Book Review: The Peacemaking Pastor, by Alfred Poirier
A few years ago, the church whom I serve as pastor hosted a conference on the “9 Marks of a Healthy Church.” The sessions were well attended by pastors and also well received. The following year we decided to focus on only one of the marks of a healthy church, offering a conference on “Developing a Culture of Peace,” designed to focus on the nuts and bolts of church discipline. We invited Ken Sande and some of the staff from Peacemaker Ministries to present. While the conference was wonderful in terms of content and format, it was miserable in terms of attendance. Who wants to actually practice peace-making? It sounds too much like, well…being a pastor, I guess.
This gap between preaching the gospel and practicing the gospel characterizes much of evangelical church-life today. Alfred Poirier’s The Peacemaking Pastor seeks to close it.
AS A PASTOR FOR PASTORS
Poirier writes as a pastor for pastors. As senior pastor of Rocky Mountain Community Church in Billings, Montana, he also serves as chairman of the board for Peacemaker Ministries.
The primary objective of his book is “to ground peacemaking on a solid biblical and theological foundation as well as to place it within its ecclesiastical context,” and Poirier accomplishes that goal. The Peacemaking Pastor is filled with the gospel. Poirier demonstrates that “the gospel is the engine that drives the train of reconciliation. Unresolved conflicts between Christians have less to do with people being skillful than with them being sinful” (11-12).
Poirier frankly acknowledges the tendency we all have to avoid conflict, and he builds a convincing case from Scripture that calls us to incarnate the gospel of Christ, rolling up our sleeves and getting involved in the messy details of the lives of our people. The book is clear in its call, convicting in its challenge, and convincing in its argument. I agree with the back cover which describes it as “thoroughly exploring the theology of reconciliation.” My only bit of criticism is that I was left hoping for more examples of application.
The book begins with the author confessing his own reluctance to minister to people at a personal level. He calls himself a “heretic at heart” because he tends to be a practical Docetist—one who fails to show the true incarnation of Christ. “When our words are disconnected from the hardships of life, from the conflicts of heart and home, we become mere purveyors of knowledge, not pastors.” (21) This humble confession on the part of the writer actually characterizes much of the book. Poirier consistently models a Matthew 7:1-5 approach, admitting his own failures as a critical first step in bringing about reconciliation (see, e.g., 70, 114, 125-126, 138, 245, 246).
Chapter 2 summarizes the usual ways in which people deal with conflict, and chapter 3 presents an excellent treatment of getting to the heart of conflict. Throughout this section, we are reminded again and again of the gospel. “People in conflict must begin with God, for at the heart of broken relationships is a broken relationship with the Lord. If our marriages are breaking, it is because our first marriage is broken” (66).
The entire book is worth reading just for chapter 4, “God’s Glory in Conflict.” Looking for God’s glory is generally not our first reaction to conflict, but having that understanding will change our entire attitude as we see that the same God who ordains conflict loves to be glorified in peacemaking. Chapter 5 is a call to the church to act like the family she is. Poirier’s treatment of how we turn people into “impersonal objects” and forget that they are true brothers and sisters is particularly insightful. I also appreciated his observation that when people are in conflict, it is easy to stop calling each other by first names because we have forgotten that we are family.
Chapters 6 to 13 are the more practical section of the book. Poirier covers critical subjects such as: How should we (and should we not) confess sins to each other? What does true forgiveness look like? What is biblical negotiation, and how can the pastor function as a mediator? If you have read Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker, you will find much of the same material reviewed in these chapters. Poirier helps us understand the difference between mediation and arbitration; and, of course, he addresses the formal role of the church in all of this. His treatment of church discipline and church membership is excellent, and the practical and messy example he shares in chapter 13—helping his church know how to respond to a convicted child molester who desires to be a member—is very helpful as well.
Now that you really want to read the book, I must warn you. This book is sort of like progressive revelation. The more you read, the greater your accountability. For this reason, it may not receive the readership it deserves. More than once while reading, I had to put the book down, confess my sin, and pick up the phone to get involved again in a situation I was conveniently ignoring.
At one point in my reading I was even sitting in a courtroom where two professing believers, each represented by an attorney who also professed Christ, were locked in a legal process that had the potential to do great harm to the gospel. God graciously allowed me the opportunity to negotiate a peace between the parties, and the case never went to trial. For that reason alone, I am grateful to Alfred Poirier for his book.
My only suggestion is that an appendix of case studies be included, or perhaps a website maintained where more examples of the process can be given. While Poirier gives examples throughout the book, messy, real life stories are always beneficial and strangely encouraging since they remind us that we are not alone in our struggles. Yes, Ecclesiology really is Christology!