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Preparing for Mediation

A Workbook for Parties Involved in Conflicts in Church Settings

Steve Staten, Bridging International.com

This workbook is designed to guide conflicted parties as they prepare for two-party mediation whether one or both sides are assigning fault to the other. Both parties are asked to consider, in advance, any of their own responsibilities regardless of later analysis. That is a reasonable place to begin because even the most innocent people discover things about themselves through their struggles with others.

It is not unusual for two parties to frame the problem between them differently. That is because an infraction can begin as one thing (a well-meaning confrontation, or dispute) but, over time, it develops into another kind of clash or debate (reactions and personal attack, an interpersonal conflict). This problem most commonly occurs when clear biblical protocols have not been conveyed throughout the flock. Getting a general and authentic narrative prior to the problem is very important to identifying the real nature of the conflict. We recommend that you assist the mediator(s) with the broader story and focus on your responses rather than just your position. The sources of conflict can range from systemic perceptions or reality surrounding communication, handling of data/information, use of power and authority, identity,[1] relationships, ideas/plans, conduct, promises, values/beliefs and breaking of rules.

In the mediation’s emphasis on transformation you have heard that conflict is an opportunity that hasn’t been fully seized. Mediation can assist you in redeeming the conflict for opportunities for growth that your conflicts have surfaced rather than just stopping the pain. So remember, the goal for the parties and the mediator/peacemaker is to transform the conflict; otherwise, we may face the exact same conflict all over again.

You will be keeping this guide for yourself but you should bring it to mediation for recalling your responses to the questions. Therefore, you are being asked to read the following sections before the mediation, which includes taking some notes and writing down your thoughts in advance.  

        Commit to Mediation—submit to a Scripture-based process

         Go to God in Prayer—turn every aspect of this matter over to God

        Meditate on Great Responses—center yourself through proper thinking

         Do a Quick Self-Evaluation—simple reflections about pre-mediation responses

        Focus on Crux Matters—discuss on what drives a conflict rather than the endless issues

        Create a Conflict Summary—voice clear answers to relevant inquiry

        Begin the Work of Transformation—examine the processes of forgiveness, repentance, apology and renewal

Commit to Mediation

There are two basic ways that conflicts are resolved in the church—caring confrontation and mediation. The first one, caring confrontation, involves using Matthew 5:23-25, 18:15-20. The goal of this process is to win the brother over, sometimes called “care-frontation,” rather than confrontation. This one requires witnesses who observed the first offense or conflict, not merely a witness to the differences (see Deut. 19:15ff).

If there are not witnesses, then the conflict should enter mediation. Or if the witnesses have acted inappropriately or have appeared biased, polarized or have used overly moralizing language, then a mediator will momentarily set aside his conclusion and create a conflict resolution process, called mediation. Mediation operates by processes derived from principles found in passages like Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 16:18-20, 17:1-7, Numbers 35:6-32, Matthew 7:1-6, Acts 15, 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 and 2 Corinthians 7:8-11. Simply said, a Judeo-Christian model for resolving disputes is based on four pillars: 1) Shared Values, 2)Transparent Processes, 3) Use Third Party Neutrals, and 4) The Goal of Justice or Justness.

You can make the mediator’s job easier once you understand what he/she is doing. For instance, a mediator aspires to be “a man of understanding” by helping the parties discern their motivations (1 Kings 3:16-28, Prov. 20:5). When well-meaning people feel safe and believe that the mediator is competent and just, they are not afraid when the mediator discovers the root causes of a conflict.

Sometimes a peacemaker will ascertain the sources of a conflict quickly. For instance, the short encounter in Luke 12:13-21 contains such an example where Jesus immediately identified the source of one side of a dispute between two brothers.

It is important to know that your confidence will not be violated if you confess a sin to a mediator in private discussion. For instance, James 4:1-4 shows that the sin of envy drives many conflicts. This is confirmed by stories throughout the Bible. If you have struggled with this weakness in the conflict you will be helped on how to redirect the desires. If it is confessed it will be you confessing it—not the mediator. Here are some final thoughts in committing to mediation.

1)   Trust the process. Steps will be explained throughout mediation. No blindsiding.

2)   Let the Christian peacemaker provide biblical objectivity. Don’t worry about whose sin was worse or the greater cause or the ones you think indicate bad intent.

3)   Let God use others to vindicate us, explain to us or convict us. Believe that if the present disputes originated with your innocence, being treated unfairly or came about because you were doing the right thing—it will come out in mediation.

4)   Show genuine interest in the other party’s perspectives. Peaceful facial expressions, listening gestures, calm tones and slow replies helps reason to rule over emotion.

5)   Embrace the value of suffering. Even if we are wronged by mistakes or misguided mediation, it might be better for our souls to be wronged than to fight continually.

