from God and receive it, even if they don’t like what God has to say to them.
  • Jeremiah says to Baruch that God has built up this house and can also tear it down (Jeremiah 45:2-5). To me, this is a sober reminder that God is sovereign and can literally do whatever he wants.

Initial Research on Jeremiah is from gotquestions.org, with added personal context

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It Comes Down to Mission

This is a repost from my Facebook feed. This is a great statement regarding mission and the church. The church may be the only organization that exists for those whp are not yet members rather than existing for the membership. That truth is difficult to swallow; when we believe church is all about us, wanting our own needs to be met, we lose sight of our purpose on this planet.

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Responding to Conflict Biblically

These are my notes from a seminar on resolving conflict, based on a book by Ken Sande, available at Amazon.

The Peacemaker’s Pledge:

  1. Glorify God – instead of focusing on our own wants and desires, let’s focus on seeking to please God and honoring and obeying him.
  2. Get the log out of your own eye – instead of focusing solely on the faults of the other person, focus on my part in all of this and how I might grow and change my attitudes and behavior.
  3. Go and show your brother his fault – instead of pretending the other person does not exist or overlook his offenses, focus on talking directly to the other person in a biblical manner.
  4. Go and be reconciled – instead of accepting premature compromise or allow the relationship to wither, focus on pursuing peace and reconciliation, forgiving as Jesus would.

Understanding Conflict and Our Responses to it:

  1. What is conflict?
    1. A difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires.
    2. In a fallen world, conflict is inevitable and should be expected (Romans 3:10-18, James 4:1-3, Acts 15:1-2, 36-39).
  2. What causes conflict?
    1. Misunderstandings (Acts 15:22-29)
    2. Differences in values, goals, gifts, calling, priorities, expectations, interests, or opinions (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
    3. Competition over limited resources (Genesis 13:1-12).
    4. Sinful or selfish attitudes and desires that lead to sinful words and actions (James 4:1-3).
  3. God provides a way to deal with conflict.
    1. Many believers have only a devotional theology for conflict resolution.
    2. To be a peacemaker, we need a systematic theology that resolves conflict in a biblical manner.
    3. We are guided by the Peacemaker’s Pledge, the four G’s.
    4. We are inspired and empowered by what God has already done and continues to do for us.
      1. We are powerless in our own strength (Romans 7:15).
      2. The foundation for peacemaking and reconciliation is our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ (Romans 3:24, John 14:27, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, Ephesians 2:8-9, Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 1:20, 3:12-15).
      3. Jesus is our perfect model of a peacemaker: he died for us while we were yet sinner (Romans 5:8, Philippians 2:5-11), he suffered wrongs without retaliation (1 Peter 2:23), he confronted others for their good (John 4:1-26), he loved and forgave even his enemies (Luke 23:34). He promises to work in us so that we may do the same things (Philippians 2:13, Colossians 3:15).
  4. How do we respond to conflict?
    1. Escape response – on one end of the spectrum (designed to get away from the pressure).
      1. Denial – pretend the conflict does not exist or refuse to deal with it properly.
      2. Flight – run away from the person with whom you have conflict (which is appropriate if someone is in danger).
      3. Suicide – which is always the wrong response to conflict.
    2. Attack responses – on the other end of the spectrum (designed to bring pressure on your opponent to defeat them).
      1. Litigation – a matter is taken to civil authorities for a decision.
      2. Assault – use force or intimidation to force submission.
      3. Murder – which is always the wrong response to conflict.
    3. Conciliation responses – on the middle area of the spectrum (designed to find just and mutually agreeable solutions to conflict). The first three are personal, the latter three are communal.
      1. Overlook an offense – walk away and forgive (Proverbs 19:11, 12:16, 17:14, 1 Peter 4:8, Colossians 3:13).
      2. Discussion – personal offenses are resolved through confession or confrontation, leading to forgiveness and reconciliation (Matthew 18:15, 5:23-24, Galatians 6:1-3, Proverbs 28:13).
      3. Negotiation – substantive offenses are resolved through a bargaining process to reach a mutually agreed upon settlement, involving compromise and collaboration (Philippians 3:3-4).
      4. Mediation – one or two others will meet with the parties to improve communication and facilitate a resolution (Matthew 18:16). Solutions can only be suggested.
      5. Arbitration – When the parties cannot come to a voluntary solution, the arbiter has the power to render a binding solution.
      6. Church discipline – When a Christian party refuses to do what is right and just, the church family intervenes to promote repentance and reconciliation (Matthew 18:17-20). Note that relationship is more important than worship (Matthew 5:23-24).

