I am planing to audit a class in January with Alfred Poirier and in preparation have been rereading his book, The Peacemaking Pastor: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Church Conflict. I wanted to share a couple quotes that I thought were very insightful:
The Bible is all about conflict and Christ the great Peacemaker. Yet I would be less than honest to say I “delight” in peacemaking. I have no difficulty ascending the pulpit week after week and preaching Christ and him crucified. I have great joy in teaching classes on “Seeing Christ through the Old Testament.” When pastoring in those venues, I am at my peak.
However, something changes within me when I step down from the clear heights of the pulpit and into the fog and confusion of my people whose lives are at war. I know I am called to be a peacemaking pastor, but I must confess that I hate conflicts. Even hearing about another one makes me cringe. I either go on the attack or take off running. The one thing I do not do naturally is move to make peace.
The Peacemaking Pastor, pg. 18
The distinction between the “clear heights of the pulpit” and the “fog” of what lies below was especially interesting. I find that it is harder to “preach” (think house-to-house, Acts 20:20) at the counseling table where there are questions, follow up comments, angry outbursts, hurt responses, and a script that is harder to stick to.
Think about how often we as church leaders dread committee work. The nitty-gritty need to plan, weigh competing interests, to look out for the needs of others, to plot a course of action while trying to anticipate the unexpected. And we have to do all this with other human beings who, like us, are hard to listen, quick to speak, narrow-minded, and rash and who “just don’t get it.” Yes, committee work is arduous and grueling, demanding of body and soul.
Consequently, many of us take flight. We grumble and complain. We look for a way out. No wonder the hard-charging, single-minded, pastor-as-pope model of ministry is preferred. But you need not be such a pastor to qualify as a [peacemaking] Docetist at heart. Some of us take flight by hiding behind our “primary pastoral duties.” Maybe for you it is preaching and teaching, management, or missions. Whatever the duty, we gravitate to what we like best, what is easiest for us. And there’s the rub. Conflict never is easy. It never clocks in at 9:00 a.m. and leaves at 5:00 p.m. or knocks on the door of our study to ask if this is an appropriate time to talk. And conflict never comes with a fixed agenda.
So we hide. Instead of facing the grimy residue of painful conflict in the eyes of our congregants, we leave it to others. Rather than coming alongside them and bearing their burdens, rather than holding out salvation by repentance and forgiveness in Christ, rather than being Christ to them, we offer our people knowledge through our preaching and efficiency through our management. And we think that is enough. As such, we become mere pulpiteers rather than pastors, managers rather than ministers, clerks rather than clerics.
The Peacemaking Pastor, pgs. 20-21.
While some people down play the importance and centrality of the word as it is preached in corporate worship (favoring instead small groups, private devotions, or counseling settings as the best way to reach people with the word), this is not what Poirier is doing here. Rather, he notes the vital importance of both sides of the preaching-as-means-of-grace coin: public (corporate) and private (individual).
I pray that God will continue to work more love in my own heart for shepherding his flock; for bringing the gospel preached on Sunday morning to bear upon their marriages, parenting, grieving, disappointment and the rest of the things that make up the “fog and confusion of people whose lives are at war.” It seems that such private ministry is designed to strengthen public ministry, and that God’s intent is to strengthen the faith of his dear ones through both.
Would that God might keep all of us from trying to “hide” from peacemaking by neglecting conflict resolution for other aspects of ministry that we enjoy more!
Christ Reformed Church