Archives For Conflict Management

1 By the waters of Babylon,
    there we sat down and wept,
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
    we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
    required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How shall we sing the Lord’s song
    in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest joy!

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
    the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
    down to its foundations!”
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
    blessed shall he be who repays you
    with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
    and dashes them against the rock!

Continuing our journey through some lament psalms we come to a particularly interesting category of lament psalms called community laments. Individual lament looks at individual problems where the community laments approach God from the standpoint of a group of people. The difference is that the psalmist intends on voicing the psalm as a representative of his people. Sins may be involved (aren’t they always ;)) but it is the sins of the people (i.e., collective disobedience) rather than specific sins of a person.

This particular psalm is voiced from the context of Babylonian captivity (i.e., Exile) and comes to us without a specified author.[1] Babylon took many of the people of Israel away (hence Exile) in the sixth century BCE and many of the Israelites would not return for decades (70 years?). This particular season brought many Israelites to two recognitions: 1) the brevity of their communal sin and 2) their dependence should not be in their own ability to write history but in the one who created it.

Notice in this Psalm the community is weeping and longs to return to Zion, the holy city. They find that they have to endure the context they are in but their understanding is that “this world is not their home” and Zion is the place they need to be both physically but ultimately, spiritually. Notice that they can’t even sing the “Lord’s song” in a land where the song is not recognized (v. 4). This land that they are in is filled with injustice as implied in verses 8-9 is that their little ones were dashed against rocks. Whether that’s literal or figurative does not take away from the fact that they are experiencing a communal low.

So what is their solution? Trust in God that he will repay their enemies for evil and to remind themselves of the hope that is protected in the memory of Jerusalem, their highest joy. I am reminded how important this psalm is as we find ourselves in post-election America. I will not go far as to say the U.S. is Babylon (some make a strong case for this) but I also am reminded that our hopes, our dreams, our greatest reality can never be in a human institution. The monarchy of Israel was never God’s intention nor is it his intention to wield the wills of his kingdom through the United States of America or any other human institution.

There is a sense where we all struggle with singing the Lord’s song in a foreign land. We all are living in tents and our temples have yet to be built. We read Scripture that reminds us (like Zion reminded the Psalmist) of better things. Our hope does not lie in parties, partisanship or policies. Our hope lies in the Kingdom of God. It always has, it always will.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some things your church community could possibly lament about?
  2. Why is it important to stick to the kingdom of God rather than human institutions?
  3. Why is it so hard to have a kingdom-vision for your community rather than a democratic, republican or whatever vision?

[1] Was this psalm written pre-Exile anticipating Babylonian captivity or was it post-Exile written during the experience of Exile? Not sure. In the end it does not matter as it seems the point is clear that the captivity was a cause to approach God and make their requests made known to him.


Hidden Agendas

October 24, 2012 — Leave a comment

But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. 14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

– Acts 8:9-19

I love how Scripture has a way of telling you something in a way that nothing else can. Simon the Sorcerer (not hat’s not his last name) was a character the apostles encountered early in their post-Jesus ministry. No doubt the church started with a bang (see Acts 2) and things were on an exciting level. I notice that when excitement comes there is a tendency to veer off mission and vision in order to keep excitement going. Simon is just an example of many who probably felt the way he did but simply did not voice it. I think Simon struggled with pride and greed and his hidden agenda for the Spirit of God was, like Babel in Genesis 11, an issue of making a name for himself. I love Luke’s language as he says that he told people “he was somebody great.” When true power came (another discussion might be that the apostles never discarded that the magic was fake) he wanted it but perhaps masked his desire to follow Jesus with a hidden agenda. He simply wanted the power. He was selfish. Go figure. In walks every human being to have ever lived. There is a lot to unpack here but for the sake of time and space I want to quickly think about hidden agendas.