Conflict Provides Opportunities:

  1. To glorify God – show him honor and respect, bring him praise, to be a witness for what he has done in your life.
    1. Trust him (Psalm 37:5-6).
    2. Obey him (John 14:15).
    3. Imitate him (Ephesians 5:1-2).
  2. To serve other people.
    1. Help carry their burdens (Galatians 6:2, 10).
    2. Help them change through constructive confrontation (Galatians 6:1).
    3. Teach and encourage others by example (1 Timothy 4:12, Titus 2:7).
  3. To grow into the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29, 2 Corinthians 3:18, James 1:3-4, Romans 5:3-4, Hebrews 12:7-13).
    1. Conflict humbles us to remember our need for God (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
    2. Conflict confronts us to uncover sinful attitudes and habits (Psalm 119:67, 71).
    3. Conflict provides an opportunity of cast off the old self through repentance and faith, and put on the new self created to be like Jesus (Ephesians 4:22-24).
    4. Conflict helps us practice godly habits (1 Timothy 4:7, Hebrews 5:14). Remember the ABC’s (Adversity Builds Character).
  4. Opportunity, leads to Responsibility, which leads to Stewarding (a biblical approach to conflict). Stewarding requires an accurate view of God.
    1. If you believe that God is limited in power or his love is inconsistent, you will find it difficult to trust and obey his commands. Now you will take matters into your own hands.
    2. Since God is omnipotent, omniscient, immutable, and omnipresent, he is unlimited and in charge. (Isaiah 46:10, Daniel 2:20-22, 4:34-37).
    3. God is also all-loving, holy, just, gracious, good, merciful, and faithful. He is for us (Psalm 62:11-12, Isaiah 43:2-3, Matthew 10:30-31).
    4. Therefore, all that happens does not take God by surprise (Matthew 10:29-30, Exodus 4:10-12, Proverbs 16:4-5, Acts 2:23, 1 Thessalonians 3:3, 1 Peter 4:12-19, Genesis 45:5, 50:20, Daniel 3:16-18).
    5. Stewarding means trusting that God is always up to something good, even when his purposes are not clear (Deuteronomy 29:29).
    6. Stewarding views conflict as an assignment, not an unfortunate accident.
    7. Stewarding focuses on faithfulness more than results (Matthew 25:21, Luke 12:42-47, John 12:24-26).

Peacemaking is Not Optional: (Romans 12:18)

  1. Three dimensions of peace.
    1. Peace with God (Colossians 1:19-20, Romans 5:1-2).
    2. Peace with other people (Romans 12:18).
    3. Peace within ourselves (Isaiah 32:17, 48:18, 26:3, Romans 3:20-22, Matthew 22:39).
  2. Jesus’ reputation depends on peace and unity.
    1. The priestly prayer of Jesus (John 17:20-23).
    2. The command of Jesus (John 13:34-35).
    3. The worship of Jesus (Matthew 5:23-24).
  3. Make every effort – Ephesians 4:1-3, Romans 15:5-7, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Galatians 5:19-22, Colossians 3:13, 15, 1 Thessalonians 5:13-15).
  4. Conflict resolution inside the church, not the courts (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).
    1. It’s a bad witness.
    2. It ignores the root problem.
    3. It does not bring peace or reconciliation.
  5. Peacemaking is not optional (Matthew 5:9).

