by Rick Love
I had the privilege of doing mediation, peacemaking, and organizational consulting for a Christian organization recently. We faced a seemingly intractable conflict and dysfunctional organizational practices. As was expected, this led to tense moments and periods of confusion. However, there was success on all three fronts: mediation was accomplished, peace was experienced, and the organizational realignment was implemented.
Why were we successful? Two reasons. First, the leadership team of this organization was determined to obey Jesus’s teaching about peacemaking. Second, they demonstrated good communication practices. But they needed mediation in the first place because some of the leaders also demonstrated bad communication practices. Let me explain …
The Bible says a lot about the use of words. In fact, there is a spectrum of communication practices in Scripture, all of which help build a culture of peace. There are at least five broad types of communication in Scripture. The diagram below portrays something of this continuum of communication:
On the left-hand side of the spectrum we see the most supportive type of communication: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ has accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7). The standard for acceptance is Christ Himself – the one who loved us while we were yet helpless, ungodly sinners and even enemies (Romans 5:6-11). This reflects inclusive love and is the most affirming type of communication. We need safe, accepting relationships to be emotionally healthy and function most productively. If people feel like we truly accept them, they will be more receptive to us when we need to use the other, more confrontive forms of communication.
After acceptance we see encouragement: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). To encourage someone is to comfort them and cheer them on! To acknowledge specific positive actions or attributes and to affirm the good things we see in their lives.
Next on the continuum is speaking the truth in love: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). Both truth and love are important! And according to this verse, truth-in-love communication is actually how we grow up spiritually.
Then we are called to admonish: “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14 NASB). The word “admonish” is a strong word which means to warn, advise, or urge someone in a certain direction.
Finally, we have the most confrontive form of communication: “So watch yourselves. If a brother sins against you, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). To rebuke or reprove is to express disapproval of someone’s action, to warn him of the consequences of some sinful action, and persuade him to stop.
If we invest in people by obeying these five biblical communication practices, especially accepting, encouraging, and speaking the truth in love, we are doing peacebuilding, and we will build equity in our relationships. This kind of communication is a way of making “love deposits” into your relational bank account. This way, when potential conflict arises, your relational bank account will not be overdrawn.
This is what happened during my time of mediation with this organization. The reason they needed mediation in the first place was because the relational bank account of two of the leaders had been overdrawn. Their primary communication with each other was admonishing and reproving. They did not have a foundation of accepting, encouraging, and speaking the truth in love with one another, so neither listened to the other. They exhibited bad communication practices (something we all do at times, especially with certain people in our lives).
By contrast, the majority of the leaders were much better at accepting, encouraging, and speaking the truth in love. Because of this, when they had to admonish and rebuke, the other leaders were receptive to their reproof. They demonstrated good communication practices.
Think about the relational dynamics in your organization and your own personal communication practices. Any lessons here for you?
Peacebuilding communication leads to healthy organizations!