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Indispensable Leadership Skills #4: Let’s Get Honest about Reconciliation

Divisions happen between the best of leaders. Reconciliation happens less often. Paul and Barnabas, who God personally picked out to take the gospel into Cyprus and what is modern-day Turkey, later got into a furious ruckus over Mark and thereafter went on separate mission trips as a result. The only hint we have of a reconciliation between them is that Mark’s name pops up in several of Paul’s letters as one of his companions.

I meet a lot of leaders who never actually practice what Jesus taught when it comes to reconciliation. I am not naïve, but one of the most breathtaking moments in my ministry was when I was working with an elder team who had taken an unreasonable stance against their pastor. As I explained their responsibility to Jesus to work towards reconciliation, they essentially said ‘No,’ They believed they had a right to leave the church because of their disagreement. I asked them what they were teaching the younger disciples they were leading by doing this?

Mastering reconciliation is about honoring Jesus’ reign over your life. And it’s not just about leaders falling out with each other. It could be a broken relationship with someone you invested your life in. It could be about the neighbors who have so little regard for your property or sleep. It might be the brother you have not spoken to for ten years. Instead of reconciliation, your under-the-surface anger may have led you to believe you are on the moral high ground—but you’re not.

Mastering reconciliation is what mature believers do. Because of the Fall, there are way too many broken relationships in the world. People hate people. Nations war against others for obscure reasons. Families head for divorce courts so they can legally break apart. And brokenness is not left at the steps of the church building. It comes in and hides in the corners, shows up in meetings and emails, is written into petitions until it can make a grand entrance and blow the congregation apart. Sides are taken under its influence. Churches split and people who love each other stop being family.

This happens in spite of most believers having been taught about reconciliation based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-20. When brokenness appears, the goal for too many is to be right, whether we are talking about doctrine, conduct, or who cut into the line. Taking offense is as normal in our day as it was in Jesus’.

The usual focus is on confronting someone who has sinned against you with their dirty deed. But the most overlooked operative phrase Jesus used is “if he listens to you…Jesus’ goal for his family was not for someone to be right, but for them to be heard and to hear.

Mastering reconciliation, then, starts with learning to hear the other person first, to own what you need to own. What did I do to bring this conflict about? Did I not try to understand the other person? Was I being offensive to him or her in some way without realizing it? Is this person going through a crisis within that I was insensitive to? Maybe what is going on under their skin is much more relevant to the conflict than your hurt feelings. All these questions show you what you need to own before you confront. Reconciliation is about understanding the other person, even if that person also needs to own what he or she needs to own. It is learning to talk to someone who is offensive or offending in ways that reestablishes communication so that each person hears the other.

You have to want to do this. It is not the practice of the timid. Reconciliation requires a robust faith in Jesus and a will surrendered to the Spirit to guide such a process. Because you see, this process can take some time. One of my friends told of his two-year journey with the other leaders of his church family. His stand on certain spiritual practices going on in the congregation led them to attack him as unsubmissive to authority and disruptive to the church. His wife was aghast at their treatment and vowed never to set foot in the church building again. His response to her was, “We have to be mature believers and reconcile with these leaders because that is what mature believers do.” The rest of the story was full of twists and turns. But in the end, they were reconciled because they were willing to submit to what Jesus could do in them and through them. How real the gospel is! This reconciliation became a testimony to the power of the gospel to the young believers in that church.

-Steve Smith