I was saddened to learn of your recent troubles. I understand better than I want to, how things can work in Christian missions and ministries, and I can identify with your pain more than I wish I could. I guess it’s the II Cor. 1:3-7 thing. Let me share a few thoughts with you. Some may apply to your experience, others may not. Some will make more sense to you as time goes on.
Decades ago I came to see that good people do bad things – even good people in leadership in Christian organizations. Soon after starting Preferred Airparts with my sons in 1982 I told them, “I promise you that if we invest ourselves in mission organizations, you’ll be disappointed in them at times. We need to know if we believe deeply in their vision and core character, and if we do, we’ll continue to support them.” That philosophy has been put to the test several times over the years.
The Price of Change
Visionary and “get the job done” people are predictably a threat to organizational systems. Sometimes organizations don’t want to change, and other times they recognize the need to be different but then can’t bear the pain of the change that comes in the process of becoming different!
I’ve seen more than once that the change that was needed was like a mountain between where the ministry was, and where they wanted to be. The first person in, who breaks the mountain into boulders, might not get to break the boulders into the stones that make the roadbed because of stress within the organization. He gets beat up and sent packing, almost regardless of how well he conducted himself. Interestingly, those in authority may (subconsciously) bring another person in to continue moving in the direction the visionary was taking them! It’s both painful and rewarding for the first guy to watch it happen!
Conflict is (always?) the result of unfulfilled expectations. Often those expectations are undefined, either because persons don’t realize the inappropriate expectations they impose upon another or because they are unwilling to be honest about them. It produces conflict either way. It is unfortunate that individuals with the power of position or other basis’ for influence, are sometimes free to use their power to protect their personal/vested interests or those of persons they are allied with in some way. Regretfully, too many folks on Christian boards just sit there and watch it happen.
Betrayal can be indescribably painful. A visionary whose leaders turn against him as he goes about fulfilling a mandate they gave him, will know that pain. His only hope for personal recovery is to rise to a level above them by entrusting Himself to God and walking according to His Word.
The Real Issue Is - -
I observed decades ago that the issue is rarely the issue. Nearly all conflict in Christian organizations is power-based, not issue-based. Yes, people raise issues and often make a mountain out of a mole hill in order to do so, but the supposed issue is not what it’s about. At the very core, it’s about personal, vested interests and power. Conflict in churches and ministries is rarely as honorable as it is represented to be.
None of us are ever innocent enough that those who are motivated to find fault with us can’t find something to pick on. Visionary people are often forward-looking and goal-oriented enough that they miss some of the details along the way, thus making themselves vulnerable to fault-finders. Those who appreciate and share the vision, and who have the courage to do so, will partner with the visionary leader and support them. Those who are threatened by his vision and success have opportunity to cause trouble. That’s the way it works.
Another sad aspect of this, is that getting to the truth of the supposed issue isn’t always what matters most. People sometimes don’t want to know the truth because it would interfere with the selfish interests that they are protecting with their power. They have to hold to their opinions in order to protect their pride and/or hide their agendas, and the truth is almost irrelevant to them. The harder we try to explain ourselves, the worse it gets. If we get frustrated and angry at this injustice, we give them ammo to justify their actions against us. Yep, been there, done that!
This stuff happens far too often as we go about the work of the Kingdom of God. Visionary people get beat up in the process; God’s Name is tarnished; and His work is handicapped. I wonder sometimes, why He entrusts His Kingdom and His reputation to us in the way He does. Observes should not assume that a board’s hush-hush about such an event is to protect the one they ousted.
The Bright Side
The bright side of all this is that wisdom, truth and godliness really do have a voice, and that God has the last word. He does vindicate the just. Psalm 37 is true. (Read it all!) I have seen it over and over. We have to bear some misunderstanding, judgment and humiliation, which can be terribly painful, but in the end we will be vindicated. I’ve gotten beat up a time or two along the way and I can tell you that, at least after a short time, people really do know what happened! We can move among them with humble confidence as we go about the next assignment our Master gives us.
There are conditions to that and you might enjoy reading “Stayin’ On the High Road.” I wrote that after prematurely concluding a mission’s assignment where I had been mandated to transition the ministry to a higher level of professionalism and standardization, but ran into vested interests along the way. My superior acknowledged that the way he was handling the situation was very wrong but he chose to do it anyway. Most of the troops knew exactly what was happening and wanted to protest but I asked them not to. It’s better to lose the battle and win the war than to win the battle and lose the war. I lost. I won. Godliness and truth are their own best defense.
The Refiner’s Fire
Certainly this is a time of being refined by fire, and we all, always, need refining. I and II Peter have been instructive and encouraging to me in hard times. I remember a moment in 1978 when Elaine and I were walking through an event that would be characterized by the dynamics I have described.
I was lying in bed later than usual one morning, with little motivation to get up and get going. I guess I didn’t think I had anywhere to go. Elaine came into the bedroom and said, “Honey, let me read you something that God just showed me.” It was I Peter 5:5-10, with a special emphasis on verse 10. “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” Brother, soak on that. It’s powerful and it’s a rock to stand on - even if God’s definition of “a little while” is different from ours!
It’s also true that we all, always, have something to learn. And we’re rarely as innocent as we’d like to think we are. My peace has been in trusting God to instruct, correct and purify me as needed, and to vindicate me (Psalm 37:6) as He deems fit. That works! Brother, it really works!! And I take God at His word in Romans 12:19 – to the extent that I have sometimes found myself praying for His mercy on those who made themselves an enemy of my wellbeing.
Keep Up the Good Work
Brother, you are truly a man of God. Stand tall. Don’t let Satan, the ministry you served, slander, or your imagination define you. Only God can tell you who you truly are.
And I promise you this. If you humble yourself before God and walk with Him through this painful experience, He will give you something better than what men took from you. It might be hard to imagine right now but it’s very possible that after while you will look back and say, “Wow, I’d rather be ‘here’ than ‘there.’”
God has an important assignment for you and I’m eager to see what it is. You are now more qualified than you have ever been, to serve Him and those who so desperately need Him. Dare to follow Him, whether it is in your present ministry or another. Your commitment to making Him known to others is certainly higher than your dedication to any of the ways in which He does that.
May His presence be powerful in your deepest, innermost being. Life is good, because God is.
Your fellow pilgrim,
P.S. Another article that compliments this one is “Change Happens”
December 4, 2010, Rev. 1/20/11