A Word from Your BCC Team: Today we conclude our BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on conflict, conflict resolution, and peacemaking. In today’s post, Robert Jones helps us to see the beauty that results when we join together biblical counseling and biblical peacemaking. You can also read Part 1 in this series by Judy Dabler: The “Frangible” Heart and Part 2 by Robert Cheong: Fresh Hope for Marriage.
BC, BP, a Prodigal Son, and a Struggling Marriage
I love biblical counseling (BC)…and biblical peacemaking (BP). I have pursued training, supervision, and credentialing as both a certified biblical counselor and a certified Christian conciliator. In fact, if a BC and a BP organization wed, I would attend the ceremony but not know which side of the aisle to sit on! The parallel and complementary skills each group teaches, united by Christ and His Word, can expand our ministries.
I think today of Michael, Amanda, and their 19-year-old son Brandon (pseudonyms and composites of various cases) who still lives at home. Brandon is a non-Christian who has defied his parents and pursued his own way of drugs, alcohol, sexual sin, and no college, no steady employment, and no household responsibilities.
Michael and Amanda, however, are believers. They seek your counsel. They of course have parenting problems—conflicts with their son. Like some dads in these cases, Michael has erred on the side of anger and harsh discipline. Like some moms, Amanda has erred on the side of passive enablement and discipline-less “love.” Both have allowed Brandon’s sins to provoke them, and each has responded sinfully.
But Amanda and Michael also have marriage problems—conflict with each other. Like many husbands and wives in these cases, they have allowed Brandon to divide them. Michael blames Amanda for “coddling him” and for not supporting his leadership efforts to enforce house rules. He blames her for Brandon’s condition (“You have spoiled him”) and reminds her of Proverbs 13:24 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6–15.
Amanda blames Michael for being too harsh (“You are always mad; you don’t see it, but Brandon and I do”) and for not trying to cultivate a healthy father-son relationship (“He hates you”). She blames him for Brandon’s condition and reminds him of Proverbs 15:1 and Colossians 3:21. Michael wants Brandon to move out (“He needs the school of hard knocks”); Amanda wants him to stay (“Where will he go?” “He has no money or job”).
A Big-Picture Path
What do Michael and Amanda need to do? Let me suggest a big-picture path that would reflect solid BC and BP training.
First, Michael and Amanda must recognize the centrality of a fourth Person. To what extent do each of them listen to and follow their Shepherd’s voice (John 10:27)? Do they live in light of God’s saving work (Ephesians 1:3–14)?
In response, do they seek to please and glorify God (2 Corinthians 5:9; 1 Corinthians 10:31)—to live for the Savior who died and rose for them (2 Corinthians 5:14–15)? What competing demands, hopes, loves, idols, treasures, etc., distract them from pursuing the Lord in their relationships? The best versions of BC and BP prioritize the vertical relationship.
Second, how do Michael and Amanda treat each other? Do they manifest Colossians 3:12? In response to God’s grace (“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved…”), do they “clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience?”
Do they believe that the one-flesh marital union (Genesis 2:24) requires Christlike communication and unified parenting? Given their mutual anger and blame shifting, do they repent, confess, and forgive each other?
Biblical counselors might use concurrent (individual) and conjoint marital counseling (together) formats, and biblical peacemakers might use conflict coaching (individual) and marital mediation (together) formats. The best versions of BC and BP agree that addressing Brandon requires a reconciled, united marriage.
Third, having reconciled relational offenses, Michael and Amanda need to decide how to treat Brandon. Biblical peacemakers distinguish between personal/relational issues (above paragraph) and substantive/material issues (this paragraph), in that order. Here the skills shared by both BC and BP (e.g., active listening, brainstorming, negotiating, caucusing, role-paying, homework) can assist this couple to form a united plan of action, including a covenant with Brandon about what will be required to live in their house and some worst-case scenarios.
Fourth, Michael and Amanda must ask God’s Spirit to give them a heart of love and attitudinal forgiveness toward him (after all, he has sinned against them repeatedly and deeply). Each must identify his or her sins (of both commission and omission) against Brandon, confess them to God and Brandon, and seek Brandon’s forgiveness (Matthew 5:23-24; 7:3–5; James 4:6), even if he will not forgive them. While too often omitted, this humble step pleases God, communicates love to Brandon, makes it easier for Brandon to humble himself and receive the next step, and encourages the other spouse to take the same step.
Fifth, with their consciences cleared and their love for their son reaffirmed, Michael and Amanda can now talk with Brandon in wise and caring ways about his sins (Matthew 7:5b; 18:15) and about what it will look like for him as an adult to continue to live with them. This can and should include allowing appropriate give-and-take negotiation (about house rules, responsibilities, consequences, etc.), recognizing the homeowners have final say. Of course, if he is unwilling to meet or discuss these matters, Amanda and Michael will have to follow the worst-case scenarios they previously discussed. If so, the consequences will result from Brandon’s choice and the parents will need to entrust him to God.
As a simple outline, the above path requires great sensitivity to handle the highly charged emotions that usually exist. It also requires flexibility. It does not address nuances. It makes no guarantees that Brandon will change. But the approach incorporates the joint wisdom of some of the best BC and BP practices to help the Michaels and Amandas around us.
The Rest of the Story (Added by the BCC Team)
The BCC team recommends that you consider Dr. Jones’ book Pursuing Peace as a resource tool that expands on a number of points in this blog post.
Join the Conversation
How has God honored your efforts to follow one or more of the above steps in your own life or ministry in these types of cases?
If you have had some exposure or training in both biblical counseling and biblical peacemaking, how have they each helped your own life or your ministry with others?