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A Proposal For Colleges and Seminaries
 

    I would like to take this opportunity to share with you a desire I have long held.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Christians find themselves embroiled in some form of conflict — marital, business, etc. Some conflicts are legal, some merely personal, and some are a mixture of both. People find themselves confused by what is happening, unable to see "justice", getting angry and bitter at their opponent, and suffering spiritual imprisonment (see Matt. 5:25-26; Gal. 5:15). Often times these conflicts take place within, and lead to a division within a local congregation.
 
    The Bible speaks powerfully to issues of conflict. It tells us how to behave when in conflict, how to help others who are in conflict (believer or unbeliever), steps we can take to limit potential conflicts and prepare to deal rightly with those which still come, and describes the role of the eklesia in the process of conflict.
 
        I have spent my life in and/or dealing with conflict from both worldly and biblical perspectives. I have been: child of parent and parent of children; student of teachers and teachers of students; employee of employer and employer of employee; member of church in conflict with leadership and member of leadership in conflict with members. I have been in auto accidents, contract disputes, and disputes with government. I have been a lawyer handling the conflicts of clients and a judge of the conflicts of others.
Beginning in 1982, I became a student of what the Bible offers concerning conflict. From student I moved to teacher, minister of reconciliation to those in conflict, and assistant to war-torn churches seeking reconciliation.

I have discovered that because our God does not change, His process for finding justice when in conflict does not change based upon peculiarities of people, facts, or form of conflict. His process offers what law courts of man cannot offer: a hope of reconciliation and restoration of relationships, and the ability to sleep in total peace at night (even when a conflict rages and awaits us in the next day).

I have long had a desire to see more people given opportunity to learn the principles and to have help in working them out when in conflict. It seems to me that the Christian College and/or Seminary offers a marvelous opportunity to reach many different segments of the Christian community with the Scriptures about conflict.

Thus this proposal is made: a proposal to be sponsored into a local community by a Christian College and/or Seminary. Components which might be considered are:

(1) TEACHING OF STUDENTS, FACULTY AND/OR STAFF:

The materials on conflict can be outlined in as little as three hours. They can also be expanded easily to a full semester course. They can be done with or without role-play. Depending upon the schedule and flexibility of the sponsoring institution, students can be taught in classroom settings, and faculty and staff in concentrated evening or weekend sessions. Family members and even outsiders could be invited. Fees could be charged for those of the sponsor or only those from the outside.

But the truths of conflict can also be taught by assisting those in conflict. Thus sessions can be scheduled for any person (student, faculty, or staff) who may be dealing with conflict during the time of the sponsorship. Such sessions could even involve conflicts faced by the sponsor as an institution.

(2) TEACHING CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY LEADERS:

Businessmen, lawyers, doctors, social workers and others who exercise roles in conflict by their daily professions, and who may be unaware of the biblical truths or how to integrate them into their business or profession, can also be invited to sessions tailored to their work. The same holds true for pastors, elders, deacons, and other church leaders.

There are many ways to present the teaching to such individuals. Participation at CBMC or FGBMI breakfast, lunch, dinner gatherings and Bible studies can reach the business people. Special conferences for lawyers (which can be presented for Continuing Legal Education Credits) is another. Presentations at normal meetings of physicians, dentists, and those in the counseling profession are possible. Week-end programs for church leaders, or a series of evening lectures and discussions can reach those who will, in turn, teach their people.

Seminars can be tailored to such things as: Dealing With Organizational Conflict; Legal Issues Facing Churches and Religious Organizations; Constructing Internal Conflict Resolution Mechanisms; etc.
But any of these people may also be involved in conflict. Again an opportunity exists to teach by assistance, for a conflict offers the opportunity to teach at least 4 people: the two parties themselves, and two others who are brought in to assist. Those who walk through a conflict practicing biblical principles become, in turn, teachers.

(3) REVIEWING DOCUMENTS:

Commonly, Christians, and Christian organizations, develop and use written documents which purport to deal with conflict situations. An obvious example would be a grievance or disciplinary process at a college. Partnership or corporate agreements are others, as are contracts for buying and selling. While we are on site for teaching, opportunity exists to review such documents and offer evaluation and critique from the biblical perspective.

(4) MOVING FROM THE TEACHING MOMENT TO THE FUTURE:

By audio and video taping of any or all programs, a library on conflict resolution can be created. This becomes a resource to the sponsor and community. It becomes a source for ongoing “digging and discussing as iron sharpens iron”.

(5) PREPARING FOR THE SPONSORSHIP TIME:

I have, over the years, prepared many pamphlets on a variety of issues related to conflict. These are now being made available at www.shepherdsforpeace.com for priming the pump for discussions, particularly with leaders in the church community.

I have also developed some inserts for church bulletins designed to heighten awareness of the degree to which conflict is constantly present in our lives and to start the mind considering if the Bible has something to offer.

Obviously, getting the word out to leaders and lay people in the community plays a big role in bringing people to be taught. We have found that efforts by one church, or public advertisements seldom bring people forth in any significant number. One reason for seeking sponsorship through a Christian College or Seminary is the sense that the academic credentials of the sponsor represent a “voice of good repute” which can be heard across many of the denominational or other lines which we create in dividing the Body of Christ.

Those last words, “lines which we create in dividing the Body of Christ”, bring me to a fitting close to this proposal.

Why should we learn and practice the Lord’s process in conflict?
Yes, the individual needs to be able to find peace and a sense of justice when in conflict.

Yes, we are called to be reconciled to God and to one another.
Yes we are called to be peacemakers and bear the burdens of one another (and rebuke, admonish, teach, discipline).

But we are also called to appear to the world as ONE. We say we are one, although our actions too often say we are not. One way to show we are one is to begin to deal with our conflicts. As we do so, we will increasingly find that these conflicts transcend all of our dividing lines. This offers opportunities for leaders to meet across all lines in helping to deal with conflict. This change our appearance before the world. This help us demonstrate John 17:18-21.

What is required to fund the proposal? This is always awkward for me. Obviously compensation should relate to the nature of the work. Thus if only one portion of the proposal were to be taken up, the work lessens. At the same time, the amount of time we would be gone from our home which would be needed for one part is as much for all of the parts. But as additional parts are added, the ability to charge fees to “outsiders” increases.

In an effort to reduce costs, and because we enjoy it, we prefer housing with members of the academic community, even to moving around among several as time permits. This minimizes housing and food costs. We also prefer to drive from place to place, getting reimbursed for motel and food rather than mileage, but with a per diem. We find it less costly than flying, as we are often unable to utilize a major airport.

Having said this, I do not have a “fee”, but prefer to discuss such things once there is receptivity to the concept.

I want to thank you for your willingness to consider this. If your college is interested, I can send a resume. I also have outlines for a number of different type presentations to different types of groups.

God’s blessing upon you and those you love.

 
    William D. Bontrager, J.D. and Ellen Bontrager
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