As a Christian leader, we often have to deal with security issues, conflict and sometimes belligerence within the church. As a church does serious outreach and attempts to connect with cultures outside the church culture, there are more opportunities for conflict and more possibilities that violence might erupt in or against the church.
Our first impulse is to protect and defend the church community, and this impulse is good. We all want to do our best to protect God’s people and we all hate to see violence in a house of God. When these issues come to the forefront, however, we find that we are often unprepared to deal with conflict, belligerence or violence, not only because we have rarely had to deal with it, but because we have never really thought about such events happening within a church. However, churches need to think about these issues now, the more so as anti-Christian sentiment rises.
It is important for us to consider what we would do as leaders in our church if belligerence or violence occurs in our church, how we can best prevent such situations from occurring, how to de-escalate such situations and what is the best way to deal with these situations as followers of Jesus.
The Foundation of Dealing With Conflict
There are three passages that can offer a foundation for our dealing with conflict as leaders with those whom we have in our churches as guests. These ancient texts—two from Jesus, one from Paul—can help us know to deal with conflict as followers of Jesus, not in the everyday manner.
And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves. Luke 22:25-27
First of all, our leadership style is to be like Jesus’ not like the world around us. The world focuses on security or on how leadership can benefit themselves. Jesus says that imitating Him in leadership means that we always are looking to the benefit of those whom we are leading. A leader is not just to prevent anxiety in themselves or others, but to act for the good of those whom they lead, primarily. If Jesus is our servant, willing to accept any humiliation so that we can obtain all the benefits he has to give, even so are we, as church leaders, supposed to allow ourselves to be humiliated, even hurt for the sake of others, as long as it is for their benefit.
This is a difficult concept to accept for oneself, but it is the basis of Christian leadership. Not to do things for one’s own sake, but to sacrifice all for the sake of the other.
2. Benefiting Those Who Hurt Us
But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:27-36
Again, in general, dealing with those who harm us, we must act like God and His Son Jesus. An “enemy” is not one whom we declare to be enemies, but those who do us harm, for whatever reason. Jesus is saying that instead of giving harm back to those who harm us, we are to love. Love, simply stated, is acting for the benefit of those in need. So when someone harms us, we are to look at them as someone in need. Someone who is deficient in some way. Someone who could use our help. The question is, what is the best way that we can benefit a person who has done us harm?
Jesus then associates this one characteristic—benefiting those who do us harm—with God’s behavior that we should imitate. And He associates it with a basic characteristic of the Christian life. If all people love, then what greater command does Jesus give to those who follow Him? He commands us to love all those who are the most unlovely, to love without exception. So if someone threatens us, hits us or even shoots us, we are to consider their benefit, as well as the benefit of those whom we are protecting.
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21
Finally, Paul points out another issue that is associated with Jesus’ command to love all: that we are not to use the methods of the world against those who do us harm. It is perfectly natural to want to do harm or violence to those who do us harm or violence. As people of Jesus, those guided by the Spirit of God, we are to be led by peace and not harm. To “do evil” is to harm another, and that is not what we are to do. Instead of acting with violence, inflicting harm, we are to do good.
Overall, we can see a distinct philosophy of how we are to deal with the belligerent or violent in our congregations.
First of all, we need to protect our people, but we can exclude no one from that protection, even the one who is being violent.
Secondly, we are to find methods to protect all without causing harm to any.
Thirdly, in order to benefit others, we might have to make sacrifices ourselves, which is part of what we accept if we take on leadership in the church.
In the wee hours of the morning I am having a dream where out in the park is a man standing with a large long knife challenging me to come forth and do battle with him. His challenge is PASTOR JEFF YOU@##****@ COME FIGHT ME IF YOU DARE……
It is so real that it forces me to wake up and raise my head from my pillow. It is then that I discover it is not a dream. I am almost tempted to rise but then I thought, No I will send the Lord in my stead and I called out to the Lord and it began to rain heavily.
My challenger cursed the rain and it rained all the more harder and then I heard the voice yell NEXT TIME PASTOR NEXT TIME.
As I lowered myself back into bed and under the covers I said to myself next time I will just do the same thing.
