Ethical Loyalties in the Church (by looking at the same in the military and police)

I was reading an interesting article entitled, “Why the US Military Usually Punishes Misconduct but Police Often Close Ranks.”

The article promotes the idea that while both

army authority drill instructor group
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

the military and paramilitary (police) may cover-up crimes done by members, it is far more likely for the police to do this, and more likely that the military will successfully police itself.

I had to think about this for a bit. I have never served in the police, and only interact with the police rarely (ministerially or otherwise). I did, however, serve in the US Navy. My initial reflection on the US Navy is that when something disgraceful comes up, the institution first goes into cover-up mode— and if that doesn’t work, then it goes into witchhunt mode.

But as I thought about it more, I realized that my distinct memories of these occasions of corruption stick out in my memory 30 years later, in part, because of its infrequency. As I thought about it more, I do remember distinctly a cultural attitude that when someone broke the rules, it was likely that fellow sailors would normally want justice imposed on the violator. Often the harshest judges would be peers and colleagues.

Why is this? According to the author of the article above, the military (US military at least) tends to create a culture of loyalty to the organization, while the police (at least US police forces) tend to create a culture of personal loyalty.

Let me give an example— I was on shore patrol at a liberty port in the Med (as in Mediterranean Sea). While I was there a couple of enlisted shipmates were walking a fellow sailor (a gunnersmate, or GM) back to me and the ship van. He was heavily drunk. He had gotten into an argument in a bar, and that argument had gotten violent. Being heavily drunk that violence hurt himself more than anyone or anything else, so no one at the bar wanted to press charges. I felt good. I can just get him onto the ship’s van and back to the ship before he creates any more problems. Sadly, as he was getting into the van he started loudly making drunken racist statements. I thought to myself, “Oh crap… well, at least I tried to help him.” He goes back to the ship. A few days later he went to Captain’s mast (non-judicial hearing), and then from there to a process where he was “kicked out” of the Navy.

From my example, here is my point. It never occurred to me that anything different would happen. I knew that he would not get in trouble for bad behavior in the bar IF no civilians in the bar would press charges. I knew that there would be no problems. If I could get him back on the ship at this point, about the worst thing that could happen is he might be charged with drunkenness and have a minor punishment placed on him. I also knew that once he shot out with the racial slurs that there was no coming from this. I knew that no one would cover it up or try to place the blame elsewhere. Why did I know this? Because it was understood that the gunnersmate had violated the rules of the military, and had placed shame on his own shipmates. As such, his friends and other shipmates may wish him well in life, but still recognize that he must go.

According to the author, it is more likely for paramilitary (police) forces, it is more likely that things would go differently. If a police officer behaved like the gunnersmate, rather than expressing loyalty to the police force, and hold individuals accountable when they shame their organization and colleagues, they would express loyalty to the officer and lie and do other things to shield him (or her) from prosecution and just consequences.

Cultures are never that cut and dry, and as I said, I have certainly seen cover ups in the military. Still, culture includes a bunch of tacit beliefs and assumptions about what is good or bad.

What about in church or on mission teams? What is the culture of churches and mission teams? I think it varies.  Churches especially, can embrace a war metaphor— the idea that we live in an us versus them world— good versus evil. I believe that makes the personal loyalty drive stronger. You might think that this is opposite. After all, it is the military that primarily carry out war, so shouldn’t the war metaphor promote organizational loyalty? I don’t know, but historically, the military drift most into cover-up mode during wartime. Under such stress, members of an organization will commonly feel that protecting a member means protecting the organization. Under less stress, the military will see holding members accountable maintains integrity and reputation, and THIS protects the organization.

I know it seems to make sense to cover up problems. However, accountability works better long-term.

Churches and mission teams claim to serve God. If God is the standard, then the standard is not organizational culture, or community standards. How do we demonstrate that? Toxic organizations are like toxic families— they are as sick as their secrets.

The goal is to avoid cover up (because we must hold each other accountable because of loyalty to… God). However, the goal is also to avoid witchhunt. Our goal is not to kick everyone out who fails, but in accountability, work towards repentance, recompense, and restoration.

 

 

 

The Murky Waters of Ministerial Restoration

I chose not to name names here, but as the stories/charges from my former school have multiplied since I first wrote this narrow somewhat even-handed post, I invite you to read more on your own… https://rightingamerica.net/rape-sexual-harassment-and-more-the-cedarville-stories-are-multiplying/?fbclid=IwAR3w4PvmDPtu5fcnddvHU_EtiR1P534Vdd3PsOu0NVUvx5ZfJlSsFNt5CUQ

A Christian college I attended years ago has been in the news lately. It recently fired a professor (I will call him “Dr. Smith”) for sexual misbehavior. Technically speaking, it wasn’t for sexual misbehavior— there had been no documented sexual misbehavior during his time as professor. Rather, it was discovered that some of his sexual misbehavior that was known from the past had been covered up. The college had accepted Dr. Smith as having made “one mistake” when later it was discovered that he had actually had a pattern of misbehavior, at least in the past. Essentially, he was accepted “warts and all.” However, he intentionally allowed things to be kept undisclosed during the hiring process, so such a cover-up can suffice as a basis for being let go.

