If you haven’t already read it, this is a fine book about cultivating healthy, Gospel relationships within the Church. I read Ken Sande’s first edition of The Peacemaker years ago and have to say this revised and updated Third Edition is greatly improved. I skimmed over my highlighted copy about a month ago and was pleasantly surprised to rediscover this gem, buried among so much treasure:
People who use escape responses [to conflict] 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). The Peacemaker pg. 28
I re-read this quote a few times and I think the author is making a general observation about what is “common in the church” — the universal Body of Christ and not a specific local congregation. In other words, all Christians everywhere are tasked with proclaiming the Gospel of peace and it’s in our DNA to want to be at peace with one another. But, Christians everywhere find the process of peacemaking requires us to “work long and hard to achieve true justice and genuine harmony with others.” (pg. 28) The fact is, we will do almost anything to avoid trouble and, when we do, we’re peacefaking. With that background, enter the peacefaker.
Peacefaking takes place when:
- we avoid having that uncomfortable conversation, because we don’t want to examine ourselves, remove the log from our own eye, cause controversy or upset others. We often avoid conflict and mistake the relative calm and short-lived accord for authentic, lasting Shalom and friendship that only comes from speaking the truth in love, clearing the air, resolving differences and moving forward into what may be a different, yet deeper and more loving relationship. There is no end to the number and nature of excuses we can come up with, in order to avoid conflict. Understandable? Of course. Acceptable? No way.
- we are quick to apologize and hasty in resolving a conflict, without experiencing real repentance, change or resolution: making things look good even when they are not. Have you ever found yourself apologizing like this: “I’m sorry I lashed out at you, but I really have a temper and I can be passionate about important things. I’m just like my dad/mom.” Those can be the words of sorrow for ones actions and may even reveal real heartfelt repentance. But, if you find yourself repeating that same concession over and over, there are three things you may want to consider: 1) By apologizing, you acknowledge your behavior has been wrong or sinful 2) Because you apologize this way over and over, you are only managing that sin: not mortifying or killing it. Full repentance involves forsaking sin. 3) You are probably peacefaking, in order to move out of an uncomfortable situation, only to find your passion upsetting the peace again. You may be experiencing a temporary ceasefire, but not a lasting peace. It’s a fake peace.
- we are willing to repent and settle a dispute: to a point. Does the nature of your dispute involve damaging the reputation of another or something less, like money or an unfulfilled agreement (buying a car, contracting work on a house, failure to repay a loan, etc.). Perhaps we’re willing to apologize to the person and we feel a deep sense of remorse. We resolve never to damage a relationship in that way ever again. But, does that exhibit actual repentance and bring the matter to a full resolution? Only if there is a real effort to restore something damaged or taken or withheld: and, that often involves a material remedy. Sometimes, we have to make good on unwise or rash decisions that end up costing us.“O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart… who swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Psalms 15:1–4 ESV) We see the actions of a true peacemaker in Zaccheus from Luke 19:6–8: “he hurried and came down and received [Jesus] joyfully… And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” Many have received the forgiveness of Christ and were never expected to bear the kind of fruit Zacchaeus did: the thief on the cross, for example. Or, you and I: we never felt compelled to deal with each and every sin we committed before we got saved. That would be impossible. Jesus did not require Zaccheus to restore anything: this tax collector appears to be a man who was no peacefaker, but a follower of Jesus who was really interested in making good on his past sins and making peace with people he’d wounded. I think we can expect to see that sort of repentance in seasoned Christians, as well.
Peacefaking in the Church happens when:
- Christians take their personal disputes to their leaders or others, before trying to resolve them in private. Often, and for numerous reasons, we want instant peace with the least amount of discomfort or effort. By going to those outside the immediate circle of offense first in order to avoid trouble, we short-circuit the steps Jesus outlined in Matthew 18:15ff and may rob ourselves and the church of lasting peace, by fast-tracking the issue. Of, course, there is more than one way of dealing with conflict or sin in the church and, in some cases, a private one-on-one meeting may not be wise or appropriate (physical abuse, sexual abuse, sociopathic behavior, illegal acts that must be reported, etc.). But, in most cases, it begins with a phone call or a text or a visit to a friend, in order to initiate a dialogue.
- leaders are passive and indecisive, when disputes or public sins are upsetting the peace of the Church right now. Yes, we all know there are situations that may take months or years to resolve completely. But, let’s not make the exception the rule. Too often, leaders are aware of problems in the church that could be handled in just a few hours or days. Incredibly, some will let people and situations disquiet a Church for years! Meanwhile, relationships are harmed and the mission of the church suffers. Why? Because leaders are often indecisive, lack courage or are not faithful in following through on the small efforts they have made. And, there’s one other dimension to this problem. I have found that sometimes I will minimize a problem or dispute in my mind and hope that it will correct itself over time. I am here to repent publicly of that naive notion: problems in the Church rarely heal themselves without the Lord working it out — by applying the Scripture, in the power of the Spirit, through difficult discussions or actions on our part. These things generally don’t just go away and we are peacefaking if we stand by, passively, and make a wish that the Lord will magically do what He’s already told us and showed us we are to do.
- leaders will not take up their role in the Lord’s discipline of His Body. The topic of church discipline is one of those unpleasant subjects we really don’t enjoy discussing: and, in a sense that’s understandable. It’s painful for everyone involved — it can feel like a lose/lose situation. Church discipline begins individually, when each one of us picks up our Bible for daily reading and receive, firsthand, the Lord’s discipline. “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:11–12 ESV) It expands beyond ourselves, through the teaching of those Christ has gifted in the Church, by His Spirit. Then, shoe leather is applied to the process when we are in community with others and situations rise to the level of personally holding one another accountable for our words and deeds. On rare occasions, a matter needs to be taken before the entire church. If you don’t already know this, every leader enjoys study, teaching, preaching, meeting with those under their care over coffee, performing weddings, and other positive activities associated with ministry. Even a graveside or memorial service, though solemn and sad, can be an opportunity to experience deep joy and satisfaction in respectfully caring for the dead and comforting the grieving. But, no pastor enjoys involvement in disputes or matters of discipline — ever: unless that minister is some kind of sociopath or masochist. However, if leaders only do the enjoyable or rewarding work, while avoiding the difficult and never-ending task of keeping peace and order in the church they are, in the words of Richard Baxter, “half a pastor.” If they are not engaging in the controversial work of church discipline, they are peacefaking.
- leaders think that preaching a sermon series on the subject or going to Peacemakers or similar training makes them effective peacemakers. The worst kind of peacefaking takes place when leaders make an outward show of dispute resolution, reconciliation, and church discipline or they speak a lot about peacemaking, while they continue to avoid difficult conversations, seek superficial remedies to serious problems, and see many of the troubles they face go away only when people looking for resolution finally give up and leave for another church. Many churches just pass their troubles along to others, while they congratulate themselves on how pleasant their church has become and point to the easy conflicts they’ve been able to resolve. That is peacefaking of the worst kind, because it troubles other churches and may allow people to continue in sin, all the time thinking they are justified. If we really love people, as any leader should, then we must “put away falsehood [peacefaking]: let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25 ESV)
The Peacemaker and the Peacemaker Ministries are wonderful resources for solving conflicts in all areas of life and not just the church. I highly recommend both resources. We are wise to listen to Ken Sande on this issue: we want to work towards real and lasting peace, rather than “making things look good even when they are not.”
Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. (Proverbs 27:5–6 ESV)