Is This Really Worth Fighting Over? (Proverbs 19:11)

  1. Two kinds of “logs” to remove.
    1. A critical negative attitude that leads to unnecessary conflict.
    2. An actual sinful words and actions.
  2. Overlooking minor offenses (Proverbs 12:16, 19:11, 17:14, 1 Peter 4:8, Colossians 3:13).
    1. Why? To imitate the Lord (Psalm 103:8-10)
    2. When? If the offense is not dishonoring to God, if your relationship has not been permanently damaged, if others are not being hurt.
  3. Change your attitude (Philippians 4:2-9).
    1. Rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4).
    2. Let your gentleness be evident to all (Philippians 4:5).
    3. Replace (cover or control) anxiety with prayer (Philippians 4:6-7).
    4. See things as they truly are (Philippians 4:8).
    5. Practice what you have learned (Philippians 4:9).
  4. Count the cost (Matthew 5:25-26).
  5. Remember the rights and privileges given by God (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, Matthew 25:24-27). This R does not stand for rights, but responsibility (to glorify God, serve others, to grow into the likeness of Christ).

Examine Yourself: (Proverbs 28:13)

  1. Take an honest look at yourself (Psalm 139:23-24)
  2. Repentance is more than a feeling.
    1. Mere remorse leads to further grief (2 Corinthians 7:10).
    2. Godly sorrow comes when we see sin for what it is, a personal offense against God (Luke 15:18, Genesis 39:9, Psalm 51:3-4).
    3. Genuine repentance involves a change of heart and a new way of thinking (Luke 15:17, Isaiah 55:7-8).
    4. Genuine repentance leads to changed behavior (Acts 26:20, Matthew 3:8) resulting in confession, repair, and change.
    5. The benefits of confession and genuine repentance.
      1. Clear conscience before God.
      2. The first step toward constructive change.
      3. Sets an example for others to follow.
  3. The seven A’s of confessions – never make a confession just to get a burden off your shoulders.
    1. Address everyone involved (Psalm 41:4, Luke 19:8).
    2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Psalm 51).
    3. Admit specifically what you did.
      1. Sinful attitudes (Matthew 15:19, James 3:13-4:12, 1 John 2:15-17).
      2. Sinful words – reckless words (Proverbs 12:18, 15:1), complaining or grumbling (Philippians 2:14, James 5:9), Deception or twisting (Exodus 20:16, Proverbs 24:28), gossip (Proverbs 11:13, 16:28, 20:19, 26:20, 1 Timothy 5:13), slander (Leviticus 19:16, 2 Timothy 3:3, Titus 2:3), worthless talk (Ephesians 4:29).
      3. Sinful actions – not keeping your word (Matthew 5:37, Psalm 15:1, 4), not respecting authority (Mark 10:42-45, Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:18-25), not treating others like you want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
    4. Apologize expressing sincere sorrow for how you affected the other person.
    5. Accept the consequences (Luke 15:19, Numbers 5:5-7, Luke 19:8).
    6. Alter your behavior (Ephesians 4:22-32).
    7. Ask for forgiveness (Genesis 50:17).
    8. Allow time – OK, there’s an eighth A.

When Should You Go and Confront Someone?