The professor is a married man but had videotaped one of his assistant (male) ministers taking a shower in the nude. The school had accepted this as an admitted area of struggle for Dr. Smith and something he was repentant of and seeking to grow beyond. The school gave him a list of probationary limitations, as well as disciplinary and accountability actions, towards restoration. However, when the school found out that the problem was much bigger with past actions closer to stalking and coercing over a long period of time, the school felt they could not accept this and let him go.

I can understand the school’s position. If someone (we can call him Tom) told an employer that he once stole $10 dollars from a neighbor when he was in college, that employer can accept this information and address it. But if it was later discovered that Tom had been a habitual thief for years, the employer may be perfectly justified to let him go, even if he hasn’t been found to have stolen during his employment there. The justification would not be because of theft, but because of lying/deception.

There are so many issues that come up in this tiny little story.

First… Many people have called for the resignation of the president of the school— we can call him “Pres. Jones.” I personally can’t call myself a supporter of the president. He is a Complementarian and I am not, so I must admit that I don’t like his actions that have continued to move my former school more in that Complementarian direction. However, it seems like the school was already well along moving in that direction without the help of Pres. Jones, so I am not too motivated to hold that strongly against him. I do, personally, respect a leader who supports forgiveness and restoration (with appropriate discipline and accountability measures inplace). I don’t think ministerial roles should only be given to people with zero marks against them from the past (either because of no major moral failings, or because the failings have been well-hidden). Paul and David were given second chances ministerially after sinful activities that most everyone would have trouble ignoring. Peter denied Christ (much in line with the activity decried during the Donatist controversy. Two disciples of Christ wanted to ask God to call down fire on people who refused to show them hospitality.

I like the fact that President Jones was willing to give Dr.Smith a chance. I also like the fact that there were disciplinary limitations put in place. Of course, there are still reasons for concern.

  • Concern #1 was that it sounds like the issue wasn’t well-researched. It even sounds like the school did not speak to the victim. If that is the case, it is hard to say that Dr. Jones applied due diligence to the matter. If this is true, then the situation is, indeed, partly his fault.
  • Concern #2 was that there was some suggestion that the decision of Pres. Jones to hire Dr. Smith was because of Smith’s connection to “Pres.. Johnson” the former boss of Pres. Jones. Pres. Johnson has a bit of a spotty record known by many for an attitude that could be described as “Boys will be boys, and girls should just keep quiet about it.” Was the decision to hire based on old boys network or based on genuine concern for restoration. I have no idea.
  • Concern #3. If one reads all of the things the school set in place to provide disciplinary support and accountability for Dr. Smith… well, they sound a bit fake. When I say fake, I am not saying the list was not actually drawn up. It might have existed. However, I have seen this sort of list made before, and rarely if ever are they actually carried out. Often the list is little more than a cynical way to “cover one’s own back side.” I would prefer to be wrong on this concern (as well as the others). I want to think the accountability/disciplinary structure was set up to EQUALLY protect the student body, and help the professor. But that might not be the case.

The Second issue is about whether one should hire a person who has sexually acted out in the past at all. For some, sexually acting out is a greater sin than other sins. As such, it can’t be overlooked. Others may see sexual sin as pointing to problems that simply do not go away. Recidivism is so high that one cannot take the risk on the person ever again.

I don’t really see sexual abuse as greater than other forms of abuse. Many bosses and teachers abuse emotionally, or maintain abusive power dynamics in their leadership. Or they cheat, or are unforgiving, or are corrupt. Churches and schools often give these a pass while see sexually acting out as being beyond restoration ministerially.

And you know what? I get it. I long felt that way. One of the articles I read included the comments of a sex abuse expert in Christian ministry. I will call her Dr. Wilson. Dr. Wilson seemed to hold the view that once a sexual predator, always a sexual predator. As such, there should be no restoration ever. I can understand this opinion, and can even give anecdotes that support this. I have a colleague who had done counseling with a minister who had sexually acted out (I won’t share details here for many reasons) with a number of women in his youth group. The church decided to cover it up (the usually response, frankly). The women decided to cover it up as well either due to pressure from family, or because of fear of public shaming. My colleague did counseling with him, but because of the church’s unwillingness to act, the counseling could be no more than advice listened to voluntarily. There were no teeth in the discipline. That minister went to work in a Christian school (one that did not background check). The minister, now serving as a teacher, sexually acted out. Then he left and went to another school, also with no background check done, and repeated the same behavior. I don’t know where he is now.

From stories like this and Donn Ketcham scandal (you can look that one up if you want), it is easy to see why some would say, “Never do restoration…. it traumatizes the victims and gives the minister a new opportunity to start acting out again.” Since many people who have failed sexually (or in other ways in the past) do not in fact repeat their actions, I am guessing the views is really “They could act out again, and we can’t take that risk.”

But what failings are so bad that one cannot be restored ministerially? Abuse involving Sex? Money? Power? It is hard to draw the line.

I rather like the standards in the Missions Community that have circulated in recent years. It applies a ZERO TOLERANCE policy to sexual misbehavior, and a REAL referencing policy for new work. That is, if a person applies for a new job, the former employer will give a real report of why that applicant was let go. This seems reasonable. In the end the new potential employer has the freedom to decide what to do about this. The new employer should make an informed decision… but ultimately it should be their own decision.

In the end, as to this second concern, I can respect two different views. If a Christian ministry says, “We can’t risk our membership or students by hiring this person,” I can actually respect that. If a Christian ministry says, “We have researched the applicant’s past fully, and we have decided to bring them in but under well-controlled circumstances,” I can respect that as well. I can’t respect the middle ground that ends up making decisions based on how one “feels” about the situation, based on rumors rather than on what is merciful AND just, and based on good research.

My Third concern was something that was said by Dr. Wilson. She said something to the effect that even if Dr.Smith did not act out again, it would be based on the external limitations placed upon him rather than internal controls. I am not sure one can say that definitively, but I hardly see why guilt should be the only social motivator that is found acceptable, not valuing shame or fear. Frankly, pretty much everyone has areas in their lives in which they don’t do what is wrong because of fear (of punishment) or shame (reduction of social capital). It seems to me to be bad Evangelical theology to see guilt as the only one that should be considered valid.

I have dealt with a number of ministers who have struggled with sin (sometimes sexual and sometimes not). They can be separated loosely into three broad categories.

  • Category #1. This group feels great remorse/guilt over what they have done as well as shame for what they have done. They express openly what they have done and desire to live out a full repentance. This is a very small group. It is possible that this group does not actually exist. This type of person is exactly the type of person who should be restored. Sadly, they can be hard to identify. Geneerally, however, they don’t miimize their own role. They don’t try to shift blame. They tend to accept discipline and want to have accountability. They want to change, or be changed.
  • Category #2. This group feels great shame that they have been caught. They want the situation to go away. In some cases, they do want to not return to their past sin. Ultimately, however, they don’t want to make any major changes to bring this about. In other cases, any statements on repentance are just words to get people off their backs. These people are often (but not always) easy to identify. They tend to minimize their role and shift blame. They will agree to a lot of steps for restoration but then find ways to get out of doing them.
  • Category #3. This group is like Category #1. This group feels great remores/guilt over what they have done as well as shame for what they have done. They express openly what they have done and desire to live out a full repentance. In all of this, the group sounds like Category #1. The difference is that there are seeds of destruction in them. It is like an alcoholic who really really really wants to step away from his addiction— but then a trigger comes along and the person falls again into the addictive cycle. This category of person can be restored, but needs outside help. This person needs external accountability support and rules to keep from falling back into past mistakes. This category is a large number of people. It is hard to say whether Category #2 or #3 are larger. In my experience, they are close to the same size.

So if category #2 should not be in ministry, what about #1 and #3? #1 and #3 should be treated the same. Unless the individual tells us, we cannot know for sure which one has triggers or situations in which they cannot help backslide into. In fact, the individual may not know either.

But when you think about it, everyone of us is in one of these three categories as well. We all sin in one way or another. The wall of separation between “us” and “them” is porous, separated only in terms of seriousness, scope of, or type of sin. We all need accountability and social restraints.

That is my problem with Dr. Wilson. Fallen pastors are not a unique category of person that cannot be restored. They are like us— that is a good thing and a bad thing. If they need outside social motivators to keep them doing what is right and not doing what is wrong… that is not a valid condemnation.

Ft it was a valid condemnation, pretty much all of us will have to join in being condemned.

…..

So should Dr. Smith have been fired. Well, by now it has long since shifted from being an ethical issue to being a political issue. Politically, he had to be let go. If it is true that Dr. Smith covered up and minimized much of the wrongdoing, this may well point to the fact that he is racked by public shame more than embracing his own responsibility and need to change. Those that cover up tend to repeat the same thing later. But that is a lot of guesswork on my part. Obviously, I am not privy to the what on behind closed doors… and even less what is going on in different people’s hearts and minds.

