Jay Blogs – Peacemaking 101

Jay Blogs – Peacemaking 101

I could spend the rest of my life studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, and specifically the Beatitudes, Christ’s statement of those who are blessed in His Father’s Kingdom. Christ sets forth a vision for Kingdom living, a completely different way to live and to view life than the one we’re living in our Genesis 3, fallen world. I’m consistently challenged by the Lord’s exhortations to be meek in a world where might makes right; to mourn in a world engaged in endless pain-numbing; and to be pure in heart when “abhorring evil” (Romans 12) seems “a little judgmental, don’t you think?”

But, perhaps nowhere is this call to life as a Kingdom citizen more radically different than with regard to conflict. Jesus says, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Which means, as those who are God’s children, we are supposed to be recognized by our ability to make peace in the midst of conflict. How are most of us doing with that?

We are made for community, to be and live together, and to need each other. We are also created uniquely, with different gifts, passions, and perspectives. Even without sin, we’re going to see life differently. Throw in the selfishness, anger, strife, jealousy, fear, and every other distorted aspect of the human condition, and conflict is as much a part of living as receiving unsolicited calls from roofing companies after a Texas hailstorm.

Most of us view conflict as something to be avoided at all cost. It’s painful for us, uncomfortable. Except when we’re behind the relative anonymity of a keyboard; then, we swing the conflict pendulum the other way, lashing out with terrible, hurtful words. Others of us are bullies, using conflict and other people’s aversion to it as unpleasant leverage to manipulate others into getting what we want. Still others of us are hyper-defensive, using blame-shifting, emotional outbursts, and other inappropriate techniques to dissuade others from engaging in conflict with us.

In short, many, if not most of God’s people, really stink at handling conflict.

But, what if there was a better way? What if we could actually be transformed to see conflict not through the lens of manipulation, selfishness, fear, and defensiveness, but redemptively? What if conflict really were a tool to improve our workplaces, our communities, our churches, homes, and schools? What if Christians really could be peacemakers, like Jesus says children of God are supposed to be?

The great thing about our school is that we’re not just training kids to be strong at math, or writing, or science, although that’s important and we do that well. “Teaching Jesus” requires that we partner with our moms and dads to teach their kids to be Kingdom citizens. And, so, in our strategic plan several years ago, we set forth a goal to equip students to be ambassadors for Christ and reconcilers in a divisive world.  We realized that this goal would require us all to change, to learn, and to grow–to learn how to become peacemakers.

Over the past nine months, we found a partner to help us in this work. The Colossian Forum is an organization that trains Christians and Christian organizations to engage in transforming their cultures to see conflict as normal and expected, and, when handled well, as an opportunity to build trust and relationships.

The Colossian Forum’s Wayfinder training acknowledges that, as Christians, we know Christ is “before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:17). Because He holds it all together, whether or not things fall apart doesn’t rely on us. This intellectual and emotional freedom removes the relational pressure of conflict, and allows us to participate along with the Holy Spirit by actively engaging in the ministry of reconciliation.

The North Star, or guiding principle for conflict transformation, is the Great Commandment: to love God and to love others. When we’re oriented towards loving God and others, it allows us to approach conflict from a position of trying to glorify God through it, acting as his child and worshipping him. It also drives us toward trying to understand the way others think and feel, understanding that is critical to seeking reconciliation and resolution.

Transforming conflict in a way that’s oriented toward loving God and loving others happens by developing and engaging in five interpersonal practices, what Wayfinder calls the “five G’s.” The first, Go Toward, means to step into and generously engage in conflict, rather than avoiding it- to be bold, but also to assume good intentions and approach with humility. The second practice, Go Godward, is to pray together before seeking to resolve when possible, but always taking the conflict in prayer to the Lord. Prayer reminds us of our identity in Christ, humbles us, and invites us to refocus ourselves on loving God and working together.

The third concept, Get Curious, requires that we listen with humility, asking honest questions of others, actively listening to their answers, and seeking to understand their position and reflecting on how it impacts ours. Going Deep, the fourth practice, requires deeper vulnerability. It asks us to try to go beyond shallow positions to motivations, to the emotions and needs behind our actions- why are we thinking and acting as we do? What’s at stake, and what do we have to lose, or to fear? Identifying these motivations can reveal solutions that we never before believed possible.

Finally, Get Right calls us to repairing the relationship. It calls us to confess when appropriate, to seek and extend forgiveness, and to reconcile. These practices and ideas, when made part of an overall culture, can lead to moving from a group of people who see difference as threat, to those who see it as a gift, and to moving from a sense of false unity to the state of deep unity that Christ prayed for us to enjoy when in the Upper Room on the night before His death.

Recently, our leadership team participated in the Wayfinder process. At the end of the school year, so will our faculty. Next school year, we’ll begin sharing concepts and ideas with our students, with an eye toward transforming the culture and modeling a new way at our school, one which, by God’s grace, will equip our people and our students to be peacemakers in the world around them.

We envision a school where we are all willing to step into difficult issues, as a people, one where our students and staff act from a “high conviction/high compassion” posture–full of both truth AND grace. Whatever is the issue of the day–whether politics, or race, or religion, or just the day-to-day issues of living and working together–we are willing to step into it, to talk openly about it, to disagree winsomely, and to love one another through disagreements.

In our school community, we want to be able to talk about ideas and issues without fear of “getting canceled,” being shunned, or other social consequence. Biblical error must be corrected, because God’s Word is preeminent, but mere differences of opinion must be respected, honored, and recognized as such. We envision a place where we can engage in healthy dialogue and discussion, step into small conflicts prayerfully and confidently, and not let them foster into larger ones. In short, we want to move towards a greater state of shalom: peace with God, each other, creation, and ourselves.

We’ll never create the New Jerusalem; only Christ will bring that to bear. But we can ask the Lord to transform us into looking like his children, and be characterized as men and women of peace. That’s a huge opportunity to glorify God and honor Him in this fractious world.