Have you ever gone to a meeting thinking you were going to go discuss business matters only to be surprised by a hidden agenda you were not privy to? Or what about relationships where people only talk to you when they need something done or they want to use what you are good at to leverage power, prestige or notoriety in their direction? Hidden agendas creep in relationships which means they creep in churches. Ministers have hidden agendas, elders have hidden agendas, parents in youth ministry have their own agendas. The problem is that when there are all of these hidden agendas it blinds us from keeping our eyes fixed on what is most important: kingdom. A side issue with hidden agendas is that we are not open and honest with people enough to wear we can talk with them in dialogue. Why not disclose your agenda and let people who are wise handle it?

Hidden agendas affect your vision like cancer affects the body. Slow… methodical… poisonous…and always lethal if untreated. A way to get rid of hidden agendas is to have a leadership buy-in to a vision that is so Christocentric and God-honoring that any issue, qualm or quarrel can be avoided simply by saying, “That is not our vision.” When people adopt a specific vision then their hidden agenda becomes part of the churches overall agenda. They secretly are doing what they can to adopt the vision of the church. This will avoid that diplomatic elder or that pessimistic “money-holder” or that youth minister who is secretive about introducing “new things” without church approval.

Get a vision…

Make it clear…

Make it specific…

Make it accessible…

Make it doable…

Stick to it!

What do you think?

Some things just get a person in trouble. Many of us have been guilty of writing that scathing e-mail where we use ALL CAPS to get our point across and later regretted we even sent that e-mail. Or maybe you wrote that blog post with every intention of settling the score once-and-for-all only to have 44 comments of people bickering about how wrong you were. Or maybe… just maybe… you were preaching from a book in Scripture and a sermon fell on a particularly controversial passage (say Matt. 19:3-12.. or any thing related to M.D.R. for you coC friends) and you presented a different view and received scathing comments. Either way there has to be some advice one should receive before sending “that” e-mail, preaching “that” sermon or writing “that” article. I have come up with a few suggestions:

  • What is your purpose? Some controversy should just be avoided altogether and your opinion on the matter, albeit important for your faith formation, will probably solve nothing and might even stir the pot a little more. Consider your motives and read 1 Corinthians 16:14 and then write the post.
  • If you can’t take the heat, then stay out of the kitchen. There is a reason why some people avoid the controversy as they do not want to deal with the fallout. This is especially important if your leadership has to deal with some of the darts people throw at you. A leadership may not want to deal with the extra stress so if you don’t have the tools and people to back-up what you say then don’t say it.
  • Let someone older and wiser read what you have to say before you publish it (Prov. 15:22). There are some things I have preached on that were controversial that could have been polished more with the eyes of an older and wiser Christian. I may have said the right thing but I probably said it in the wrong manner.
  • Sticks and stones may break my bones AND words will still hurt me. Be very careful when you label someone. Words like “liberal” and “legalist” and “sacrilegious” and others are probably not helpful, especially when you have not talked with the source. Bashing people online (“trolling”) is a passive-aggressive form of bullying and is weak, cheap and cowardly.

Did I miss anything?

I received a comment about my sermon last night and I think it was constructive but I was not sure.  I am not going to tell you the comment as it really does not matter because it got me thinking: When is criticism constructive or destructive?  We have all met those people who tried to constructively criticized but after a while the criticism did not have the other person’s best interest in mind.  So answer the question on this long Monday morning and help me out.


When is criticism constructive or destructive?

Have you ever came across someone who made you extremely upset at the time and you wanted to smash their face in with a sledge-hammer but decided not?  We all have come across those types of people…odds are you have been that type of person.  What kept you from unleashing your inner Bruce Lee was giving them the benefit of the doubt.  In so many circumstances I find that giving someone the benefit of the doubt is the Christian thing to do.  This works especially with the sin of gossip.  “Have you heard that so and so was caught drinking at a local bar?”  You have two options but only one is helpful: A) Believe the information and spread it or, B) Give the person the benefit of the doubt and consider other options.  They may have been drinking in the bar but until you can confirm it and until you go up to the person to see what drove them to drinking you are better off giving them the benefit of the doubt.  I have compiled a list of what giving a person the benefit of the doubt will do.