Um… Maybe Missions is NOT for You.

Before I get into this… a bit of a confession time. I may not be the great exemplar of a missionary. I am not adept at language. I am an introvert, when it seems as if the extrovert is the ideal promoted. I am prone to be a bit grumpy. I am also not particularly evangelistic. Oh yeah, and I am horrible at fundraising. (Not all of these are that important. I think the jury is out still as to whether introverts or extroverts make better missionaries. And, in the age we live in, missionaries in most parts of the world are needed more in skills training and leader development rather than being evangelizers or churchplanters… the latter roles issionaries are usually second-rate as compared to locals.) It is still fair to say that these are all pretty good reasons for me NOT to be involved in missions. Confession time over.

You know… some people just really really should not go into missions. I know we have really rousing missions conferences with “altar calls” to get people to commit to mission work, but some really should be discouraged from this. I know many people think that God gives certain people a divine moment that tells them they must be missionaries— no turning back. Not so sure, and this matters, because there is dangers to the wrong people going into cross-cultural ministry. That is because although mission work can truly advance the Kingdom of God, done wrong it can also hinder or undo it.

The people who always make me the most nervous here in the Philippines are the highly ethnocentric missionaries. Usually, these are Americans who often embrace many of the “Ugly American” stereotypes that we were warned about back in my Navy Days before our ship sailed into foreign ports of call. It is interesting that the US Navy tried to drill this concern into our minds while many groups (especially churches sending individuals or short-term mission teams) do not. Some such mission folk are loud and abrasive, and think they know more than locals. Some seek to bring over their churches from the US bringing their own style, doctrines, and prejudices to be imparted into their mission churches. I know of two people who were kicked out of the Philippines because they were missionaries. The Philippines is so lax on enforcing rules regarding mission work that it is hard to imagine any being sent home for illegal mission work. However, the fact was that it was the local church they were working with here that turned them in to the BI (Bureau of Immigration). I never did find out what this American couple did that would motivate Filipinos to turn on them (a rare thing indeed). While I said this as if only an American thing, I have seen a few other nationalities (I will leave these unlisted) that feel the temptation to bring in their superior attitudes to the field. If you feel the need to bring your political perspectives and train up your people in them on the field, you are probably in the wrong job.

Some people struggle with being self-driven, and self-accountable. While everyone needs accountability in mission work, the oversight is commonly less than at home. In most cases it is easier to get away with laziness or acting out when one’s boss is hours away. If you need someone looking over your shoulder to make sure you are working, mission work is probably not for you.

Some people struggle with flexibility. Cross-cultural work involves cultural flexibility. Mission work, in general, requires activity flexibility. Rarely is one day like the next. If one needs routine, or can’t handle being expected to behave in ways that are markedly different than one was raised up, mission work is probably not the best for you.

If you are success-oriented, and want to be a big name… again probably not ideal to be a missionary. Even if you are fairly well-known to a small group of people where you serve, people in your home country are likely not to know you. The activities likely to get one to be well-known (like getting killed for illegal trespassing on lands of hostile locals, or getting caught sexually molesting MKs) are exactly the things one REALLY SHOULD AVOID. Frankly, most famous missionaries, like St. Paul or William Carey, really became famous mostly after their deaths.

If money given to you as a steward for ministry feels like your own money… you probably should not be a missionary.

A great list is 10 Reasons NOT to Become a Missionary, by Laura Parker.

Empowering Leadership over Empowered Leadership

Years ago I went to a conference on Multi-site churches. Most of those who had mega-multisite churches were Independents— not part of a denomination. But one of the main speakers did have a very large church that was multi-site and was part of a denomination. During the Q&A time, an acquaintance of mine and from my denomination, asked this pastor a very relevant question. It was, “As a megachurch leader but also a member of a denomination, what would you like for your denomination leadership do to help you be more effective in your doing your ministry?” Since the acquaintance of mine was in denominational leadership, it seemed an especially relevant question.

The megachurch pastor said at first, “Stay out of our way.” But then he laughed and said he should give a better answer than that. He then said, to the effect,

The difficulty that denominations have is that they are led by pastors. It makes sense that the leaders of groups of churches should have previously been leaders of churches. But there is a problem with this. You see, pastors are “vision-people.” That is, they embrace the role of guiding the church in the way it should go. They gain a vision of where the church should go and then try to instill that same vision in the membership of the church. That is fine, but when they move into denominational leadership, this tendency doesn’t go away. They still seek to be the visionary people. Now, however, they start to see the various churches in their denomination as the tools to carry out their vision.

