Last year I began a series of interviews called “Meet the Ministries.” This purpose of this series is to learn about some of the more prominent or more interesting ministries seeking to serve the church today. In the past this series has stopped at Grace to You and Desiring God and Acts 29. Today the series resumes with an interview with Fred Barthel, Director of Communications at Peacemaker Ministries.
How and when did Peacemaker Ministries begin?
Conflict is an issue in all our lives and churches—there’s no escaping it, even for Christians. (As it’s sometimes cheekily noted, “Wherever two or three are gathered, there will be conflict.”)
The same was true back in 1982, when Ken Sande was faced with a choice: enter a law firm as an associate attorney or create a local venue for providing biblically-based mediation and arbitration services. Thankfully, Ken chose the latter. He began helping Christians and their church leaders learn how to follow 1 Corinthians 6:1-8—resolving disputes within the local church rather than bringing lawsuits against one another.
Eventually, the small ministry expanded as more and more Christians learned how to resolve conflicts with goals of justice, personal reconciliation, and glorifying God. In a process from 1987 to 1993, Ken’s own organization merged with several other conciliation organizations and became what is now Peacemaker Ministries.
Why does Peacemaker Ministries exist? What are its chief goals and key emphases?
As Francis Schaeffer noted in The Mark of the Christian:
Jesus says, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” In the midst of the world, in the midst of our present dying culture, Jesus is giving a right to the world. Upon his authority he gives the world the right to judge whether you and I are born-again Christians on the basis of our observable love toward all Christians.
Isn’t this an amazing thought—that God has essentially given the world the right to judge whether the gospel is true based on how Christians get along with each other? Along these lines, it is our goal to help the bride of Christ become more lovely and beautiful in her unity so that a watching world will readily see that the gospel really is true.
Yes, we know we are a parachurch ministry. That means that our role is squarely one of a bridesmaid supporting and directing attention to the bride rather than being in competition with her. We want people to look at the church and say, “Wow! Look how they persevere with one another. Look how they love each other. How is that possible? I want to learn more … ”
For this to happen, Christians must learn to be peacemakers. And so as a ministry, we desire to help create churches that are marked by peace and unity, even in the midst of real-life relational struggles.
More formally, our mission is to “equip and assist Christians and their churches to respond to conflict biblically”:
Equip - We don’t want to be viewed merely as “firefighters”—i.e., in case of conflict, break glass and call the “professional peacemakers.” We’d much prefer for all Christians to be equipped to respond well to conflict themselves (and to the extent possible, to stay out of destructive conflict in the first place).
Assist - Sometimes, though, we do play the “firefighter” role when a conflict is so serious or involves so many people that a family, business, or ministry requires outside help to resolve it. One of our divisions, the Institute for Christian Conciliation, offers a network of trained professionals to provide direct assistance to individuals and organizations through its conciliation services. After nearly thirty years helping Christians in conflict, we have experience assisting in almost every situation you can imagine: from family fights to congregational conflicts to multi-million dollar contract disputes (and everything in between).
Christians and their churches - Again, our passion for peacemaking goes beyond the individual Christian—we firmly believe that the church is God’s “Plan A” for building the Kingdom (and frankly, there is no plan B). We believe that peacemaking is an essential ministry of the local church, not a task reserved for professional mediators or lawyers. Therefore, we encourage Christians to take unresolved conflicts to their church families, which are called by God to restore peace by promoting biblical justice and reconciliation.
Respond to conflict biblically - As a ministry we want to be faithful to Scripture in all that we do and all that we encourage others to do. We believe that the Bible contains all of the promises and principles needed for true peacemaking. That means that God’s Word is totally authoritative and completely sufficient for all aspects of life, and his peacemaking commands and promises apply to every conflict a Christian can encounter.
How is Peacemaker Ministries a distinctly Christian ministry? How would it differ from a similar secular organization?
First of all, Christ is central to all that we do as a ministry. We believe that genuine peace between people cannot be found through a process or a set of skills; it can be found only through Jesus Christ. Therefore, we encourage people in conflict to believe the gospel, trust in Christ, and faithfully rely on his promises.
There’s a direct connection between the gospel and peacemaking—peacemaking is one clear snapshot of what the gospel looks like in all our lives. The greatest conflict in history—the one between God and man—was reconciled on the cross, and as a result there is hope for reconciliation in any other conflict. Even when we were still his enemies, God made peace with us through the death and resurrection of his Son.
If we truly believe this (and we do!), then it must make a difference in our relationships and how we deal with conflict. Since we have been reconciled with God, we can be reconciled with one another. Because God has forgiven us in Christ, we can forgive others. And because God has forgiven us in Christ, we can freely confess where we have sinned against others. This is a radically different way for Christians to relate to each other, and we at Peacemaker Ministries exist to help the church live this out.
Another key distinctive is one that I have already discussed, but it’s so important I’ll mention it again: we are devoted to the bride of Christ—the Church.
The final distinctive is that, unlike secular mediation-arbitration services, we not only address the substantive issues in a conflict, we also encourage people to deal with conflict at the heart level. James 4:1-3 teaches us that that destructive conflict comes from desires that battle within our hearts. For that reason, we don’t merely try to resolve surface issues. Yes, we can help with that contractual dispute. But we also strive to help Christians in conflict to find their fulfillment in Christ, renounce sinful desires and actions that have contributed to conflict, and seek genuine reconciliation with God and others.