  1. When someone has something against you (Matthew 5:21-24)
    1. You may be able to clarify a misunderstanding.
    2. You may learn that you were actually wrong.
    3. You may help to deliver the other person from the bitterness of unforgiveness.
  2. When someone’s sins are too serious to overlook (Matthew 18:15)
    1. Is it dishonoring to God? (Romans 2:21-24).
    2. Is it damaging to your relationship?
    3. Is it hurting other people (including you – Luke 17:2-3, 1 Corinthians 5:6)?
    4. Is it hurting the offender?
  3. Issues of confrontation.
    1. You are not to be a busybody (2 Thessalonians 3:11, 1 Timothy 5:13, 2 Timothy 2:23)
    2. You should not listen to excuses for not confronting someone.
      1. The Bible says not to judge (Matthew 7:1-5)
      2. Isn’t God the one who will show someone they are wrong? (2 Samuel 12:1).
      3. Confrontation is needed when someone is caught in a sin (Galatians 6:1).
      4. The purpose of confrontation is to restore the offender to usefulness to God (Galatians 6:1).
    3. The same principles apply to non-believers (Galatians 6:10).
    4. The same principles apply to persons in authority (2 Samuel 12:1).
  4. Communication skills.
    1. Speak only to build others up (Ephesians 4:29).
    2. Listen carefully – waiting (Proverbs 18:13), concentrating (Matthew 7:12), clarifying (Are you saying? Would you give me an example?), reflecting (From your perspective, I was wrong. You really care about this issue), agreeing (You’re right, I should have… A lot of what you say is true. I understand how you feel).
  5. Elements of effective confrontation (Proverbs 12:18).
    1. Prayer.
    2. Choose the right time and place.
    3. Believe the best about the other person until you have the facts that prove otherwise (1 Corinthians 13:7).
    4. Talk in person whenever possible (Matthew 18:15).
    5. Plan your words.
    6. Use a gracious tone of voice and friendly body language.
    7. Be objective (facts vs. personal opinions or conclusions).
    8. Use the Bible carefully (don’t preach).
    9. Ask for feedback.
  6. Recognize your limitations (Romans 12:18, 2 Timothy 2:24-26).
    1. Your job – speak the truth in love as clearly and persuasively as possible.
    2. God’s job – to change the hearts and minds of other people.

When Should I Involve Other People? (Matthew 18:16)

  1. After you have attempted step one – to overlook minor offenses.
  2. After you have exhausted step two – to talk in private.
  3. Step three: take one or two others with you. The key is “refuses to listen.”
    1. Mutual agreement.
    2. Unilateral request.
    3. What do conciliators do?
      1. They encourage self-control and courtesy.
      2. They ask questions and clarify facts.
      3. They counsel and admonish by God’s Word.
      4. The expand resources.
      5. They observe and report to churches.
    4. What is the opponent is not a believer? (Galatians 6:10).
  4. Step four: tell it to the church (Matthew 18:17).
  5. Step five: treat the other person as a non-believer (Matthew 18:17-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-6, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, Titus 3:10-11).
    1. “As” means a functional decision, not a heart decision.
    2. Treat sinners like Jesus treated sinners – love them enough to tell them the truth.
    3. The purposes of church discipline:
      1. To prevent dishonor to God (Romans 2:23-24).
      2. To protect the purity of the church, preventing the offender from leading others into sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Matthew 18:16).
      3. To restore the offender, leading them toward repentance (Galatians 6:1, Matthew 12:20, Acts 3:19).
    4. When to go to court?
      1. If you have exhausted church remedies (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8).
      2. If you are asserting biblically legitimate rights (not all rights are right).
      3. If you have a righteous purpose (so count the cost). Will it glorify God, benefit others, and is it necessary?

Forgive As God Forgave You (Ephesians 4:32)

