Most of us as church planters are probably eager to get the ball rolling, set some concrete rhythms of gathering our community together, and implement worship services from the get-go. But, as our community was in its launching phase, I took note of two vital thoughts that pivoted my own church plant’s focus.
One, I participated in a Praxis Gathering session with Christiana Rice (co-author of To Alter Your World: Partnering with God to Rebirth Our Communities) who emphasized the importance of having a “peace pathway” for your church.
A peace pathway was her term to describe a uniquely curated set of principles and practice that tailor fit each community in order to navigate the tension of conflict. Conflict which is inevitable in every community.
Two, in reading Church as Movement (by JR Woodward and Dan White, Jr.), they tackled the sincere differences between living in thin community versus thick community, particularly in relationship building, truth telling, and peace making interactions within our missional communities. What will we choose in times of conflict? Conflict which is inevitable in every community.
These two thoughts changed what our tribe focused on, and instead of figuring out structures or programs for our gatherings, we took a courageous chance to look at what living in Thick Community, equipped with a Peace Pathway, would practically look like.
Our starting point is the way of Jesus, and our commitment to one another is this:
“The way of Jesus, the way of peace: I live in a community of Presence, a THICK community, where everyone’s name is honored and peace is humbly made through trust instead of suspicion, honesty instead of hiding, and dialogue instead of division”
We took time to pray together and invite the Holy Spirit to guide us as we curated principles and practices that were concise and unique to our community. We landed on the following:
In times of conflict, IN PRINCIPLE …
Ephesians 5:21: WE YIELD TO ONE ANOTHER FIRST: “Submit [yield to] to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Hebrews 4:12: WE TURN TO GOD’S WORD, WRITTEN AND PRAYER, FIRST: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Matthew 18:15-16, 20: WE HAVE FACE TO FACE DIALOGUE FIRST: “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell him/her their fault, between you and him/her alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother or sister. But, if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses … For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.
Philippians 4:7: WE BELIEVE THE PEACE OF GOD GUARDS OUR HEARTS AND MINDS FIRST: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
In times of conflict, IN PRACTICE …
THICK Community looks like this:
- I honor a person’s name, whether he/she is present or not – I refuse to dishonor their name in any context, private or public
- I only share a concern or conflict with others if they are part of the conflict or part of the solution – everything else is gossip, and gossip dishonors a person’s name
- I work towards forgiveness in a timely manner, which means that I choose to address the concern or conflict with God to forgive in my heart and let go of the other person’s offense and/or I move towards dialogue with that person to work out forgiveness face to face in a timely manner – I don’t want to make room for resentment and unforgiveness
- I am slow to speak, slow to defend myself, and slow to make assumptions of the other person, but quick to listen, quick to ask questions, and quick to reconcile differences
- I know that most differences are not because of right or wrong but because of differences in preferences and temperaments, so I work towards understanding and honoring my own preferences and temperaments and those of the other person
- I know that a break in trust is often created by a break in reliability and availability, so I work towards contributing to a reliable and available community — that means that I create a community of timely responses (to emails or texts, etc) and intentionally thinking of, praying for, encouraging, and helping others
I would be lying to you if I said that living in Thick Community and utilizing a Peace Pathway in our missional community are easy. They’re not easy, because conflict, which is inevitable in every community, is not easy. But, how we love and how we live in community, in the way of Jesus, really matters to Him. It was the last thing He told his closest friends, His disciples, before He laid down His life for us, and His Kingdom is built upon us being people who have love for one another.
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