The Priestly Ministry of Peacemaking
We must be marked not merely by the courage to do battle when necessary but also the gentleness, wisdom, and endurance needed to win the peace.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be
called sons of God.” —Matthew 5:9
Church hurts are real. It’s not a question of if, but when people are going to hurt one another deeply in our churches. Sometimes church hurts are over big issues that really matter. Just as frequently, they are over small issues that become big issues because they are not addressed.
They fester until a molehill becomes a mountain.
Pastors who are unskilled in conflict resolution and interpersonal reconciliation won’t last long in ministry. The pastor has the priestly ministry of working to reconcile people to one another in the aftermath of church hurts and fights. Pastors must be willing and able to do the hard work and the heart work of resolving conflicts and winning peace in the church.
Winning the Peace
Winston Churchill was one of the greatest wartime leaders in history. Long before anyone else saw the existential threat Nazi Germany posed to Western civilization, Churchill had been sounding warning bells about the threat of Hitler’s growing power. When Hitler began his sweeping advance across Europe and came to the precipice of invading Great Britain, Churchill stood alone against him. If not for Churchill’s courage in the face of what seemed then as near certain defeat, history would have taken a dark turn. The war could not have been won
without Churchill’s astonishing leadership.
It is stunning, then, that on July 26, 1945, Churchill lost his bid for reelection as the British prime minister. The man who had alone stood against tyranny to save not only his own nation but the entire world from Nazi Germany was rejected by his own people. One of the reasons for his loss, as noted at the time, was his decision to engage in bitter party politics. At one point, Churchill referred to the Gestapo in reference to the policies of his political opponents. After his embarrassing loss, the Times of London said: “Mr. Churchill himself introduced and insisted upon emphasizing the narrower animosities of the party fight.” Divisive partisanship, it seems, was Churchill’s downfall. The man who won the war could not keep the peace.
On the landscape of recent Baptist history, two conflicts loom large. Though separated by an ocean and a period of one hundred years, there are many similarities between the Downgrade Controversy in which Charles Spurgeon was engaged with the Baptist Union in Great Britain and the Battle for the Bible in the Southern Baptist Convention in the last quarter of the twentieth century. In both cases denominational liberalism was on the rise. In both cases a group of conservative pastors sought to recover biblical fidelity within the denomination. Spurgeon’s case failed and he was forced to leave the Baptist Union. In the case of the Southern Baptist Convention, the conservatives succeeded but, in the process, lost both liberal and conservative pastors and churches that did not want to be part of a denominational fight.
Some pastors are proficient at winning theological or ecclesiological battles. Pastors are not always prepared to win the peace. There are times pastors need to be willing to fight a theological battle. There are also times when pastors must be able to preserve the peace. It takes wisdom to know the difference.
There are times when a fight is inevitable and unavoidable. Sometimes the fight seeks you rather than the other way around. I have experienced the shock of a staff-led church split. That kind of conflict is something for which you can never be prepared. It blindsides you. It bruises your soul. The scars last long after the fight is over. A pastor of character is never eager for a fight. Ready to stand for truth? Absolutely. Ready to take a punch, if need be, for the gospel? Yes! Eager for conflict? God forbid.
Are you as ready to fight the battle for peace as you are to fight other battles? One of the qualifications for a pastor is that he not be “quarrelsome” (1 Tim. 3:3). We must be marked not merely by the courage to do battle when necessary but also the gentleness, wisdom, and endurance needed to win the peace. Jesus said the peacemakers are blessed (Matt. 5:9).
As a pastor, I want to embrace the eschatological vision of Isaiah 2:4:
He will settle disputes among the nations and provide arbitration for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives. Nation will not take up the sword against nation, and they will never again train for war.
One day Jesus will return to make all things new. At that time weapons of war will be reshaped into gardening tools. There won’t be a need for weapons anymore because every conflict will end. This is an eschatological reality to which we all look forward. But it is an already/not-yet reality that can take shape within the people of God now. We ought to be able to say with the psalmist, “I am for peace” (Ps. 120:7).
What happens when you are a peacemaking, reconciling pastor? Jesus says the peacemakers will be called “sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). If we become peacemakers, we will bear the name the ultimate Peacemaker bears—“Son of God.” Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). We are called “sons of God” when we make peace because making peace is what the Son of God came to do. We will be called what he is called because we will be doing what he came to do.
Editors’ note: Dr. Andrew Hébert (ThM, PhD, SBTS) is the lead pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas. This article is an excerpt from Dr. Hébert’s new book Shepherding Like Jesus: Returning to the Wild Idea that Character Matters in Ministry (B&H).
1. William Raymond Manchester and Paul Reid, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, vol. 3 (New York: Bantam Books, 2013), 950.