“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” ~ Matthew 5:9
Jesus highlights this righteous call in his Sermon on the Mount in this scripture. The implication of this verse is powerful; by living in peace when the world around us is full of discord, we have the opportunity to shine God’s light and love so brightly that it is unmistakable that we are his sons and daughters. More than almost any other act we could engage in, peacemaking lets the world know we are different, that we are set apart as God’s own children.
So how do we live as peacemakers in a fallen world? My hope is to give you some practical advice for how to effectively live out this biblical mandate.
Step 1: Give Yourself Time
First, resist the temptation to react quickly to conflict. By doing so, we allow ourselves the time needed to process the situation and respond in a Christ-like manner.
One reason for responding slowly lies in our own biological makeup. Daniel Goleman, in his book Emotional Intelligence (Bantam Books, 1995), says research in the field of neurology shows us that when we feel threatened, our body goes into fight or flight mode. When this happens, the part of the brain conditioned to deal with such threats, the amygdala, floods our body with stress hormones that help us to physically react to the threat. However, this also has the negative consequence of limiting the functioning of our prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for cognitive reasoning. In their book, Thanks for the Feedback (Viking, 2014), Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen share that it can take up to 24 hours for these hormones to lose their effect, meaning that during that time, we react much more aggressively to conflict than we normally would.
For this reason, it is extremely important that when we find ourselves in conflict, we give ourselves the time to step back, cool down and be able to think cognitively (and spiritually) about the situation. Thomas Jefferson’s famous statement is good advice: “When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.” The key is to give yourself time to think about how Christ would truly respond to the conflict.
Step 2: Learn the Storyline
Second, analyze and assess the underlying contours of the conflict. In seeking to uncover underlying emotional issues, one method I like to use is to think about the basic elements of a story: characters, setting, plot, conflict and themes. Ask yourself questions such as, “Who are the primary participants in the conflict?”; “Is there an outside character who is contributing to the conflict?”; and “How does each character’s personality play into the conflict?”
Then identify what settings are influencing the participants. The main setting may be the workplace, but what factors from outside the workplace play into this conflict? Next, determine the plotline of events that led to this conflict. Explore how the parties got to their present state of anger and frustration. Finally, try to identify the root emotional issues driving the conflict and map out the themes that emerge from the story. By understanding the storyline, you are much better equipped to handle the unique needs of the parties.
Step 3: Diffuse the Situation
Third, prayerfully consider what methods might diffuse the situation and disarm the volatile emotions of the participants. No two conflicts are exactly alike, so you will need to think through what methods will help diffuse the situation for the unique participants involved. Here are a few ideas:
(1) Find a mediator that both sides respect.
(2) Show the participants how much they have to lose by continuing the conflict.
(3) Appeal to their values.
(4) Help them to empathize with the other person.
(5) Encourage them to see how they contributed to the conflict. (
(6) Open their eyes to how this conflict is dishonoring to God, their family and their community.
Step 4: Find a Christ-like Solution
Finally, once you have assessed the situation and diffused the raw emotions, the last key role of a peacemaker is to find a Christ-like solution to the conflict. Remember, Christ may call us at times to “turn the other cheek” by giving up some of our own rights for the betterment of both parties. As Ken Sande notes in The Peacemaker, the Bible is filled with stories of godly leaders giving up rights: Abraham gave Lot the first choice of land in Genesis 13; Joseph gave up his right to seek revenge against his brothers in Exodus 50; and David chose not to lash out at a man named Shimei who was cursing at him in 2 Samuel 16.
While not every offense can be overlooked (especially where there are long-term consequences and harm), many small offenses can and should be overlooked in order to truly reconcile the parties. Out of this spirit of love, good leaders can help individuals to brainstorm creative solutions that meet the needs of both parties while promoting reconciliation for the future.
In the ever-changing, globalized world in which we live, conflict is inevitable. Our fallen world is mired in the types of conflict that tear apart relationships, break apart nations and lead to pain and suffering. Yet as Christian leaders, we are called to be different. In the midst of the world’s conflict, we are summoned to be God’s agents for peace.
David Cook, J.D., serves as the associate dean of the School of Leadership at Dallas Baptist University. He directs DBU’s Master of Arts in Leadership program, where he teaches classes on Leadership in Conflict, A Christian Worldview of Leadership, and Leading Change. This is an excerpt of his article featured in the 2016 Spring edition of Outcomes Magazine.
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