But this is the problem, because churches already have visionary leaders and have their own vision which is appropriate to their own “Church-DNA” and setting. What is needed is denominational structures and leaders who do not see individual churches as the tools to carry out their own denominational vision. Rather they need denominational leadership that identify and affirm the visions of individual churches and embrace the idea that the denominational structures and leadership are tasked to help empower individual churches to execute their own visions.

At the time I thought that was a pretty insightful image… and I still do. I also think it is somewhat unrealistic. If the ministry as a vocation promotes visionary people (we tend to think the religious leaders SHOULD be visionary)… and ministry has a hierachical structure, it is hard to imagine a system that promotes vision up to a certain level, and then supports empowerers above that level. It is like expecting politicians to actually be “servants of the people” when the finances and process of move to higher levels politically require being a servant to political and financial allies.

But imagine for a moment if a system could be developed in missions that follows the ideas of the quote above.

Imagine a mission agency that seeks to support the vision of missionaries within their organization rather than seeing them as pawns to be mobilized for their own vision?

Again, these may be a bit unrealistic. However, I think that at least there is a possibility of some modest changes that can be done so that hierarchies can empower rather than disempower and embrace vision from others rather than crush it.

  • Set up a structure that embraces training, and supporting the troops on the ground to carry out their task. Reject a military war model of a group of generals far removed from the front lines moving around troops.
  • Seek top-level leaders whose vision is more about empowering others rather than being empowered by others.
  • Seek to establish patterns that affirm empowering leadership at the lower levels so that at the higher levels the pattern and process doesn’t have to change.

On this last point— Imagine a missionary who seeks to work with local leaders by empowering them to do what God has called them to do.  This would be quite different than the more common method of a missionary coming in with a clear vision of what he or she wants to do and seeks to find local allies who can be brought in to serve the missionary’s vision.  Imagine a church pastor who sees himself as one who as an empowering leader seeing the church as a priesthood of believers, and works with the church rather than rules over the church.

Who knows…. it just might work.

Quitting as Lack of Faith or Act of Faith?

Going into Missions is often thought of as an act of letting go. One lets go of one’s former job, one’s home culture, and often many friends and even family.

One might think that means that missionaries

walking away

are good at letting go, but that is often not the case. In fact, the letting go in the past may make one less prone to do it in the field. One of the main challenges is letting go of ministries or projects. There can be a number of reasons. This is not an exhaustive (or exhausting) list.

  1. Fear of Change. We are creatures of inertia or homeostasis. It takes energy to change, to learn, to grow. If we have been doing something, we are likely to try to keep it going (1st order change) rather than stop and do something different (2nd order change).
  2. Comfort. Not unrelated to the first one, but now expressed in a more positive way. We get good at something and it feels like we have found our niche or our calling. It feels right to stay where we are and it feels wrong to cut ties… break relationships… end what has been so much of our present. Innovation and new challenges seem wrong, because we have gotten good at thinking “inside the box,” and hanging out in our “comfort zone.”
  3. Sense of Ownership or Privilege. We identify our ministry work with ourselves rather than with God, or with locals. The ministry feels like “ours” and not “theirs.” We sympathize with the writer of Ecclesiastes whose complaint was of how the rewards of one’s hard labor eventually go to those who did not work for it or earn it.
  4. Hubris. It is tempting to think that a ministry cannot survive without us. To let go can feel like dooming a ministry to collapse. Unfortunately, that attitude can actually create this reality. Thinking one is indispensible can lead a missionary not to train up others to take his/her place.
  5. Unable to Recognize the Times. I Chronicles 10:32 speaks “Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do,…” Missionaries don’t always recognize when times have changed and situations changed. A need may disappear. A missionary may have transitioned from pioneer, to parent, to partner, to participant, and can (and should) move along. Many projects come to their natural end of life, but instead of being celebrated as a completed task, are put on life-support and maintained in a state of ineffectiveness.
  6. Fear that it Suggests a Lack of Faith. When is giving up on a project a sign of lack of faith, and when is it an act of faith? This takes a great deal of discernment, because leaving can be a calculated plan to follow God’s calling, or a running away from difficult tasks and choices. Retreat can be an act of cowardice or a an act of sound strategy. Leaving too soon is bad, but so is leaving too late. For some people it is a lack of faith because they believe the calling of God is static (“God has called you to this place for this ministry… until death”) rather than dynamic (“Calling is following God wherever He leads”).

If you are looking for easy answers, you will find none here. Listening to God and to wise mentors and peers are important, but these will remove all doubt. It is somehow right that MINISTRY rhymes with MYSTERY. There is, and should always be, a certain amount of uncertainty. Ultimately, our decisions must be Acts of Faith.