  1. Forgiveness is not a feeling, nor forgetting, nor excusing (at first).
  2. Forgiveness is a decision.
    1. The major penalty of sin: personal separation (Isaiah 59:2, Romans 6:23).
    2. Forgiveness releases us from this penalty (Ephesians 2:13, Jeremiah 31:34, Psalm 103:12).
    3. Four promises modeled after God’s forgiveness (Matthew 6:12, Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:32, 1 Corinthians 13:5, Psalm 130:3-4).
      1. I promise I will not think about this incident.
      2. I promise I will not bring up this incident and use it against you.
      3. I promise I will not talk to others about this incident.
      4. I promise I will not allow this incident to stand between us hinder our personal relationship.
    4. When you forgive, you tell them the real source of their forgiveness is Jesus Christ, and promised to forgive when we confess (1 John 1:9).
  3. When should you forgive? (Luke 17:3, Mark 11:25, Luke 6:37).
    1. The ideal biblical response to sin: repentance, confession, restitution, and change.
    2. Promise #1 – forgiveness
      1. Conditional – a commitment made to the offender.
      2. Ideally, after repentance and confession.
      3. Minor offenses may be forgiven even if there is no confession or repentance.
      4. Major offenses – these promises may be delayed until the problem is resolved following Matthew 18.
  4. What are the consequences?
    1. There is a time for mercy (Matthew 18:21-25, Luke 15:21-32).
    2. There is a time for consequences (Psalm 99:8, Proverbs 19:19, Numbers 14:20-23) Forgiveness of personal offenses does not necessarily release a person from the material consequences of their actions.
  5. Overcoming unforgiveness.
    1. Unforgiveness will separate you from God (Matthew 18:35, Mark 11:25).
    2. Renounce sinful attitudes and unrealistic expectations (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13).
      1. Expecting the offender to earn or deserve forgiveness.
      2. Desiring to punish the offender.
      3. Demanding a guarantee.
    3. Remember that our baptism into Christ and experience God’s daily forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35).
    4. Draw on God’s strength (Philippians 2:13).
  6. Reconciliation and the replacement principle.
    1. Reconciliation means that the relationship is restored at least to the condition it was before the conflict arose (Matthew 5:23-24, 6:12, 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, 5:18-21).
    2. Reconciliation usually take deliberate work.
    3. The replacement principle (Luke 6:27-28, Leviticus 19:18, Ephesians 4:22-24).
      1. In thought (Philippians 4:8).
      2. In word (Romans 12:14).
      3. In deed (Romans 12:20).
    4. It’s not forgive and forget, but forgive TO forget.

A Biblical Approach to Negotiating (Philippians 2:1-4)

  1. Cooperative vs. competitive negotiation.
    1. Competing is appropriate in some cases, but neglects the problems and needs, results in inadequate solutions, is inefficient, and damages relationship.
    2. Cooperating is preferred (Matthew 7:12, 1 Corinthians 10:24, 13:4-5, Matthew 22:39).
  2. When you negotiate – PAUSE.
    1. Prepare.
    2. Affirm relationships.
    3. Understand interests.
    4. Search for creative solutions.
    5. Evaluate options objectively and reasonably.
  3. Prepare (Proverbs 14:8, 22) – Pray, get the facts, identify issues and interests, study the Bible, seek godly counsel, anticipate reactions, pick a good time and place, and plan your opening remarks.
  4. Affirm relationship (show respect and concern) – communicate in a courteous manner, spend time on personal issues, exercise authority with restrain, submit to authority in a godly manner, seek to understand the other’s point of view, look out for the interests of others, confront in a gracious manner, allow face saving, and give sincere praise and encouragement.
  5. Understand interests (1 Samuel 25:24-31, 32-35) Issue (an identifiable and concrete question), position (a desired outcome or definable perspective on an issue), and interest (what motivates people and gives rise to positions; a concern, desire, need. limitation, and something the person values).
  6. Search for creative solutions (Proverbs 14:8, Daniel 1:11-13)). When brainstorming, separate inventing from deciding, no idea is out of bounds.
  7. Evaluate options, don’t argue – look for God’s truth (Psalm 19:7, 111:10), get objective facts (Daniel 1:11-16), seek objective opinions from trusted advisors (Proverbs 12:15, Matthew 18:16), look behind the opinions of others and deal wisely with their opinions and objections, and the last resort (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, Romans 12:17-13:7).

Dealing with Unreasonable People (Romans 12:21)

  1. We have supernatural weapons (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Luke 6:27-28, Ephesians 6:10-18).
  2. Control your tongue (Romans 12:14, 1 Peter 2:15).
  3. Seek godly advisors (identify with others, avoid being isolated – Romans 12:15-16).
  4. Keep doing what is right (Romans 12:17, 1 Peter 2:12, 15, 3:15-16, 1 Samuel 24).
  5. Recognize your limits (Romans 12:18-19).
  6. The ultimate weapon: deliberate, focused love (Romans 12:20-21, Luke 6:27-36).
    1. Demonstrate love (Romans 5:8, 1 John 3:16).
    2. Doing good can protect you from your own bitterness and resentment.
    3. Doing good can help to bring another person to repentance.

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