The church’s need for in-house reconciliation and restoration
Written by Phil Gunther
The more I ponder the negative impact of the pandemic on the church, the more deeply I am convinced that the church suffered its greatest blows not from outside forces but rather from internal conflict. Most churches witnessed divergent pockets of stakeholders anchoring themselves to convictions around defining the pandemic. Often, strong opinions were expressed on how, and if, the governing authorities’ church-gathering limitations should be received. The most striking collateral damage – much of it still to surface – is the cost to pastors and lay church leaders who served as under prepared and ill-equipped peacemakers. The growing lament among our faithful leaders is palpable and is articulated in comments like “I’m totally exhausted and deeply hurt,” “I will never serve in this way again,” “No matter what I say or do, half the church is always mad at me,” “I’m burned out,” “I’m depressed and on medication,” and sadly, “My resignation is in my desk.”
As the church emerges from this pandemic, in many quarters it faces a daunting task of in-house reconciliation and restoration that must take place before it can plan for ministry and mission in a post-COVID reality. The pandemic brought to light the depth of spiritual immaturity and self-centeredness of some among our ranks. It was truly heart-wrenching to witness how quickly the battle lines were drawn, grace tossed, and mission and love trumped for the sake of rights and being right. In my tenure as an MB pastor and Conference minister, rarely have I seen a greater need for peace and reconciliation within our own house.
A roadmap to post pandemic congregational peace
I am under no illusion; the way of peace is often complex and arduous. When I engage people who contribute to divisiveness, I often encounter prickly realities and hidden emotional minefields. However, I cannot allow the possibility of being uncomfortable, or others being uncomfortable, to dissuade me in this effort. But where to from here?
As a means to assist churches, I am sharing my thoughts concerning a healthy roadmap to post pandemic congregational peace.
What can happen if I don’t act (possibilities)?
- Festering ill will
- Unresolved ‘family’ fractures
- Flagging fruitfulness
- A fiendish foothold (Ephesians 4:25-27; 6:10-12)
- A likely future ‘round two’
Where can I start?
Begin by conducting my own heart assessment (‘plank check’ – Matthew 7:3; checking motives – Psalm 139:23-24; Proverbs 16:2; James 4:3), praying for understanding and wisdom (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Philippians 4:6-7; 1 Timothy 2:1; James 5:16) and sharing what I learned with church leadership. Invite leadership to do their own heart assessment, pray for wisdom and then share what they have learned with church members. Lastly, invite the congregation to do the same and bring shape to a time of corporate sharing and response.
What are my biblical signposts?
- King David – “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” Psalm 34:14.
- King Solomon – “You will never succeed in life if you try to hide your sins. Confess them and give them up; then God will show mercy to you” Proverbs 28:13 GNT.
- Jesus – “…be at peace with each other…I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one….” Mark 9:50; John 17:20b-21a.
- Apostle Paul – “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone…Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification” Romans 12:18; 4:19. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” Ephesians 4:3. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” Colossians 3:15.
- Apostle John – “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” 1 John 4:11.
What are my hoped-for outcomes?
- Repentance of sin
- Reconciliation of broken relationships
- Restoration of community unity
- Re-engagement of the mission
The Anabaptist Menno Simons wrote, “The Prince of peace is Christ Jesus; His kingdom is the kingdom of peace, which is His church. His messengers are the messengers of peace; His Word is the word of peace; His body is the body of peace; His children are the seed of peace; His inheritance and reward are the inheritance and reward of peace. In short, with this King, and in His kingdom and reign, it is nothing but peace. Everything that is seen, heard, and done is peace.” His children are the seed of peace. Can we be seeds of peace while harbouring dissension? Can a church stand if it is divided (Mark 3:25)? Can it genuinely be a beacon of hope to the world if among its light-keepers peace is absent? We would be wise to heed the counsel of the psalmist: “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14).
Rev. Philip A. Gunther is director of ministry for the Saskatchewan Conference of MB Churches