A Snapshot of a Church on the Journey
Jon Demerly, a lay leader for Perry Church of the Nazarene, answers a few questions about his church’s experience on its journey toward a culture of peace.
What got your church started with peacemaking?
Our church experienced a conflict amongst the leadership that did not go well. This situation was combined with a vague feeling that unresolved conflicts of the past were still lingering. Out of all this, I was personally struck with a sense that God must have a better way. As one of the church leaders, I felt inadequate to deal with these situations on my own, and so I figured that there must be others out there that have been down this road already. I literally did a Google search on “church conflict” and was amazed by what I found.
I was initially struck by the sheer amount of information out there, confirming for me that we were not alone in having conflict. After checking several websites, I came to the Peacemaker Ministries website, and it was very clear to me that God did have a better way. Here was a place that definitely had a right heart about how to approach conflict. I spent a fair amount of time going through the material on the website. With a new sense of hope, I shared this information with our senior pastor, Tim Harmon, who also embraced it. This was the beginning of the process for us.
What steps has your church taken to implement peacemaking? Do you have a peacemaking team in place?
We shared this newfound information with the rest of the church leadership. Then Pastor Harmon had the insight and vision to form what we call our “Barnabas Team”-a team consisting of six individuals with a heart for peacemaking. We were charged to intensively study the principles of biblical peacemaking, and then to use what we learned to teach the church leadership and the entire congregation. I had the privilege of leading the Barnabas Team, and we spent the next year studying and praying about how to bring a culture of peace to our church. Our training began with the church leadership, and last fall, it culminated in an intensive, church-wide, 12-week emphasis on biblical peacemaking. This included weekly sermons and teaching in every Sunday school class-from children to adults. This 12-week emphasis has given our church the vocabulary and the framework to begin the process of changing our culture.
We have also set the goal to get all of the members of the Barnabas Team trained as conflict coaches and to have at least a couple of people trained as mediators as well. We are well on our way to those goals. Barnabas Team members are now regularly serving as a resource in helping to address specific conflicts that arise within our church.
Have you seen any impact from those actions?
There has definitely been an impact, both personally and collectively. For me personally, it has changed my heart and my relationships. I come from a family that avoids conflict at all costs, and so it was amazing to me and clear evidence of God’s hand that I found myself leading this team in the first place. Through the process of studying God’s plan for dealing with conflict (which is really just living out the gospel in our daily lives), I came to realize some changes that I needed to make. As I began to live out these principles-not just talk about them-they have become a part of my family. I had a solid marriage before, but now there is a new softness in our interactions. And what a blessing to see my children put these principles into practice-now they won’t have to undo bad habits as an adult like I have had to do.
I have also seen a change at our church. A recent situation at the church necessitated bringing it to the attention of the entire congregation. I was very proud on that day of how such a difficult situation was handled in such a loving and truthful way. We are still working through that situation and are praying for restoration. While we cannot control the outcome, I am so thankful that as a church, we have the tools to be able to work through such a situation. In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder if part of the reason God started us down this road several years ago was exactly because he was preparing us for that day.
What are your next steps to keep the momentum going?
This question is exactly the place we find ourselves at this moment. We have been having discussions in the Barnabas Team that we are now at a point of transition. All of our initial work was focused on education. Having come through on the other side of our church-wide teaching about peacemaking, we are now changing our focus to putting these principles into practice. We are still working through exactly what this means, but it looks like the next area we want to focus on is strengthening marriages. We are also making practical changes, like incorporating these principles into membership training and implementing a youth-worker screening process. We are also trying to figure out better ways to make the Barnabas Team available as a resource for people in the church. We have sent people the last two years to the Peacemaker Conference, but this year we will be sending a team of five, including our senior pastor. We hope to get practical ideas of how to keep our momentum going and also to continue our own personal growth. Having gone to the conference the last two years, I can say that it is also a great time to get “re-charged” by being surrounded by others with a passion for peacemaking.
What advice do you have for other churches who are considering beginning the peacemaking journey?
We certainly do not have this all figured out yet. In fact, we still have a ways to go. I do not want to give the impression that everyone is fully on board, and that we are all living in perfect harmony at Perry Nazarene. But God is faithful, and we are beginning to see the fruits of our labors. I remember when we were first starting out the whole thing seemed overwhelming, and the stories we read seemed too good to be true. Yet there was hope and a feeling inside that this was the right thing to do. Changing a culture takes time. This process started for us about three years ago and we are now starting to see the results. Be patient, keep it covered in prayer, and see what God can do. It’s worth it.