How can Peacemaker serve the readers of this web site? In what circumstances might they want to get in touch with Peacemaker?
By all means, if you are facing a conflict and need some help that isn’t available locally, please contact our conciliation division. Or if you are interested in deepening your own peacemaking skills, then consider our training opportunities or come to our annual Peacemaker Conference (this fall it’s in Washington DC on the theme of forgiveness).
But probably what would serve most of you the best are our resources. If you’ve never read the The Peacemaker (by Ken Sande) before, I’d highly encourage you to do it. My wife often says that outside the Bible, it’s the one book that every Christian should read, and I agree. We also have several related books and small group studies that apply biblical peacemaking principles to pastors, women, children, missionary teams and more.
Our newest resource is one that we are particularly excited about—a DVD-based group study for church leaders called The Leadership Opportunity. Church leaders, just by virtue of their position, sit in the middle of conflict—whether in those times when tension surfaces in a leaders’ meeting, when managing a difficult change, or when an angry couple is sitting in their office. We’ve pulled together a practical resource to equip leaders in these difficult situations, encouraging leaders to truly live out the gospel in the many places where conflict and leadership intersect.
Who are the key leaders within the ministry?
Ken Sande is the founder and president, and he is surrounded by several experienced vice-presidents (Gary Friesen, Chip Zimmer, Tim Pollard, and David Schlachter).
How many employees does Peacemaker have?
Around 30 full/part time employees.
What is Peacemaker’s annual budget? How is the ministry financed and how do you ensure financial integrity?
Our 2009 budget was about $2.9 million. About 50-60% of our revenue comes from the generous donations of our supporters, while the remaining income comes from our resources, training, and conciliation services. We are a member of the ECFA (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability) which carries with it all kinds of requirements to make sure we are above-board on everything financial (including an annual audit). With ECFA’s help, our donors can be certain that we are good stewards of the resources entrusted to us.
How do you expect Peacemaker will be different in ten years? Twenty years?
Lord willing, we will have closed our doors because churches will be doing such a good job themselves of dealing with conflicts that we won’t be needed anymore!
But if the Lord chooses not to do this, we want to continue transferring the ministry of peacemaking to the church. We would love to see thousands of churches establish dedicated peacemaking teams and develop a “culture of peace.” Such a culture is where members resolve most conflicts personally and privately, and releasing pastors from the “complaint loop.” It’s where marriages, friendships, and other relationships are strengthened and preserved, resulting in fewer divorces and a lower turnover of members, staff, and volunteers. Ministries and missions are more united and fruitful. And the gospel is lived out in relationships so that a church experiences the true blessings of peace and reconciliation. That’s our main goal in the coming years.
We are also excited to see is what the Lord will do overseas. God is already raising up people and organizations with a passion for reconciliation in key areas of South America, Africa, Australia, and Asia. We are partnering with the organization Overseas Council to bring biblical peacemaking into some of the most influential evangelical seminaries around the world—helping the next generation of leaders in the global church be prepared for conflict.
Christians overseas tend to have a big vision for what peacemaking can do beyond their personal lives and church families. They see the biblical principles directly applying to the political and cultural conflicts they face, and have great hope that the power of the gospel can transform entire communities and countries. We are grateful for the many ministry opportunities opening up around the globe, and we look forward to seeing what God does in the future.
How does Peacemaker work with other Christian ministries?
Our work doesn’t necessitate a great deal of collaboration, but we have close ties to a few ministries, including: the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), Christian Legal Society, and as I mentioned above, Overseas Council. In addition, many other ministries and organizations have made use of our training, consulting, or conciliation services.
But, of course, our major partnership is with churches, and our primary desire is to work alongside denominations and churches for the benefit of the bride of Christ and the glory of God.
What are some of the ways Peacemaker Ministries has seen evidence of God’s hand of blessing?
God has given us a sacrificially dedicated staff and a committed and enthusiastic constituency, all with a passion for peacemaking.
We are also blessed by the enduring quality of Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker. It is a particular joy to us to see The Peacemaker translated into many languages to help our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world learn better how to live in unity with one another.
In addition ,we are consistently humbled to witness God’s work in the lives of those who are stuck in conflict. In situation after situation—often where there seems like no hope for reconciliation—we’ve seen God move people to humble themselves, confess, and forgive one another. It is such an honor to see the power of the gospel tangibly displayed in the restoration of broken relationships.
But the biggest blessing? That’s the one found in Matthew 5:9, where Jesus teaches that we get to be called sons of God when we are peacemakers. What a wonderful identity to have!
How can the readers of this web site serve and support Peacemaker Ministries?
Please pray for us and the work God has called us to do. Pray for encouragement, for it can be very wearying to deal with the ugly effects of Christians in conflict. Pray also for wisdom as we consider what God would have us accomplish this year with limited resources (like most churches and ministries, finances are tight in this tough economy).
Also, feel free to poke around our website (www.Peacemaker.net) and take a look at the resources, training, and services we provide.
But most importantly, if there’s just one thing you could do, we’d love for you to introduce these concepts to your own church and church leaders. In our desire to serve churches, we still need humble advocates for peacemaking within congregations. If that’s you, then we want to partner with you and see how the Lord might bless the peacemakers in your midst.
I really do appreciate this opportunity, and I thank you for taking the time to read this. And also, thanks to you, Tim, for all you do for the Kingdom through the written word. May God richly bless you all.