  • The benefit of the doubt will keep you from anger.
  • The benefit of the doubt will keep you from holding a grudge.
  • The benefit of the doubt may create a ministry opportunity.
  • The benefit of the doubt will level the playing field (we all are broken right?).
  • The benefit of the doubt will keep you from sin.
  • The benefit of the doubt will help you understand people more.
  • The benefit of the doubt allows you to see as Jesus sees.
  • The benefit of the doubt keeps you from sweeping assumptions.
  • The benefit of the doubt allows you to gather all of the facts.
  • The benefit of the doubt gives people second chances.
  • The benefit of the doubt keeps you from having to apologize.
  • The benefit of the doubt gives Christianity a good name.
  • The benefit of the doubt supports the golden rule instead of destroying it.

Did I miss something?  What would you add?

Dear Elders,

First I want to say thank you for providing so many youth ministers with opportunities to grow and learn in their ministries.  You have stuck with many in the trenches and many of you are the reasons why youth ministers are still thriving.  You show up at their activities, skits and you even take them out for lunch letting them know how much you appreciate them.  I want to thank you for the great ministry of shepherding you have done and for that we owe you our love and support.  However, if I you were to ask me some advice for elders based on a youth minister’s perspective I would give you the following.  Please do not micro-manage us and actually trust us.  I understand you come from an atmosphere where the “bottom-line” is the point of conversation but the truth is that youth ministry is messy.  I can give you financial statements, expenditures, number of visits, phone calls, hours in the office, gas mileage, class reports, individual growth reports for teens, parent meeting reports, future planning, vision and anything else you want but that would mean I would never see my family and the truth is that youth ministry is never, ever, ever neat.  Some of you get that and trust us tremendously but many of you could care less about what we do and all you want to know is that we are a) not losing kids, b) not losing money and c) keeping parents happy.  So please do not micro-manage us but actually trust us to do the job that you hired us to do.

Secondly, I wish you would go to bat for us when a parent comes to you with a “problem” instead of coming down hard on us every time a parent whines and complains.  Let’s be honest elders, some parents are 40 year old kindergarteners.  Some of them get mad because we “made” them put their children’s phone up in bible class.  Some of them get jealous because they think we love other kids more than theirs.  Some of them get mad because we encouraged their daughter to put some modest clothes on and then encouraged mom to do the same.  I wish you would tell parents to first talk with us before they come to you.  You guys are not the principal’s office or the NCAA rules violations committee you are our shepherds.  If they have not come to us first then that is biblically wrong (Matthew 18, et al).  We need your support and if you keep defending parents all the time then, like a defenseless deer, we are going to run.

Thirdly, please pray with us and our families.  I have discussions all the time about youth ministers who are exhausted and I ask if their elders have sat down and prayed with them and the answer is invariably no.  We need to feed but we also need to be fed.  Coming into our office with no agenda but only to pray is food for our spiritual soul.

Fourth, discipline us.  WHAT?  I know that sounds crazy but just like youth ministers need not to be micro-managed we also need evaluation, constructive criticism and discipline.  If we think we are always doing the right thing and nobody tells us otherwise then we assume we are always doing the right thing.  That’s not right.  Sit down with us yearly to talk about our successes but talk about where we need improvement.

Finally, cast vision and differentiate.  There are elders in churches who are too scared to do and say what they need to because they are afraid of brother or sister so-and-so.  If it is not a matter of doctrine and it is for the betterment of the sheep then do it.  Fear paralyzes churches and the result is that we will not grow.  I was talking with Dale Jenkins one time and I said, “I don’t think we need to change for change sake.”  His response was appropriate and made me think, “Well why not change for change sake?”  I wish elders had 1, 3, 5 and even 10 year visions for what they want the church to do and be.

I love elders and Main Street has some of the best but these are my thoughts I wish every elder would listen to from youth ministers, for youth ministers.

Deo gratias.

Man doing push-upsWe as ministers, parents, and even the government (whether admitted or not) know it… after all, the Bible says it and studies [Must Read Growing Up Too Fast: The Rimm Report on the Secret World of America’s Middle Schoolers, Sylvia Rimm, PhD.] show it.  But, do we as parents cultivate it?  What I’m talking about is the simple truth that parents are the most influential instruments in the faith and social development of their children’s lives.

