Lowell C. Cooper is a retired general vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, MD, USA. Lowell and his wife Rae Lee live in Kennewick, WA, USA.

Any local church officer will tell you that the hard part of church leadership is not giving the opening prayer or announcing the special music. The challenge of leadership comes from those experiences that involve human relationships. For example, two members disagree sharply over a little incident. The incident is insignificant, but the disagreement isn't. Words and actions are misunderstood. Feelings are easily disturbed. Tension heightens. Suspicion discolors every viewpoint.

Much of any leader's time is spent in dealing with the highly sensitive matter of human relationships. Correcting, advising, counseling, encouraging, supporting, and sometimes confronting. Every church leader has no doubt asked himself/herself the question "How would Jesus deal with this situation? What can I learn from Him that will guide me in sorting out this problem?"

Scripture contains considerable counsel in the matter. Some of the clearest evidence comes from understanding the way God deals with us. Application of His principles to personnel problems brings a new dimension to leadership. Perhaps the following six points will serve to introduce a Christian approach in dealing with human relationship problems.

1. He expresses constant goodwill towards us. God has a high regard for His people. Weak and sinful though we be, He does not abandon us. We are loved not because we are worth much. We are worth much because we are loved. He is interested in our welfare, not in His authority. When He disciplines us He does so with a view to our development, not our destruction.

2. He does not treat us as we deserve. This idea is difficult to accept. Most Christians have a firmly held opinion about the absolute justice of God. And justice means that sooner or later wrong is punished, and right is rewarded. They feel all human behavior is weighed in the unerring balance of heaven and dealt with according to its merits or deficiencies. Psalm 103:8-14 must be taken into consideration when we shape our picture of God's justice.

It may, in fact, be a great injustice to Him if we view God as a cold, impartial, unfeeling judge of human conduct. It might be more correct to say that God "makes mistakes" consistently on the side of mercy. The human condition cannot bear absolute justice. We would all cease to exist if justice were applied. In dealing with our weakness and our sins, God is not trying to get even with us.

3. He takes the initiative to reestablish harmony. How opposite this is to normal human conduct. It is more natural for us to wait until the erring person sees the seriousness of his or her mistake and then comes for forgiveness and reconciliation. Suppose someone offends me by a word or action. I am innocent, hurt, and humiliated. I expect, and may even demand, that the person concerned come and give an apology. Until he or she does, there will be a barrier to our relationship. After all, how can I allow someone to spoil my name?

Note how sharply God's behavior contrasts with human tendency when wrongs have been committed. "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8, NIV). When a breakdown in harmony occurred between us and God, He did not retreat and wait for us to make things right. He Himself took the initiative to restore the relationship, even though He is the one who was wronged.

4. He forgives us readily. A sinner does not need to come crawling to Jesus and beg for forgiveness. It is His desire to forgive. A desire that had been expressed even before we realized our need or searched for it.

Forgiveness is a gem in human nature, just as it is one of the most beautiful attributes of God. Impossible as it may seem, forgiveness enables us to rewrite history. The forgiveness of God is described as so complete that we become, in His sight, as though we had never sinned. Is it possible for human forgiveness to be like that? Is it practical?

Does forgiveness become less valuable because of the ease with which God dispenses it? If we readily and quickly forgave each other, would this encourage more sin? Academic discussions about forgiveness might provide answers to that question. However, the person who experiences forgiveness knows its power to immunize against repeated offense. Forgiveness awakens love, respect, and devotion.

5. He knows our weaknesses. One of the contributions of the Roman Empire to modern civil law is the concept of equality. It is often distorted to convey the idea of equal punishment or equal reward for certain acts. Equality, however, is not an arbitrary thing determined by some policy or code book. Circumstances differ; people are not all the same. A parent may discipline one child by the use of words. A second child in the same family may not understand discipline unless it has a physical manifestation.

In His dealings with us God takes into consideration the uniqueness of our background and individuality. He knows where (and when) we were born (see Ps. 87:6). He knows our frailties (see Ps. 103:14). He does not allow us to be tempted beyond that which we are able to bear (see 1 Cor. 10:13). He shapes His treatment to fit the situation and the individual. His policy book is not an inflexible document.

6. He is committed to loving us. One of the dominant characteristics of God revealed in Scripture is that He has bound Himself to us by an oath and a covenant (see Heb. 8:10). Ellen G. White observes that in the gift of Jesus Christ to this world God has identified Himself with us by ties that are never to be broken (see Steps to Christ, p. 72). It is our appreciation of His constant and steadfast love that motivates the spiritual life. In a similar manner, it is the constant atmosphere of human love and respect that enables the best of human relationships to flourish. Love, joy, and peace are the great motivators of the soul.

I doubt that any of us will ever know the reality, in this present earth, of seeing Jesus preside over a meeting in which we deal with the resolution of problems involving human relationships. But if we could participate in that experience, the principles identified in this article would no doubt be in full display. Having reflected on His style of leadership and handling of people, perhaps we can do no better than follow the pattern when we sit in the chair of leadership.


L. C. Cooper was secretary of the Southern Asia Division, Hosur, India, when he wrote this article for the Southern Asia Tidings. He is now an associate secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.