6)   Admit your vulnerabilities to the mediator. Wise peacemakers don’t consider being distressed, or grief-stricken or exasperated as a sin. Let them know how you feel.

7)   Be willing to be influenced by new information and perspectives by maintaining a soft heart.

Go to God in Prayer

Remember that God is committed to justice (Deut. 16:20, Isa. 61:8, Micah 3:1, 6:8). The most helpful thing that we can do prior to mediation is to bring our best self into His presence. This involves prayer. If you have a poor prayer life we suggest that you set aside quality time in private places to rely on God. Prayer will help accomplish many things listed below.

1.    To cast off internal anxieties (1 Peter 5:7).

2.    To see more of the nobler side in our adversaries rather than their worst side and envision a better day on the other side of the conflict.

3.    To see your own weaknesses and sins and find the strength to repent (Matt. 7:1-5)—these include aggression, retaliation, gossip, slander, distortions, outbursts or usurping God’s provisions of authority, et cetera.

4.    To develop a most merciful attitude (James 2:11-12).

5.    To discern any possible drivers within your heart: fearof being a shamed scapegoat, losing control, having a financial catastrophe, the failure of a legacy OR sadnessfrom damage to your reputation or the death of a long held dream.

6.    To learn new aspects of God’s will (Rom. 12:2) and ways to prevent similar conflicts in the future.

7.    To reach a conclusion that conveys a sense of godly justice: fairness, level playing field, peace and security.

Meditate on Great Responses

Meditation helps us become centered emotionally and spiritually. Not every character in the Bible always handled his or her conflicts properly. Here are some bright spots for reflection. Reflect on good examples that show us how to respond in our conflicts. Think about:

1.    How Joseph successfully handled being wronged (Gen 50:15-21)

2.    The many noble ways that David responded to Saul’s evil intentions (1 Sam. 19-26)

3.    How others have successfully handled their conflicts (Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr.)

4.    How Jesus could be silent to false accusation (Matt. 27:11-14)

5.    How Zacchaeus handled insinuations about his work (Luke 19:8)

6.    What Peter told Christians to do when they are accused (1 Peter 2:12, 15, 3:15-16)

7.    How quickly Paul repented of arrogance towards Jewish authorities (Acts 23:1-5)

Do a Quick Self-Evaluation

A person who trusts God and prays and meditates on things that will center him is nearly ready for mediation even if he has to stand up in the face of wolfish behavior.

Determine the stages where you may have mishandled the conflict prior to the present mediation. Below is an example of the right things to do when you are entangled in conflict. Give yourself a grade on each possible response on how you’ve done so far.

Stand Downstopping behaviors that you are told are intimidating or combative (Prov. 14:29, 15:18, 19:19, 22:24-25, 29:22)

Stand Apartsetting a good example in the midst of disorder (James 3:13-18)

Rise Aboveresponding to poor reactions with personal calmness during your disagreements (Prov. 17:27)

Step Inexpressing the truth with love in order to be helpful (Eph. 4:15, 25-27)

Stoop Belowhumbling yourself to fair criticism and guidance of mature men (Ps. 25:9, Prov. 13:18, 15:31, 1 Pet. 5:5-7)

Step Upfacing the responsibility of your past decisions and reactions (Luke 6:45)

Step Backletting false accusations toward you miss their target with a factual story or total silence (Acts 24:10-16, Heb. 12:1-3)

Stay Calmremaining put in a calming way when under unfair attack (Eccles. 10:4)

Step Downgladly accepting objective third-party mediation or arbitration (Acts 15)

Focus on Crux Matters

Focus on what drives the conflict—the roots (desire, hopes, need for respect, safety and being heard), not the branches (interactions and issues). The mediation team is stating up front, as explained previously, that it is usually not possible to unravel every episode in the past. If there is dysfunction it will breed recurring conflicts. We are mostly looking for the trunk conflict that spun out into other conflicts and the most one or two others. The goal is to address the dysfunction. Therefore, if there is more than one conflict between the same individuals we are asking, “What are the main two or three events that have occurred which represent the greatest impasse, original infraction or chief hurts?”

Focus on the spiritual realm of the conflict, not the flesh—“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:11-12)

Feel free to bring your own notes but it will be very helpful if you fill out the Conflict Summary on the next page so that you can be prepared for the process.

 



Create a Conflict Summary

(Use one sheet per conflicting episode or issue. This is for your reference.)

Briefly summarize, in bullet point, both sides of the present matter.

 

 

 

Think about shared aspirations and your relationship prior to the conflict.

What was your relationship like before the disagreements began?

What are you surethat all of you agree upon about the conflict?

What do youthinkyou agree about?

 

Is this conflict part of a larger narrative involving other people and events?

 

 

What do you want the other party to hear, acknowledge or accept responsibility for?

 

 

What have you learned about yourself and accept responsibility for?

What do you personally regret or wish you had done differently?

What have you learned since the main conflicts that you wish you knew then?

What piece of previously unknown information has become important?

In what ways have you reacted badly?  What are you willing to do about it?

Is there anything from your life (upbringing, experiences before or after your conversion) that affects how you have responded or reacted within the conflict?

For example: overbearing authority figures, extreme cases of abuse in any form from family / church, parent’s alcoholism, serious unmet needs from absenteeism or rejection, family losses, codependency, mental illnesses, et cetera.

What are your main needs or hopes for the outcome of this mediation?

 

How will you respond if the process seems fair and objective but the outcome is not what you had hoped for?

Begin The Work of Transformation

Paul’s Theology of Moving from Guilt to Innocence

For mature and competent believers: Recognize and address the offenses such as a dissentious spirit that leads to divisions (1 Corinthians 1:10-12, 11:18-19), incest (5:1), tolerating sin (5:2-4), the sins of immorality, greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness and swindling (5:11), suing fellow believers (6:1-6), cheating and other wrongdoing (6:8-9), etcetera.

For the church on behalf of the injured parties: Practice loving judgment, discipline and forgiveness—1 Cor. 5:4, 2 Cor. 2:5-11, Eph. 4:32, Col. 3:13-15.

For the offending parties: Develop the inward hallmarks of observable repentance along with appropriate apology—2 Cor. 7:8-11.

For everyone: Practice the basic spiritual disciplines for the renewal of your mind—Rom. 12:1-2, 9-21.

Mediators don’t have complete access to which particular offense brought about the apostle Paul’s marvelous assessment of apology and repentance in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11. The earlier letter addresses a long list of chronic behaviors and sins. It was natural that he would be aware of the problems in Corinth because he was its first minister (Acts 18:1-28).

Over the years Paul was capable of developing a discovery-analysis of the multiple Corinthian problems through trusted liaisons like Sosthenes, Titus, Silas, Apollos and Timothy (1 Cor. 1:1, 6:10-12, 2 Cor. 1:19, 8:16-24, 12:18), as well as other believers from Corinth, where Paul was writing, mentioned at the conclusion of Romans 16. These saints served as extra eyes for the apostle.

While there are clear benefits of working through completely neutral mediators, there are advantages of working with respected father figures, like Paul, who can bring about conclusions much swifter. Circumstances did not allow him to have face-to-face mediation with the offended and offender parties related to issues discussed in the earlier letter. Rather, in our second Corinthian letter we observe the apostle Paul acting both as a mediator and arbiter for the Corinthian church from a distance. 

Most situations today don’t have a longstanding founder-mediator-apostle like the apostle Paul to look to. The second best thing is to have skilled and trustworthy dispute-handlers such as those established by Moses in the Old Testament (Deut. 1:9-18) and peacemakers esteemed by Jesus and James in the New Testament (Matt 5:9, James 3:18). There is a good chance that if you are reading this guide you are preparing for a peacemaker / mediator to help you and another person come to peace, forgiveness and even reconciliation.

This mediation will follow Paul’s transformative model. He shows how a person can be in grievous sinand end up in a state of innocence. For the wronged one it is a matter of forgiveness. For the wrongdoer it is a blend of metanoe (repentance) and apologia (apology, an account, a bridge of understanding presented by one party to another).

If it has become apparent that your behavior has been wrong, in what ways are you a wrongdoer (use biblical terms such as gossiping, disrespect, judgmental)? __________________.

Now we are going to look at the ways to remove this offense from the relationship through repentance (metanoeo). First, let’s be clear, repentance is NOT about: 1) feigning change, 2) lamenting for a long time in shame over your wrongs, 3) fulfilling a series of penalties, or 4) endless groveling and humiliation. Repentance IS: “to change one’s mind for the better” (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon) or “to change one’s mind or purpose” (NAS Greek Dictionary), “change of mind which results in change of life” (Dictionary of Biblical Languages). The term metanoia is best defined as the return to a right understanding between us and God and/or another person that leads to a cosmic positive change in that relationship. Repentance is oriented to the future but includes sobriety about past conduct, which shows up as changes in the present (Matthew 3:2, 4:17).

Third-Party Assessment. In some extreme cases where injury has occurred, repentance is more easily confirmed by a third party. The apostle Paul stepped in as a trusted figure and apparently, 

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (7:8-10)

Name some objective parties, those not emotionally polarized by the conflict, that you have trusted or are trusting? ____________________________. This could be anyone who “has no skin the game” that commented on your behavior. What specifically have they told you in private caucus or previous appointments about your responsibility in the conflict? _________________________ _______________________. In the event you are reading this document a designated peacemaker has taken on the assignment of helping you. What is his or her name? __________________________.