Every day a young person wakes up with the challenge to face his day in his life.  This day will undoubtedly be filled with peer-pressure, heart-ache, joy, excitement, sadness, anger, peace, difficult decisions about respect and actions, easy decisions about food and music… and then there’s the indescribable, awkward, difficult, crazy, embarrassing, difficult to deal with parents and family.  Ok, so maybe that’s a little over stated on paper.  But if we’re honest with ourselves as adults, we remember all too well the horrendous roller-coaster ride called adolescence, coupled with the job of trying to “cope” with our parents.  Simply put, there’s nothing easy about the mixture of teen life and family.  However, just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean it ceases to be worthwhile.  And just because your teen may NEVER admit his parents’ influence in his life, doesn’t mean that it’s non-existent.

So, back to the question at hand… Do we as parents cultivate our influence in the lives of our children, or do we make our children’s lives more difficult by refusing to be understanding in all that they are facing on a daily basis?

[PS –Parents, don’t quit reading just because I’m picking on you right now… Teens, don’t get self-righteous as you read this portion directed at your parents.  Both parties are going to be addressed in this discussion!!!]

As a parent, it’s so easy to remember the words of the Bible (It’s one of the 1st verses I taught my four year old to memorize), “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Honor your father and mother…” (Ephesians 6:1-2). We expect obedience regardless, and it’s fair that we should.  We are responsible for the training and development of our children, and as best as we can, we guide them in our feeble wisdom and experience.  We do know a little bit about a little bit, right?  They are, after all, still children living under our roof.  But that doesn’t make it easy for our teens to simply swallow our demands on them.  So, I encourage you to look a little further into this simple passage.  Paul goes on to say, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NLT).  In other words, Paul is encouraging us as parents – especially fathers – to consider the feelings of our children in our dealings with them.  Maybe we need to step back from time to time and try to remember how difficult our own teenage years were…  When our teen comes in from a rough day at school with a chip on his shoulder (not justifying a negative behavior in the least, just asking “why?”), it might benefit the entire household for us to step back and consider the source of the problem before escalating it with attitude speeches and behavioral lectures.  We must continually consider whether or not we are cultivating our influence in the lives of our children (over-bearing and pushy impatience does not cultivate influence).  Above all, that influence must be salted with the discipline and teaching of the Lord.  If we are going to push our children in any way, let’s make sure we push them toward the Lord, or else we might push them away altogether.

Teens, let’s get right to it… We are called to be better than we often are as we “cope” with our parents.  I like the way the New Living Translation states Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do.” Simply put, God never said that we could base our responses and attitudes toward our parents on whether or not we like what they ask of us or how they treat us.  We respond and behave in a way that is becoming of our relationship with God.  We respect because of who we are, and not because of what they have done or said to hurt us or make us angry.  I know that curfews can sometimes be unfair (yet necessary).  I know that parents can be impatient and demanding (yet lovingly hopeful).  I know that they embarrass you thoroughly in front of your friends (I can’t wait to do this with my two kids).  I also know that they love you more than you will ever understand, and they deserve a little more from you than an attitude that attempts to “cope” with them.

Parents and teens… influence and understanding will only ever be cultivated by communication.  Try it!  Listen and talk to each other in ways that divert anger and resentment and foster growth and compassion.  It may be awkward and difficult to talk about feelings and situations at first, but it will certainly be worthwhile in the long run.  Who knows… you may even enjoy (if that’s really the right word) riding the adolescent roller-coaster together!

Jon David Schwartz has been a Youth and Family Minister at  since 2002 most recently with the Church at Chapel Hill, TN since 2005.  Wife- Amy, Children – Abigail and Lane.  Education – BA, Bible (FHU); M.Min (FHU).  He says, “My only real qualification for writing about this difficult topic is that I have the two most patient parents a man could have, and I strive daily (and fail often) to be a godly father for my two children (Abigail – 4, Lane – 9mos).  It is the most difficult thing in the world to be a teen; it is the most difficult thing in the world to be a father.”