No Pictures Please…

Pictures are important… sort of. In missions, pictures are valuable because they inform in a manner that words just don’t. With digital media and cellphones with high quality digital cameras and GBs of memory, it is easy to litter the world with photos.

Blacked out

But sometimes… just don’t take pictures. Or, perhaps don’t post pictures. I would like to offer a few stories where pictures were a bad idea… and a few where the became okay.

  1.  My classic story for “Don’t take pictures” was in my second year in missions. We were having a medical mission in the city, targeting children who work in the public market. This was a fairly needy group. We were partnering with two local churches who I was well familiar with and a mission team that I was unfamiliar with. One of the things being done at the medical missions was circumcision (“pagtuli”). In the Philippines, circumcision is considered important but not done when the boy was young. Rather it was done closer to puberty and is seen as a bit of a rite of passage. For a family to be too poor to have their boys circumcised leaves them in a bit of a state of moderate disgrace— failing to cross this transition to manhood. (This is not about whether you think circumcision is medically necessary or not, or whether you think it is religiously mandated or not. It is a cultural value here.) We had lots of circumcisions that day. We actually ended up putting together a bunch of tables and had a cadre of circumcisers to carry out this work. Several were being worked on simultaneously. I noticed that some of the volunteers from the other mission team were taking lots of pictures of this. In fact, a couple of them were standing up by the table with their cameras high over their head so they could take pictures of these boys being circumcised.    …. Do I have to tell you how inappropriate that is? First of all it is disrespectful. How many of us really want to have strangers taking pictures of us with our pants and underwear down— those pictures to be seen by who knows and for what?  Second, it is exploitative. I will get to this more in some other stories. But I am pretty sure none of these boys gave permission for those shots to be used. They were taken (most likely) to show that money for medical missions is a good thing, and, since the photographers were foreign, perhaps they wanted to “wow” their audiences, to show how weird things are in the Philippines.  Third, it is arguably illegal. Pictures of unclad boys being sent to foreign countries for non-research, non-medical purposes could be viewed as illegal. This could be identified as trafficking in child pornography. Of course, perhaps some of the pictures were blurred for privacy sake… but the ones I saw were definitely not.
  2. A friend of mine pastors a church here and was telling a story of something that happened at his church. A young lady of a Muslim family became involved in the church youth group, and decided to convert to Christianity. Her family lived far away while she was at school and this gave her the freedom and confidence to make some important decisions on her own. The very next day, pictures and stories were put up on Facebook of this young lady leaving Islam to become a Christian. … Again, do I have to tell you why this is inappropriate? Sure enough, the pictures and messages got back to her family who were most unhappy. The family members were not the only ones unhappy. The young lady felt that she was used by her Christian friends… just another notch on their Evangelism gun. “Hey! We got ourselves another Muslim!!” She, dropped out of the church, the youth group, and all things Christian. Hardly surprising.
  3. A group of women and youth my wife worked with were asked to leave the city and go to a remote community to hold Vacation Bible School. These women and youth were very good at working with children. On the way there, the host, a foreign missionary, suggested that they stop near a rice paddy to eat. After eating, the missionary suggested that some of the ladies go down into the muddy rice paddy and look like they were tending the rice plants. He took some pictures. Later, the women talked to my wife, and they felt exploited. Were they? Well, they live and work in the city, but they were being encouraged to get dirty and look like they work in the fields. They also did not know what the photos would be used for. Were they exploited? Exploitation is primarily a perception… so I suppose they were. If the reason for the photos was clear and and the women were given full input into the picture-taking they might have agreed and even found the experience fun. Or maybe they would refuse. Either would be better than the uncertainty.
  4. For many activities we may say that taking photographs is okay, but sharing publicly is not. A restoration service of a pastor was publicly shared online, and some people reacted negatively and then shared it with still others, this time with words that greatly mislabeled both the pictures and the activity. Restoration services after a disciplinary period are rather controversial in the Philippines. (Most seem to prefer the traditional process of a pastor sneaking away to a new area and starting, over hiding the past problems.) Knowing this problem I told people to not share photos… but some shared the photos anyway. Sometimes one simply has to know human nature. When we were working with “Drug Surrenderers” here in the Philippines, I made a point of telling people not to take pictures at these meetings. There certainly is a stigma with being on the barangay drug watchlist. Occasionally we would take some pictures to show others what is happening. However, we would take pictures of the volunteers working with only the backs of the surrenderers. Human nature is often to blame someone for being in a drug recovery program rather than to congratulate them for doing the right thing. However, towards the end, the surrenderers wanted to be photographed. For example, they decided to do a treeplanting project to emphasize that they want to have a positive role in society rather than negative. They wanted to be photographed to show how things have changed. We honored that. It was their choice.
  5. We don’t take pictures in jail ministry. In fact, the correction officers take all cameras and phones away when we go there. But even if they didn’t, we would not take pictures. Many have considerable shame for being in prison. We don’t want to add to that shame. Correction officers take pictures in jail, including the counseling we do… but that is their choice. We can’t control that. We also don’t take pictures of patients we do counseling with in the hospital. On rare occasions, in non-hospital settings, I have taken pictures of counseling where I take the picture of the counselor and the back of the client. Again, it is about not exploiting. Additionally, hospitals don’t want groups going into their facility for photo ops. In fact, many institutions really don’t want that to happen.
  6. Exploitation is hard to identify sometimes. Two humorous stories that sort of relate to exploitation. The first is one that I heard about, but hadn’t seen personally. The story could be apocryphal, but since I have seen things that mimic this in a somewhat less extreme way, I suspect that it has basis. A missionary went to a church and asks “Who loves to eat chicken?” Hands went up all over the place. The picture of all of these people with smiling faces and hands raised was put on the missionary’s newsletter with the implied message that these were excited people responding to the message of the missionary. And speaking of newsletters, the second story is one I have more direct connection with although I wasn’t actually at the event. A baptism at a church plant was held in a large swimming pool. A lot of pictures were taken. No problem. However, then one missionary (Missionary “A”) began complaining that another missionary (Missionary “B”)  at the event had used a picture of the baptism service in his newsletter giving the implicit message that it was his ministry. The Missionary “A” thought that “B” was taking credit and thus exploiting the event for personal gain— and told an awful LOT of people his sentiments. The problem was that “A” was also using these photos for support-raising work, so his complaints about “B” seemed more self-serving. But that is part of the problem isn’t it? Pictures often serve the missionary rather than the people the missionary is supposed to serve.