We all get that way sometimes, and there’s no real reason for it. We can gaze at our lives in many different ways. We could look at our successes, we could look at our failures, we could see how rewarding our relationships are or we could recognize that our relationships are really meaningless. We could see how our work has done something important, or note that no one really appreciates the work we’ve done.
The funny thing is how our mood so often colors our lives.
I wonder how God feels about His life, His work.
Does He wake up some mornings and say, “No one really cares about me. For all the praise I get, almost none of them really care about me outside of being in a group of worshipers. Few are grateful, and for those who are, they often thank me for things I didn’t do, and ignore the hard work I did put into their lives. Believers fight tooth and nail over doctrine I never taught and ignore the basic principles I want them to live by.”
I’ll bet most of the time, he avoids such depressing thoughts because they really aren’t helpful. Such thoughts make us depressed or angry, but I’ll bet God recognizes that it’s best to focus on the small good instead of the large, ignorant populations that disrespect Him though apathy or carelessness.
Perhaps that’s why Jesus likes to look at the small things that change reality. The things that seems so insignificant to sweeps of history, but are so full of God’s grace.
The sisters whose brother had died.
The boy who returns to his father.
The servant who obeys his master.
The woman with non-stop bleeding.
The embezzler who impresses his boss.
The woman who lost a coin.
The man who finds treasure in a field.
The woman whose son died.
Small people. In the scheme of world events, pretty unimportant. But these are the small things God wants us to notice. Not the everyday negativity, not the horrors of the world. But the small graces that make all the differences.
“As a shopkeeper in Saumur, France, Joan Delanou was a notorious miser. She hoarded every cent she earned, angrily drove beggars from her door and caused scandal by keeping shop open on Sundays and feast days. Into this self-enclosed life, however, the influence of grace effected an extraordinary conversion.
It began when Joan provided lodging to a strange old woman, a widow names Frances Souchet, who spent her time traveling the countryside and visiting holy shrines. Her shabby appearance and her habit of muttering to herself led many to believe that she was a bit mad. Souchet told Joan that she was sent from God. Nevertheless, she paid for her room, and that was enough reason for Joan to tolerate her company.
As time passed the presence of the old woman worked a strange influence on her landlord. Joan no longer found pleasure in counting her savings. She ceased to keep her shop open on Sunday, and instead she began to accompany her lodger to weekly Mass. Meanwhile Madame Souchet continued her strange pronouncements: “He says this…” “He says that…” It gradually dawned on Joan that this woman was a messenger from God sent to bear a warning and a challenge: “I was hungry and you did not feed me; thirsty and you did not give me drink; I was a stranger and you offered me no shelter….” At once she decided to amend her life.
She began by taking in a homeless family with six children. Others gradually found their way to her door. Her home became known as Providence House. Madame Souchet remained a welcome guest, continuing to provide her spiritual counsel. When Joan worried about how to support her groaning household, the old woman offered assurance: “The king of France won’t give you his purse; but the King of Kings will always keep his open for you.”
-Robert Ellsberg, All Saints
Before the shrinks came up with the title of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) they defined our outburst as an “anxiety attack”. We were prescribed various forms of medications that cost huge amounts of money that we didn’t have and the Government denied they caused anything.
When I became a Christian I went to a Christian counselor who said it was a spiritual attack from the Devil and then prescribed the same meds that I couldn’t afford that the secular guys did.
Then another said I was never to marry and to definitely not have kids. I said “I am married and I have a son.” So he prescribed the same meds the other two had and sent me on my way.
It was in the early 80s when I was watching a movie called the Karate Kid and Daniel was all stressed out and Mr. Miyagi showed him a breathing exercise. So the next time I got stressed out I tried it out. Focusing only on the breathing and letting everything else go. It worked and in a few minutes my stress levels dissipated like smoke in the wind.
Ya know Christian leaders talk about a lot of stuff but they don’t teach ya how to do it. Like meditation. I learned *HOW* to meditate from a Tibetan monk in southeast Portland. He was the only one who would take time to walk me through it step by step. Now I can zone out into the spirit realm and hang with God and the Holy Spirit any time without going through a lot of religious rituals.
So I guess the point of this little rant is the acronym KISS: Keep It Simple, Saint. If you want to know more let me know and we can talk on line or if you’re in the Portland Metro area face to face.