Silencing the Haters

July 26, 2010 — 4 Comments

Last night the youth group and I had an excellent period of worship at our monthly teen devotional.  I directed our thoughts from Philippians 1:27-30 and it seemed to be a good grounding point for the challenging next few weeks for the teenagers.  The Philippian church was not without her faults as apparently there were some preachers who were selfish in their desire to proclaim the gospel (1:15-17).  This must have been frustrating for Paul to see men proclaim a gospel yet only do so for selfish interests and personal gain.  Then Paul addressed something in Philippians 1:27-30 that caught my attention:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have (NIV). 

“Whatever happens” is a bit of an understatement when you see the difficulties Paul himself faced (e.g. 2 Cor. 11:16-32).  He told them to act like citizens who are worthy of the death of Christ which is the gospel of Christ.  But he told them to not be alarmed by those who oppose you (ESV “opponents”).  We all have our “haters” don’t we?  Haters come in all shapes and sizes.  Haters are those who poke fun at the fact that you are a Christian and do things differently than they do.  Haters like to belittle your church participation and often are cynical at what you are trying to do.  Haters look at the church and are quick to point out her flaws, her inconsistencies and her hypocrisies.  Haters do not recognize the good that comes out of the church only the bad aspects.  Haters try to stifle, stymie, stall and cause the church to stalemate.  Haters, like the Devil, are equal opportunity destroyers lurking about seeking ways to bring the church down.  Haters are outside the church but often you will find some haters who are inside the church.     

What do we do about them?  Paul says to not be afraid of them and to keep on acting in a manner worthy of the gospel.  In the words of Nehemiah we need to say:

 “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down” (6:3). 

Paul said that these haters will eventually go away because doing the right thing as a Christian is a sign of their destruction.  So may I encourage you to keep doing what you are doing—yea—do what you are doing with even more zeal and let God and the gospel take care of the haters.

PHPs and Diotrephes

December 10, 2009 — Leave a comment

Police officer holding beat up businessman on floor in office
Copyright –

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church (3 John 9-10). 

Have you ever been in a committee meeting at church and there is that one person who always like to push their agenda?  Surely not!  Not at church!  It is true that the church is a body of people who are seeking to do nothing more than God’s will and most of the time, people in the church strive to do what’s best for everybody.  But that’s not always the case.  Sometimes there are the PHPs that simply get in the way.  PHP stands for Power Hungry People.  They come in all shapes and sizes but as soon as you talk to one of them you immediately know that they are PHPs.  I imagine Diotrephes was a PHP who liked all of the attention and did not want to show hospitality to traveling preachers because, well, that would take the attention away from himself.  He would not have the limelight and that was not how he wanted to live his life!  I am sure churches have the PHPs in them and so here is how you spot them:

  • They crave attention
  • They are not concerned about anything other than their agenda
  • They try to belittle ideas and immediately are critical of anything suggested that is not their own
  • They are micro-managers
  • They have trust issues
  • They are manipulative
  • They often flex their muscles (metaphorically…but maybe not) when backed in a corner
  • They are sneaky
  • They will play the numbers’ game if questioned (Do not question me because there are many people who agree with me!) 
  • They are overtly friendly in the beginning but then shortly after that it turns awry

I could mention many others but these will suffice.  so you ask, “How do I address someone who is a PHP?”  Below are some principles to keep in mind. 

  • Pray, pray and pray
  • Realize that hurt people hurt people
  • Do not go around the church gossiping about this person (that will only give them more ammunition)
  • Find a way to serve this person but be sure your intentions are not to scheme them into liking you. 
  • Sit down with them one on one and explain your concern
  • Set some guidelines as to the proper process in meetings and disagreements (We have agreed that we will not belittle others’ ideas!)
  • Be firm with your position
  • Realize that the kingdom is bigger than this person…and even you!

I know this won’t solve every issue but it may help.  I am about to purchase a bunch of book on conflict management and systems theory.  Maybe I will post next year on some findings.