Last Sunday I preached about the Steps toward Reconciliation from Matthew 18:15-20. Today I’m going to share how I’ve failed at each one of them.
The steps are as follows:
1. Get Ready. Matthew 18:1-17 is all instruction about how to humble ourselves enough to care about our brother or sister. Jesus had already taught in Matthew 7 about not focusing on the wrong they have done, but on our contribution to it. I suggested we actually make a Log & Speck list before going to talk to someone.
2. Go Privately. Have a face to face conversation with the other party with the goal of restoring the relationship.
3. Get Help. If you can’t restore the relationship on your own, get someone to come with you and help the two of you understand each other’s perspectives.
4. Give it to the Church. Some things people do can publicly hurt the reputation of Christ or his church. Jesus gave his church authority to address those situations in a way that protects the flock from unrepentant, harmful people.
While this is a pretty simple stairway to climb, taking whatever step is next for you can often feel more like rock climbing! I thought it might encourage you to share some of my own personal failures in walking through these steps over the years! God knows I have plenty to choose from. Here is one from each category.
1. Get Ready. In my twenties I once wrote a letter to a pastor detailing all the things I was frustrated about with him and the church. I didn’t have an ounce of humility in the letter or in my heart. I had completely failed to take the log out of my own eye. At least I had the guts to give it to him in person. Even as we went over it, I knew right away how stupid I was being. Pastor Eric handed himself very graciously given the dumb situation I put him in.
2. Go Privately. Kimberly and I were 24 when we took 7 college students to South Africa for a summer of missions work. I was already struggling to have confidence to lead well. The missionary couple we stayed with the first 10 days were quite old and very nit-picky. I let it get under my skin and even complained about it to my wife in our bedroom. She gave me “the look” and I realized how thin the walls were and that they probably heard everything I said. I felt sick. God bless experienced Saints who bear with immature and arrogant youth like I was!
3. Get Help. I once struggled with a co-worker. We met many times to resolve the issue but it was getting worse. I went to his boss for help rather than inviting someone back into our conversation. The unintended result was to undercut him by going around him, rather than to persist with him and invite a helper or two into our conversation.
4. Give it to the Church. For some reason, I've personally known an inordinate number of pastors and missionaries who have failed morally. I've known several different missionaries who were removed from the field due to sexual misconduct as well as several pastors who left churches for the same reason. At times I have struggled with anger and resentment toward these guys. Some of them have “reinvented” themselves and are in my ministry circles once again. I wonder if anyone knows the past they hide? To give a more specific example, one of these men was my accountability partner for 2 years. We were close. I went to seminary and he went to the mission field. Before I finished my M. Div. he was back having been caught with a girl. In my frustration I wrote him an unkind letter. What good did that do? I have no idea. It certainly didn't flow out of my trust in God who gave authority to the church to handle such things. The failure/lesson for me here is to trust that God has given authority to the church (Matthew 18:18-20). These situation are out of my hands. God will hold their churches/mission boards accountable for how they handled it. I don’t have to carry the weight of it.
Sometimes I wish there were “Do Overs” for situations like these! There aren't. The pain they cause can either be regretted or redeemed. I don’t regret handling things poorly because I never would have learned the Steps of Biblical Reconciliation any other way. I just pray that I can coach others well enough to help them learn from their mistakes as we all stumble along trying to walk in the footsteps of Jesus!
Your flawed and scarred up pastor, Patrick