In The Peacemaking Pastor, Alfred Poirier gives pastors and church leaders a great resource for dealing with conflict in a church. While Sande’s book The Peacemaker is aimed at personal conflict, Poirier’s is more for the pastor/elder to read as a guide for handling conflict when it arises (it is a great resource for training elders and deacons as well – we’ve used it in the church I pastor). The two books overlap somewhat, but not too much to make one superfluous or unneeded.
Poirier gives the reader a great biblical and theological basis for all sorts of arbitration and reconciliation situations that come up in the church. He repeatedly reminds the reader of the gospel of free grace, God’s amazing forgiveness, and how the church lives in light of this grace. The following quote is one example of how Poirier talks theologically about the source of conflict in the church.
“We typically answer the why of conflict with a who. ‘Why is there a conflict?’, we ask. And immediately we point to a who – our children, our spouse, or another brother or sister in Christ. We blame our boss, our pastor, or our colleague at work.”
“But James (4.1) says conflict starts not with him nor with her, but with us – me. My desires cause conflict. And my desires can break a marriage. They are set over and against my wife’s desires, so I wage war with her to get what I want. The source of conflict, then, is not something I lack or need but rather something I want – my desires. We are not empty cups needing to be filled. We are cups overflowing with pride, ambition, conceit, and selfish desires. In the same way, our hearts are not empty and passive, but full and active, brimming over and spilling out. In brief, conflicts erupt in our homes and in our marriages [and in our churches] because there are [sinful] desires in our hearts” (p. 51-2).
In other words, one of the first things to do when a conflict or possible conflict arises is get the log out (Matt 7.5). We are so quick to blame others and justify ourselves that we cannot even see that many times we start the conflict because of our selfishness and pride. As Poirier goes on to note, many times these sinful desires in our heart distort our perception of what is going on (p. 57). Amen. If we consider our own sinfulness before God’s perfect law, we would more quickly forgive others when they sin against us because we realize what deep gospel forgiveness really means: 70 times 7! By God’s grace, this results in an atmosphere of peace and unity in a church. Those who know they have sinned much will not only be forgiven much, but will forgive others much (Col. 3.13).