Do we take pictures? Yes… a lot of pictures in fact. Probably more than we should. We don’t always get the ethics right. But we try, at least, to ask a few questions:

  • Is it legal? In some situations (jail being the most obvious example) taking photos is illegal.
  • Is it exploitative? Do the pictures help the missionary while exploiting those who are being photographed.
  • Is it kind?  Is it honoring? Showing people in a miserable state may get more support money… but many food and child organizations learned decades ago that there is a danger in this. (I remember a young child in the US telling his mother that “I don’t want to be brown” after watching one too many of these child feeding organizations showing well-dressed people providing food for starving and unkempt “brown children.”  The Philippines is full of beauty and joy. Yes there are miseries as well. But unbalanced photos deceive and such deception is not a victimless crime.
  • Is it true? Pictures can mislead… often even moreso than words.
  • Is it private? Some things should not be photographed. Often the public does NOT have the right to know.
  • Is it voluntary? Are people supportive of being photographed for missionary (or fund-raising) purposes?
  • Is it safe? (Not a Millenium Man reference. I have worked with people who go to places where Christian ministry is actively opposed (an odd thing indeed… but the world is indeed an odd place). They ask specifically not to have their picture put online… or alternatively, pictures shared should not be labelled with their names.

An old media trope is of a person going to a a remote technologically backward village and taking pictures with a camera (Polaroid perhaps). The people are deeply bothered because of the belief that in taking their picture, the photographer is stealing their souls. I don’t know if there is/was a belief of some cultures or not… but often in taking pictures there is indeed a theft involved. We need to be careful in this area.

 

Short-Term Missions that is Missions

I hear a lot of stories (sometimes comedies, sometimes horror stories) regarding short-term missions (STM). I nod and smile, or shake my head and scowl. But I am happy to say that I can’t really relate to these stories. My experience with short-term missionaries has generally been quite positive. But my own experience with STM is quite different from the normal. The normal STM team is more like:

  • A group of 5 to 10 to 15 or more.
  • STMers have little to no skills that are specifically matched up to the needs of the local missionary.
  • Often the STM team activity is driven by the needs of the team, rather than the needs of the local host.
  • (Because of this) It is common that the work done by the STM team is more “make work,” that provides a sense of accomplishment for the team, and putting a strain on the local hosts, rather than helping the long-term programs of the long-term missionary.

These traits commonly lead to the assumption that Short-term missions is really for the benefit of the STMers rather than the local missionaries or local hosts.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. One way around it is the method used by the Mormons. Short-term missions is longer (commonly 2 years) with prior preparation. Still, from what I see here in the Philipines at least, it still looks to be highly inefficient— succeeding more from sheer numbers and back-home optimism.

But is there the possibility of a short-term missions that makes sense on its own that doesn’t involve multiple years of work?

I feel like several of our experiences with short-term missions has a better record than that.

