The Engineer’s Baby. Part #2

<In the first part, I used the analogy of a designer’s attitude with regards to his creation. There is a tendency to see it almost as in terms of a parent-child relationship. There are positive sides to that and negative sides to that. Now, bringing this to mission projects, programs.>11056

Missions involves creative creation. New churches, new organizations, new projects, new programs, and new applications are developed. There is a certain pride that comes from such creation. And pride, in and of itself, is not bad.(I really wish the English language accommodated better to separate between healthy pride and hubris.)  Such pride often can be beneficial… but it can also poison the heart and the organization. This is not a new thing. Consider this passage from Ecclesiastes chapter 2

20Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun. 21When there is a man who has labored with wisdom, knowledge and skill, then he gives his legacy to one who has not labored with them. This too is vanity and a great evil. 22For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun?   

Saul in the Old Testament appeared to be reluctant to be the King, first formal king of Israel. However, in his later years he appeared to be desperate to hold his position and receive the accolades associated with his position.

John the Baptist gave the statement about himself and Jesus, “He must increase, while I must decrease.” That statement is memorable, in part, because of its unusual attitude… an attitude, frankly, not shared by John’s disciples.

The Problem is not Pride (in itself at least) so much as Honor and Ownership.  Years ago, I was part of a church ministry that grew to the point that it developed into a separate and successful NGO (non-governmental organization). A year or so after the formal separation, the pastor of the church confided to us, “I wish I had killed it when I had a chance.” Since he had given his blessing to move forward in developing the NGO, that seemed strange. But I believe he felt that his child was being taken away from him, and he felt that its success without him somehow shamed him.

Recently, a somewhat similar situation recurred at a different church (not one I am involved with directly). A church was given a ministry site and that church ignored that site for, literally, years. Then an outsider came in and was very successful there. The pastor of the church lashed out demanding that the ministry would be stopped. Again the issues of ownership and honor appeared to be involved.

While these are Asian examples, Westerners fall into similar problems of honor and ownership. Many an American missionary comes to Asia and sets up an organization and appears to be unable to pass it on to others. One I am thinking of, held onto a church through a major and unnecessary split and through a  huge amount of hard feelings all around. The missionary was, in many ways, a good and capable person— but he could not let go. Even after he died, the legal papers he had set up ensured that fighting would continue long after his death.

On the Other Hand… There is good in some level of pride. When one creates something, one is willing to go a bit further than others to protect and nurture. A young organization or program, like a young child, needs a certain amount of sacrificial love to survive and thrive.

I was part of an organization that we had been part of forming. A huge problem came up that caused deep grief internally, and great embarrassment externally. After we had cleaned up the immediate problem, I had a staff meeting and asked what should we do now. I did suggest that one way to deal with the bad reputation that had now been developed was to shut down the organization and start again. The staff, people who had been with us from the beginning or near the beginning gave a resounding “NO!” We had worked hard to get things moving. We were happy with the good that had been done. We did not want to see it go away because of something that none of us in that room had done. So we pushed through a difficult year until things started to improve. It takes that sort of sacrificial obstinateness,

I was part of another organization that had a different problem, but one that was tearing the organization in two. Those of us on one side, the original founders had to decide what to do. We chose to push through the best we could to make our organization as healthy as possible. Now… you may say this is a bad example. After all, there was a split and we did not heal the split. In fact, however, there were three options since the other side was definitely going their own way:

  • Quit… give up
  • Fight and try to beat the other side
  • Seek two healthy separate organizaitons

Our pride as creators/founders ultimately prevented us from the first option. However, we did not want our pride, honor, and sense of ownership to poison things to create option 2. We chose option 3. So far that appears to have been the best choice.

So what is the end of all of this?

1.  Missionaries/ministers are likely to become attached to their creations. This is not strictly speaking bad. That attachment leads to investment of head, heart, hands, prayer and wallet above and beyond normal sacrifice.

2.  However, the risk is that attachment may lead to the point where one is unable to accept critique, and guidance. It may also not allow one to let go. Such a feeling is often attached to an unhealthy sense of ownership (and personal importance) and a misplaced sense of honor and shame.

3. The balance, I believe is in God. All things are His, while we are stewards... trustees. However, as stewards, trustees, we are also heirs. As such, we should not have a strong sense of ownership since all things are God’s. We should not have too much honor and shame invested in organizations since our honor comes from God, not stuff. On the other hand, as a good steward/trustee there is certainly a reasonable amount of pride in being successful in what God has given… to be called “Good and Faithful Servant.”

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