Gary Friesen on Christian Reconciliation Services and Peacemaker Ministries
Date: August 13th, 2012
When conflict besets your Christian congregation, who ya gonna call? Peacemakers! (Cue the Ghostbusters music.) In this fascinating episode, we delve into the expanding world of “Christian reconciliation services,” organizations that help train congregations to manage conflict and also help to mediate problems when they arise. We talk with Gary Friesen, the executive vice president of Peacemaker Ministries, a non-profit organization founded in 1982 that has been on the forefront of this reconciliation movement. Tony became aware of this when his own congregation was undergoing turmoil and was surprised to find that the Christian reconciliation “industry” is fairly extensive and growing. (Note: We do NOT discuss the conflict in Tony’s church, nor do we deal with any identifiable specific cases out of respect for the disputants.) Our conversation with Gary begins with his background as a lawyer and how he ended up with Peacemaker Ministries. He also gives us an overview of the other people in their organization and fills us in on the general services that Peacemaker offers. We discuss how the business started acknowledging the fact that it is difficult for an entrepreneur — be it a for-profit or non-profit — to hang up a shingle and hope that business and revenue pours in. Gary acknowledges how Ken Sande, the founder of Peacemaker Ministries, sacrificed and poured a great many of his own resources to make the ministry work. We then look at the training activities that Peacemaker Ministries engages in, comprising about 80% of their business, and how they are now expanding internationally in places such as China. This brings up the topic of a training conference that they are sponsoring in Denver, CO in the coming month. Gary then reviews the typical strategy that his organizations employs in resolving conflict. He emphasizes that the first goal is always to have the disputing parties figure out how God can be glorified in the situation that they are in, not an easy task for people to think about in the midst of argumentation. The next step is to ask each participant in the dispute to reflect upon where they may have been wrong, as Gary notes that the vast majority of conflict is resolved when each party admits to their own sins. The last two elements of their reconciliation teaching involves helping disputants reach out and offer forgiveness. We then move on to the actual process of reconciliation that Gary and others on the staff have been involved in, noting again that Peacemaker Ministries puts most of their effort into training others to handle conflict. Gary covers the typical types of conflicts that arise in church providing general examples of each. Such disputes include conflicting visions about the direction of a church, issues of wrongful discharge, embezzlement, immoral conduct (often sexual in nature), contract disputes with outside providers of services such as construction, and tort claims. Gary points out that many churches nowadays have clauses in their by-laws or constitutions that try to mitigate the likelihood of going to court, a sign of how the increasingly litigious nature of our society is impinging on the operation of houses of worship. We finish up with a discussion with some of the larger trends affecting conflict in churches, examining whether conflict is more likely to appear in growing or declining denominations, the change in legal culture, and whether or not the presence of reconciliation services might bring more conflict about. Recorded: July 25, 2012.
Peacemaker Ministries home page.
Life Together: 2012 Peacemaker Conference in Denver, CO (September 13-16, 2012).
The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict, by Ken Sande.
Peacefakers, Peacebrakers, and Peacemakers: A Guide for Leaders, by Ken Sande.
Resolving Everyday Conflict, by Ken Sande and Kevin Johnson.
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