“AVOID conflict” was my middle name. I thought I was a real peacemaker—what I really was, however, was a pain-avoider.
I would often hear, “John, you don’t like confrontation, do you?” While I would smile politely on the outside and mumble something like “You’re right, that isn’t my personality,” on the inside I would knot up thinking, “No! A thousand times, no! I hate confrontation!” I wanted everybody to be at peace, to be happy. I was under the delusion of and congratulating myself for being a fine “peacemaker.”
When I sought counseling, I was skillfully led to the painful realization that my alleged peacemaking efforts were not all that commendable. The naked truth came out—I was not a peacemaker; I was a pain-avoider. By powerfully suppressing my childhood traumas, I made it my mission in life to avoid pain of any kind. People in conflict or unhappy around me, heated arguments and threats, and divisions and factions caused the tip of a massive iceberg of pain (my own deep pain) to surface. Driven by my inner compulsions at “peacemaking,” I worked like a madman to push that iceberg of pain-turned-rage back down so it could stay buried and forgotten. I appeared to others as a “peacemaker,” yet in reality, because of my own inner brokenness and bondage, I was actually a cowardly pain-avoider.
I came to learn a basic Christian reality: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood … but against the powers of this dark world” (Eph. 6:12). My Enemy (and yours) relentlessly exploited every dimension of brokenness and trauma in my life. Lurking in the submerged regions of my inner life were “powers of this dark world” using my persisting denial, frantic peacemaking, and panicked flight from my past to keep me in bondage.
I am not saying that I was “demon-possessed” and that my counselor had to “exorcise” wicked spirits from me. But in the process of healing, I surprisingly discovered the amazing correlation between my personal “flesh and blood” history and the mission of the “powers of this dark world” to destroy me. In the process of recovery, I had to reclaim my given middle name, ironically the name of my father, “Wallace.” My false, self-constructed middle name, “Avoid Conflict,” uttered by my functional denial, had to go.
Do You Hydroplane Over Conflict?
Where two or three are gathered together, there you have problems. Human conflict, the battle of the wills, is inevitable in a fallen world, and the local church is not immune. Pastorally I used to hydroplane over the surface of conflicts, seeking to patch things up, while ignorant of and unskilled in pastoring in the realm of the Spirit and spirits where the real conflicts lie.
In living out the Christian life, we do not wrestle against human beings; we wrestle against a fierce Enemy and his destructive, wicked powers. An actual and deadly active spiritual realm exists. Pastoral ministry accepts and engages this realm as the playing field on which to do pastoral work. Pastors must make clear to each child of God, each member on the team, the individual nature of spiritual warfare—that is, the real and deadly conflict, and equip and coach each individual believer in skills to win the match.
When I consider those within the evangelical church who think that avoiding thoughts and discussion about Satan, demons, and warfare is the best approach to these topics, I wonder what they do with the Lord’s Prayer. In that model prayer Jesus bluntly teaches us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:13). With this one phrase Jesus himself opens the window for us to the battlefield where spiritual warfare takes place.
The supernatural gifts of the Spirit (see 1 Cor. 12:7– 11) equip the church for warfare in the realm of spirits. While actual exorcisms are rare, confronting satanic lies is a common and ongoing aspect of spiritual war. As a pastor I was ill-equipped to understand my own bondages, much less the bondages of others. While I don’t totally “blame” Satan, I now readily acknowledge that Satan deviously exploited my spirit with all its wounds.
Satan had staked out a large segment of emotional and spiritual real estate in me. He tricked me into believing I was a peacemaker when I was clearly a pain-avoider. He caused me through denial to shield my broken heart from God’s healing grace. He led me to believe that running from pain was being like Jesus. How wrong! (See Isa. 53:3).
Empowered pastors accept spiritual conflict as a way of life. They are not just dealing with the inevitable “flesh and blood” skirmishes; they are using biblical and Spirit-empowered insight to engage in spiritual battles. They are going behind the scenes and taking on the devil and his hosts. By entering into warfare this way, we too will be like Jesus, the Senior Pastor.
— by John Frye, adapted from his book Jesus the Pastor: Leading Others in the Character and Power of Christ
How to Use This Book
Is Jesus your mentor? Jesus the Pastor will help you refocus on Jesus in your pastoral vocation. As Eugene Petersen writes in the foreword, “There is no way to be a Christian pastor that is not single-minded in following Jesus. John Frye recovers that focus for us and proves out to be a good companion in just such following.”