Pastor Poirier, three hundred and seventeen pages on conflict ... Is there
that much pastors need to know about this issue?
Great question. I recently asked a group of graduating seminarians how much of the Bible is about conflict and one young man lifted his right hand and showed me his four fingers and said: "Gen 1-2 and Rev 21-22. Everything in between is about conflict." As I say in my book, the Bible is all about conflict and about Christ the great Peacemaker." So, yes, there is a lot to say about conflict and 314 pages is probably just scratching the surface
2. What does the title of your book tell us about your perspective on the pastor's role before-during-after a conflict?
That's a big question, let me simply address the most important part—the pastor's role before a conflict.
If sinful conflict arises out of indwelling sin, then peacemaking must be more than a skill set. It must become a habit of being.
The Peacemaking Pastor isn't about the odd plumber's wrench that we are to take out once a year to fix a leaky faucet (conflict). True biblical peace is the fruit of the gospel of reconciliation. Hence, the call to peacemaking is more than just a call to develop a skill set—it is is a "habit of being." Peacemaking is as much about who we are as something we do. Jesus says this in his seventh beatitude, Matt 5.9 "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God."
Peacemaking Pastors must recover that sense of awesome gratitude for the work of Christ our Peacemaker. Our souls first must be saturated with Christ's message and ministry of reconciliation before we can be peacemakers. Prayerful reflection on the gospel of reconciliation (see for example Rom 3-5, 8; Eph 1-3; Col 1-2) alone will renew our hearts and our calling to recover the message and ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5.18-21).
Biblical peacemaking is about building a culture of peace in our congregations. By "culture" I mean ingraining godly habits that flow out of having been embraced by the gospel. Those habits are regular thanksgiving and praise to the God who saves us (Eph 1.3-14), confession of sin, granting of true forgiveness (Col 3.12-17), walking in humility and truth before one another, looking out for each other's interests (Phil 2.1-5).
As pastors we are culture-makers. Through preaching, teaching, and counseling the message of reconciliation –that is coupled with joyful, strategic, and Spirit-relying prayer—we feed, direct and lead our people to be the peacemaking children of God in the family of God.
3. How should a peace-minded pastor incorporate prayer into conflict?
One of my favorite definitions of prayer is taken from an ancient catechism. It asks: What is prayer? And answers…"Prayer is an offering up of our desires to God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies." (Shorter Catechism. Q. 98).
Prayer couple with God's word directs me rightly in a conflict. My default desire is not to experience conflict, trial or tribulation, yet James calls it pure joy (Jas 1.2-5). So true biblical prayer must be our desires for things agreeable to God's will. God purposes conflict as opportunities to display his glory, his wisdom (Jas 1.5) his goodness, mercy, grace, holiness, justice and truth. Conflict drives me to prayer—to trust on God. In the confusion of conflict, I pray for God's wisdom. Conflict highlights our weakness, our bondage to sin, our immaturity, so it affords me the opportunity to pray for God's power and might and not my own. Paul saw this most vividly when faced with his own weakness and then experiencing God's resurrection power (2 Cor 12.9-10).
Paul says God has given us the ministry of reconciliation and that we are Christ's ambassadors. As ambassadors, we are not here to serve and advance our own agenda, but rather that of God's We are not to speak our own words, but to ask: Lord, help me to speak your word (the gospel) to my brother sand sisters who are at war with each other. A great example of this is again the apostle Paul. He calls two women in the Philippian church to come to agreement. He then calls upon the rest of the church to help them. And then, beginning in v.4-9, he gives specific commands as to how to do this and one of these is prayer—"Rejoicing…petitioning God, praying instead of getting anxious (anxiety and fear frequently enflame our hearts in conflict). [I flesh this out much more in Chapter 6 of my book).
You make it clear that biblical forgiveness is essential - What role does
prayer play in forgiving and what is the difference between forgiving as an
individual and forgiving as a corporate body (congregation?
Again, let me address the first part of you question—the role that prayer plays in forgiveness.
If our heavenly Father delights most when we forgive those who have offended us, then prayer and forgiveness are intimately related. God's Spirit reshapes my heart and helps me to forgive others when through prayer I am drawn back to the great ground of prayer—Christ's death and resurrection for me.
In Matthew 18.21-35, Peter's struggle to forgive is answered by Jesus' parable that points Peter to the great forgiveness he has received. I can't strangle my sister for 100 denarii debt and at the same time truly rejoice at the 10,000 talents God has forgiven me.
Jesus reiterates this truth in Matthew 6.9-15 where we find he teaches us to pray and then of all the petitions he emphasizes, the one he emphasizes is our own petition to be forgiven. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. I do not understand Jesus to mean that we earn God's forgiveness by first forgiving, but rather that the true evidence that we are forgiven and saved by grace is that we are forgivers and givers of grace.
5. One of your chapters, Toward Becoming A Peacemaking Church, talks about confession and celebration. How do they relate to the peacemaking process and how can prayer serve the pastor in each case?
Peacemaking Pastors lead their people to regular confession of sin and praise over God's rich and bountiful forgiveness through Christ.
Sinful conflict is self-blinding. We will never confess our sin if first we do not pray for the convicting work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Like David, we must pray: "Search my heart, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts; See if there is any offensive way in me…" Ps 139.23-24. As pastors, leaders, as brothers and sisters in Christ, and as the body of Christ, this must be our first prayer. With conviction of sin can come true confession. I remember how I had mistreated my secretary. My Ps 139.23-24 prayers didn't make me aware of my offenses, but they did prepare me to listen when my church administrator approached me to gently restore me and help me be reconciled to my secretary. This in turn lead to my public confession of sin before my congregation which was received with joy by my people as they rejoiced to see God work in the heart of their pastor.
6. Pastor, please write a prayer for praying pastors who desire to become peacemaking pastors who lead peacemaking congregations...
Heavenly Father, the God of mercies, even as you have given us the message and ministry of reconciliation, and called us to be ambassadors of Christ, your Son, we ask you to give what you command. We offer to you our prayers that you may begin with us first. Reveal to us, the pastors of your church, the ways we offend you and grant us the grace to confess and renounce our sins that we may once again experience the riches of your grace and forgiveness for us. Then, O Lord, send us out anew as ministers of reconciliation, that we may lead your people to be the peacemaking sons of God, calling to each other and to the world: "Be reconciled to God." Amen.