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irreconcilable differences

by John Trent

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No wonder the Lord put me beside that person!

How understanding your God-given strengths, and the strengths of those close to you, can transform your church, friendships, and family.

It is 10:20 P.M. on a piercing, cold, winter night and Kevin sits alone in the church office. Normally, this senior pastor of a growing church would have been home with his family hours earlier.

Not tonight.

Kevin sits at his computer and struggles with how to phrase things, but he’s not wrestling with the wording for Sunday’s sermon; he’s working on his resume. In fact, he’s seriously considering leaving pastoral ministry altogether.
What’s the source of the problem?

Irreconcilable differences.

At least that’s what Kevin has come to believe. For three years he has struggled, prayed, even fasted in an effort to get along with Mark, his music director. For 12 years at his former church, Kevin got along with everyone. He built a great team, and the ministry thrived. Since coming to this church, however, every idea, dream, goal, plan, or vision Kevin shares is met with questions and direct opposition from Mark, at least that is the way it seems. Senior member of the staff, Mark has been at the church 15 years, and the congregation loves his music ministry. Mark’s place in the church is very secure.

So Kevin sits alone in the church office, frustrated by their inability to see eye-to-eye. He is doing what hundreds of pastors and associate pastors do every year, leaving for a place where things seem different and easier.

While Kevin struggles with his decision to leave the church, Sarah is going through a terrible internal battle as well. She sits at her computer and stares blankly out her kitchen window, feeling her marriage is like the trees that look so cold and dead in the snow. For three years Sarah has been married to a good, Christian man. The problem is, he seems exactly opposite to her. She is a saver; he is a spender. She likes to stay home; he wants to go out. She is left-handed; he is right-handed. She is a night person; he is a morning person. On this night, as her husband sleeps, Sarah feels alone, trapped by conflicting emotions. She loves her husband, and she loves the Lord. Still, as she watches the snow fall, she feels a thousand miles away—even though she can him snoring in the next room.

What do Kevin and Sarah have in common? Both love the Lord and have struggled faithfully to build close relationships, yet both feel totally defeated by “differences.”

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’re there now. Perhaps you serve on a volunteer committee at church that is nothing but frustration to you. Perhaps you struggle with relationships in your workplace, battle constantly with a child in your home, or lock horns frequently with your parents. Perhaps you find a huge gap between where you are today and where you want to be in yourrelationships.

Here’s something you need to know.

“Irreconcilable differences” are actually grounds for a great ministry team, friendship, or family relationship. That’s not a typographical error. It’s biblical truth! It’s also what Rodney Cox, my partner in ministry and I teach to teams and families across the country, using the new Leading From Your Strengths Discovery Kit from Randall House Publications. Let me explain.

What if that “frustrating” person was actually put in your life by “Divine Design?”
We’ll come back to Kevin and Sarah shortly, but first, let me encourage you to do something. Take a moment to complete the following exercise. Using your non-dominant hand (if you’re right handed, use your left hand) write your first, middle, and last name. Yes, it’s hard; take as much time as you need. When you’re finished, write your signature, like you would on a letter or check, with your dominant hand.

When you finish, think about the difference between the two tasks. What was different about writing with your non-dominant hand? Did it take more time? Did it look worse or better? Did it bother you that you couldn’t write as well with your left as you did with your right hand? Or perhaps your printing looked more legible then your signature. If you’re naturally left handed, imagine writing with your right hand all day. It seems much easier to use your dominant hand.
This exercise reminds us how much easier, faster, and less stressful it is to use your natural, God-given strengths. In ministry teams and families, God has placed people beside each other with different strengths. It illustrates a key biblical truth as well.

In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul gives the following clear instructions on differences in the “body” of believers:

For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?

That’s normally where the sermon ends on Sunday, with this picture of how God has given us different strengths, abilities, and spiritual gifts. Yet, the next verse is the key to understanding “irreconcilable differences.”

But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

In other words, Almighty God hasn’t placed us beside people in our ministry or family who have different strengths and gifts to frustrate us, but because our differences are essential to a fully functioning, healthy body! Kevin was not placed with Mark to frustrate him but to complete him! Sarah’s struggle with her husband’s differences could actually lead them to a deeper commitment rather than hurt and frustration. In fact, that’s exactly what happened to Kevin and Sarah when they learned to understand this truth from 1 Corinthians about leading from their strengths. Kevin and Mark have become close friends, and Sarah feels connected, not distant from her husband.

To illustrate this principle further, consider a question we ask in the Leading From Your Strengths Discovery Kit that highlights a problem every team and family encounters.

Are you aggressive or passive when it comes to dealing with problems?
Imagine a couple who handles their children according to their God-given strengths. When a child spills his milk at the table after being told to move his glass, the aggressive problem solver might respond with—boom, “Go to you room right now!” The passive problem-solver might say, “I warned you that would happen!” and then give the child another warning. Such differences can bring frustration, but keep this in mind. Some problems are best solved with an aggressive response (quickly-solvable, non-complex issues) while other problems are best solved through a more passive problem-solving style (deeper issues that require a complex solution).

At times, aggressive problem-solvers can actually create more problems than solutions! In other words, both strengths (aggressive and passive) are key to any family or team. When this couple learns to view their contrasting strengths in a positive light, it will change their relationship.
When God places us with people who are different than we are, it is almost like a near-sighted person sitting beside a far-sighted person. Imagine what would happen if the two traded glasses. Everything would look out of focus because they see the world differently. But together, they can see near and far. They learn to balance their strengths.

You can find more guidelines for blending differences and building close teams and families in the Leading From Your Strengths Discovery Kit. And let me issue this important challenge. If you’re in a situation filled with frustration, don’t give up! We’ve seen ministry teams, missionary teams, offices, families, and friendships around the world move from incredible frustration to a level of closeness and fulfillment they only dreamed of having. They learn to recognize and understand each person’s strengths, and how those unique gifts actually protect, complete, and build a God-honoring relationship.
No wonder God “placed” us next to that person!

Dr. John Trent
is president of, a ministry committed to stronger marriages and family relationships worldwide. Over the past five years, John has spoken to more than 600,000 people in 65 major cities at seminars and conferences. In addition to speaking, he has authored (and co-authored) more than a dozen award-winning, best-selling books that have sold more than 2 million copies in eleven different languages.





©2005 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists