Note: This response is much more detailed than a person would write when he or she is just beginning to study biblical peacemaking. Don’t be discouraged if your answer is much shorter than this one. Instead, thank God that there is so much practical guidance in his Word for you to learn and apply in the weeks ahead.
Have you ever had people look to you for help in resolving a conflict such as the one between Chris and Terry? Sometimes it seems there is nothing we can do. Each person’s position sounds reasonable! And we are afraid of appearing to favor one position over the other—and ending up offending at least one of them.
Fortunately, God’s Word provides wise and relevant guidance to help bring a mutually satisfying resolution to the conflict. Peacemaker Ministries has organized this rich biblical wisdom into training and resources that equip people to guide others in reaching agreement, a process that is often called mediation. A wonderful starting place for every Christian is our booklet, Guiding People through Conflict. This practical, “nuts-and-bolts” resource is designed to provide relevant tools in response to opportunities like the one presented by Chris and Terry.
Where do you start? A good framework for your preparation is to build around what are called the “Three P’s” of satisfaction. The first “P” is to make sure that both Chris and Terry are satisfied with the process, or have process satisfaction. Have each of them had a chance to fully explain his or her side of the story? Have they had a chance to respond to each other? Is the conversation taking place in a setting that allows for the level of privacy and extent of time necessary for each person to fully express his concerns and views? For example, in a case like this it may be wise to ask them to meet you at a local coffee shop in order to give you time to clearly communicate your thoughts, and to provide the people with a setting where they are more likely to be satisfied with the process.
The second “P” is to make sure that Chris and Terry receive personal satisfaction. How can you facilitate a fruitful dialogue in which each of them clearly understands that you care for them as Christian brothers or sisters? How can you show them both that their opinions matter? In one mediation, the peacemaker was frustrated with the lack of progress in a series of meetings. The reason? He was inadvertently referring to one party by his professional title, “Dr. Smith,” and the other party by her first name, “Anne.” Further, he realized that his tone of voice reflected evident respect for Dr. Smith. He had been adopting a more casual tone with Anne, and a more formal tone with the physician. Needless to say, Anne sensed the disparity was not getting personal satisfaction!
The third “P” is product satisfaction. When an agreement has been reached, does it take into consideration both Chris and Terry’s concerns, and is it fair under the circumstances? Of course, the agreement is between Chris and Terry, so your role as “mediator” is limited, but you can help them be more satisfied with their agreement. You can test the agreement by asking good questions— “What if…?” You can help them strengthen their agreement by making sure they understand each other and have clear expectations for what happens next. Finally, you can lead them in celebration. A time of joyful prayer, a cup of coffee and a croissant, or even a few words of friendship play an important role in solidifying an agreement.
As the facilitator you play a key role in creating the first two “P’s” of satisfaction. Because Chris and Terry are responsible for their agreement, you will have less control over their satisfaction with the third “P.” However, we have found that when people in disagreement receive both process and personal satisfaction, product satisfaction becomes much less important to them. In this circumstance, Chris and Terry’s level of satisfaction with the product will be directly influenced by how well you lead them in achieving the first two “P’s.”
You can use another useful guide in helping Chris and Terry achieve both process and personal satisfaction—the PAUSE Principle.
Prepare – How can you help Chris and Terry prepare to communicate with each other most effectively? Can you give them specific areas to pray about? Is there any homework that might be beneficial? What Scripture passage(s) would be helpful for them to read and pray through? Would it be helpful for them to outline their thoughts and concerns on paper? Sometimes it can also be very productive for each person to write down what he/she understands is important to the other person. What about your own preparation? Is there any research that might be helpful? A review of relevant biblical principles is always a good starting point. For example, if Chris or Terry is struggling with respectful communication, you might review passages such as Proverbs 18:13, or Ephesians 4:29. There are articles on this web site that will increase your understanding of how to assist people in working through a conflict. Good preparation is always rewarded.
Affirm relationships – An important and foundational truth is that Chris and Terry are brothers (or sisters) of Christ and have been adopted into God’s family (see 1 John 4:19-21). From an eternal perspective, the church library decor will fade and be forgotten, but their relationship in Christ will last forever. How can you help them understand this truth and demonstrate it in the way they deal with each other? Affirming relationships provides the right perspective within which to resolve any conflict. How can you help Chris and Terry show genuine concern and respect for each other? How can you clearly model this truth for them in the process?
Understand Interests – Chris and Terry will not successfully resolve their conflict if they merely argue over their positions. You need to help them explore what is behind their positions—their motives, fears, concerns, and other interests (see Phil. 2:3-4; Matt. 7:12.) For example, both Chris and Terry reveal underlying reasons why they believe the library should be decorated in a certain way. Chris suggests that his/her proposal would create a connection with the church’s roots and Christian heritage, while Terry believes that his/her idea would generate excitement. Do you see how each of these views express a specific motivation or interest? The more you can guide their discussion so that they understand and respond to each other’s underlying interests, the more likely they will reach a mutually agreeable solution.
Search for creative solutions – The best solution will be the one that most satisfies both Chris and Terry’s primary interests. People in conflict seek help from other people because they are stuck. As a third party, you can play a vital role in getting them unstuck by helping them think “outside the box” and identify the widest array of feasible solutions. Many times the best solution is one that takes elements from several different proposals. Your goal is to help them act as a team in this process. In this case Chris and Terry’s friendship provides you with an added advantage—they have a vested interest in preserving their relationship.
Evaluate options objectively and reasonably – The final step is to help Chris and Terry evaluate their proposed solution. Any agreement can quickly fall apart if the parties have relied solely on their own opinions, no matter how well the process has gone up to this point. The key is instead to rely primarily on objective criteria. Are there biblical principles that might apply? Are there are any general decorating guidelines used by church? Does the church have any members who are interior decorators and might be available to provide input? When there is finally an agreement, remember to celebrate it as an evidence of God’s grace!
The PAUSE Principle is an effective tool that has been used to help resolve thousands of conflicts. Its effectiveness is limited, however, apart from the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Be sure to allow sufficient time for prayer throughout the process.
This is a brief summary of just two of the many biblical tools that apply in the mediation process. (See chapter 11 in The Peacemaker, 3rd Ed).
The following list includes some of the steps you may want to carry out in an informal mediation process as you help Terry and Chris with their conflict:
As you serve God during a conflict, remember that God will bless your faithful obedience. He loves reconciliation and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.
then peace-loving, considerate, submissive,
full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
Note: As mentioned earlier, you are not expected to write this much detail in your answers to the cases in the Personal Peacemaking Study. We do hope, however, that you will address each of the Four G’s (or other key peacemaking principles) briefly in your answers so that these concepts will become part of your normal response to conflict.