Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20:
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Reconciliation is an important theme in the New Testament. Our ministry is nothing if not the message of reconciliation in Christ Jesus. But in practice, reconciliation is perhaps the most challenging aspect of Christian discipleship to live out precisely because of what it requires from us.
I’m so delighted that my reflection on reconciling leadership falls during Holy Week. Tomorrow, on Good Friday, we will remember Christ’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin once and for all so that we might be reconciled to God in Christ Jesus. O how I am so quick to receive that forgiveness with open hands and an open heart. God has borne on God’s own Son the pain of my sin and endured the cost of death on my behalf. Thank you, Jesus!
But the story doesn’t end there. In the good words of Rev. E. V. Hill, “It’s Friday … but Sunday is a comin’.”
You see, Sunday is a comin’. Jesus didn’t just die so that we could be reconciled to God the Father, but he rose again from the grave to conquer death and give us new life united with him through the Spirit. That new life shares with us the promise not just of reconciliation with God, but also the calling to be reconciled with our neighbors.
And that’s where reconciliation offends even the most humble of human sensibilities. It asks too much from me, or at least that is the easy excuse. If I have harmed a neighbor (physically, verbally, spiritually), reconciliation requires the humility to admit I was wrong, to acknowledge the damage done or the abuse in the relationship and to seek forgiveness. Or, if I have been harmed by a neighbor, reconciliation requires the courage to graciously seek the one who harmed me and to offer forgiveness.
John Calvin said in his commentary on Psalm 32:8, “We are reconciled to God upon condition that every man endeavor to make his brethren partakers of the same benefit.” In reality, we often focus on one of the two sides of this perspective. We endeavor being reconciled to God or being reconciled with our sisters and brothers and neighbors, but not both. No, Calvin is clear enough: we can’t have one without the other.
Jesus says likewise (which is, I’m guessing, where Calvin received the idea). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says in Matthew 5:23-24,
So when you are offering your gift at the altar [i.e. seeking reconciliation with God], if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
Jesus takes reconciliation seriously. I wish we did the same, because like Paul said to the church at Corinth, our ministry is reconciliation.
In the “Learning to Follow, Learning to Lead” project, reconciling leadership is the competency to “engage in long-standing tension to identify and resolve conflict.”
Often, it is much easier to identify conflict than to resolve it. I had a challenging experience at a church where I once served. During a period of transition within the church, one couple began to stir up disunity among the congregation. It wasn’t difficult for me to see the conflict and to name it, and also to understand that the conflict had escalated specifically because there remained previous instances of conflict with this couple in relation to the church that had never been resolved and reconciled.
I learned many lessons in the process of trying to work through these circumstances. And the most difficult and frustrating thing about the situation is how sin reared its ugly head when I tried to lead into reconciliation as a pastor. I had conversations with the couple, only to hear scapegoat excuses shifting responsibility for the conflict away from themselves—all the while they trumpeted that they were the only one’s acting in accordance with the will of God.
And that’s when things turned much worse. That’s when a conversation with the husband about the conflict at hand turned into an hour-long session of him casting blame and judgment for non-related concerns on other leaders and members of the church. That’s when a conversation with the wife turned into a full-fledged assault of my character and my ministry. That’s when I was told that I had no business being a pastor, that I was spiritually dead, that I had no right to question what they were saying, and even that I was flat-out wrong in my discerning preparations for that week’s upcoming sermon.
And that’s when I entered my darkest days of self-doubt.
It took a while, and it took some conversations with trusted mentors. And to be fully honest (because that’s a primary lesson I learned through this experience), I still am not fully healed from this. I still doubt. Significantly so, many days. My soul aches because even after asking for a sincere apology and attempts to make things right, the only result has been anything but.
But then I remember something Jesus said a little later in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:44,
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Slowly I am remembering: it’s Friday—but Sunday is a comin’.
PASTORAL LEADERSHIP SERIES
Read the rest of the 10-part series on the practice of pastoral leadership:
- Pastoral Leadership (21 February 2013)
- Organizational Leadership (28 February 2013)
- Learning Leadership (7 March 2013)
- Public Leadership (14 March 2013)
- Collaborative Leadership (21 March 2013)
- Reconciling Leadership (28 March 2013)
- Resourced Leadership (11 April 2013)
- Sacramental Leadership (18 April 2013)
- Pastoral Leadership II (25 April 2013)
- Leadership Transition (2 May 2013)