And “godly” (theos, divine) “sorrow” (lupe, grief) leaves “no regret” (ametameletos, state of being unapologetic) and “earthly sorrow” produces “death” (thanatos, loss, misery, separation). Divine grief (high perspective) results in a regret-free state of being while earthly grief (limited perspective) produces misery. Step back and ask yourself these questions,

“Do people see you as someone who is happy and freed from your own choices?” ____

“Can you speak openly and freely of your errors in your approach in this conflict?”  ____

“Are you more concerned about changing your ways than about saving face?” ____

Paul went on to describe inner characteristics of the wrongdoer that transformed into very apparent and even impressive traits.

For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong!  In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. (7:11)

As we look over the exciting prospects for metanoia think about your relationship to God and others. Make personal notes about your own characteristics in the ongoing conflict.

Earnestness (Spoudē, importance and urgency), often translated “eagerness”. It is like due diligence. Earnestness means sincerely and fully intending with forward movement in the pursuit of progress. After a long time of introspection I am determined to do what is right and not hold back.

 Reflection: ________________________________________________________________________________________  

Eagerness to Vindicate/Clear Myself (Apologia)—initiate a reasonable explanation. It might be a statement of admissionof past guilt. Or it might be a declaration of defense, an argument to clear oneself for partial or full exoneration. Providing information to explain a meaningful contextfor all parties. Simply said, it is a reasonable presentation of the full account of the matter. Eagerness to clear oneself means doing whatever one can to talk openly about how the matters can be resolved.

  Reflection: ________________________________________________________________________________________  

Fear (Phobos, respect or alarm)— is the motivating factor behind our actions. “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, …”(2 Corinthians 5:11). Edward J. Anton writes in Repentance, “Know fear. Don’t try to exorcise it from godly sorrow. And don’t try to unfairly isolate it as it must work in brilliant concert with the other characteristics of godly sorrow to produce repentance. Nothing focuses the mind like real fear.”

 Alarm is your friend. It trains us. This is not to be confused with fear of man or fear of losing something. It is a fear of God and alarm over one’s behavior.

  Reflection: ________________________________________________________________________________________  

Indignation (Aganaktēsis, anger)—cleaning out of one’s own temple. Indignation involves some measure of anger for a very short time. It is focused on my persistent sins. It provides me the strength to do what is right. It has no interest in distractions, excuses, decoy discussions or the transference of blame. Indignation in the context of oneself implies being vexed at part of one’s mind or heart that must be dealt with by divine grief—it does not mean self-loathing or condemnation.

  Reflection: ________________________________________________________________________________________  

Longing (Epipothēsis, vehement desire)– the forward desire after the acknowledging separation. This strong desire drives the perseverance towards reconciliation. It is not just about changing a view or an attribute, but about reforming a lost or damaged relationship.

  Reflection: ________________________________________________________________________________________  

Zeal (Zēlos, fervant)—excitement of mind, “to have a warmth of feeling for” (NAS Dictionary). The consuming drive when the mind and heart are engaged   It is evident in a “whatever it takes” attitude.

  Reflection: ________________________________________________________________________________________  

Avenging of the wrong (Ekdikēsis, avenging wrong, giving justice). Righting a wrong should usually take place on the scale that the original offense occurred. Since gossip and slander is one of the most common sins involved in conflicts (Prov. 26:20, Eph. 4:29-31, James 4:11) we will use an illustration of how hard righting a wrong can be.

The story has been told of a queen with a subject who gossiped against her.  The gossip was summoned to the palace and taken to the tower.  There the queen tore the ticking of a feather pillow, shook the feathers out, and watched them as they were carried by the breezes in every conceivable direction.  The gossip was then ordered to go and gather every last one of those feathers. Weeping profusely, she proclaimed the impossibility of the task.  In no uncertain terms she was made to feel the terrible evil of her gossip that had spread even more widely than feathers carried by the wind.

To continue to drive this point home: In the Scriptures human accusation is ten times more frequently used in negative context than in positive ones. The word devil, the English translation of a Greek word (diabolos), means ‘accuser’ or ‘slanderer,’ (James 4:11-12). It could be described as diabolical to exaggerate someone’s weakness. This happens with slurs and tags that people can put on each other. Now, consider how you have avenged any kind of wrong that you have done.

  Reflection: ________________________________________________________________________________________  

 

If the seven traits are demonstrated then forgiveness can be asserted on behalf of the congregation (2 Cor. 2:5-10).

 



 

[1]For example: race, culture, nation or family



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