First.  The Short-term mission teams are small. The largest team we ever had was 4. Most are 1 or 2. Consider the numbers. Suppose it takes $3000 per person to do a short-term mission, and suppose the team is made up of two people. The cost then would be $6000. The cost of a team of ten would be approximately $30,000. That is quite a difference— five times as much. But will the larger team be five times as useful? Probably not.

Second.  The teammember(s) have unique skills that the missionary needs. It might be technical skills, it may be academic skills, or special certifications. Franky, most skills that people bring already exist in the field.

Third. The skills that STMers bring are ones that are specifically needed for the long-term ministry programs in the field.

Fourth. The primary goal of the team is to increase the capacity of missionaries or local hosts. The goal is the transfer of skills and resources to the field. The goal is not to maintain dependency.

Fifth.  The STM team is driven based on the need in the field. This is implied by the above principles, but still worthy of note.

Sixth.  It is the responsibility of the missionary in the field to ensure that they (or designated individuals) gain from the STM trip. Far too often, groups come and go and nothing is changed because those in the field did not intentionally seek to gain long-term benefit from the trip, and do not seek to properly integrate it with the longer-term strategy.

Note:  I am NOT saying that all STM should be done this way. There is a place for “Encounter Missions.” There is a place for reminding ourselves that the church is multi-national and that we have brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world. There is a place for doing things that are not at all cost effective.

But there are times when STM makes sense from the standpoint of long-term mission work in the field.

Trust Fall

Image result for trust fall

Years ago we would do an activity that was called the Trust Fall. It was done at summer camp, at church sometimes, and in some Group Process courses in colleges and corporate team-buiding activities around the world. It is pretty simply. One person crosses their arms, and from a standing position leans backwards and allows him/herself to fall. This violates the person’s natural instincts. The goal is to override that self-protection by trusting that other members of the team will catch.

Occasionally, we would find someone who would struggle with this. They would hesitate and vacillate. Some would eventually do it, others would walk away, and still others would start to go to a sitting down position as instinct took over. In “Tuesdays with Morrie,” Mitch Ablom speaks of doing this in Sociology class and having most of the class unwilling or unable to do it… at least at first. I was never in a group where more than one or two had a problem with the exercise.

For those who would go through with it, the team would be there to save the day— usually. But not always. At Summer Camp we had a four-foot platform to stand on. One would stand on the platform and fall backward while the rest of us would be there to catch. We all took turns. My sister was on the camp staff along with myself. She got onto the platform, turned around and fell backwards. Unfortunately, we weren’t expecting her to be ready so quick so we were still goofing around as she fell. Some of us were able to react in time and slow her fall. Her head and shoulder hit the ground. We were very apologetic. She got up, climbed the ladder stood on the platform and when we were ready, fell backward again. We caught her that time.

I was always good at Trust Fall. I never had trouble with it, and in fact never really understood why some do. One might think that I am a very trusting person, but I don’t think that is the case. I have generally found that people are not particularly reliable. I find trustworthiness to be a rare quality.

So why wouldn’t I have trouble with this activity. If trust is not the reason, maybe it was invincibility. If I hit the ground, I can just bounce back up (like my sister did). In fact, in a different team activity, (Electric Fence), I summersaulted over the “electric fence” and my guys failed to catch me and I ht the ground pretty hard. But I survived. Still, I am not sure invincibility was the reason either. It certainly would not be the reason now. I guess, the reason was that I felt that the activity forced one to act like one trusts the team, so I acted as if I trusted them.  That sounds weak, but I suppose that is what faith is. Faith is know certainty. Saving faith is the recognition that I can’t do it alone, and I can’t trust others, I must trust God because I have no other choice. Most other religions are built around the idea of trust in self in one form or another. If I am good enough (heart lighter than a feather, less than 10% ‘bad,’ or something else), then I can earn eternity. Christianity gives no such position to hope in oneself. (And this makes sense to me personally, since I know that I am not particularly trustworthy either.) I trust God because I have no other choice. There is no other place worthy of my trust when it comes to eternity.

Now you may be thinking this to be a bad lesson. You may be saying, “The Trust Fall is meant to build trust in a team, NOT teach people to act as if they trust them (while not actually trusting them).” But I would like to disagree, and look at it from the standpoint of Christian Mission work.

Missions is a team sport.  It is not boxing (although boxers does have a team that stands by them in their corner). It is not running a sprint or a marathon (although runners also have trainers and supporters). Christian Mission work is most definitely a team sport, more like basketball, football, rugby, or a host of other such activities.

Every now and then, one finds a Lone Ranger missionary, a Lone Wolf missionary. This person works without a team, without accountability. Some were kicked out of a team because of lack of reliability. Some have been burned before by those who can’t be trusted and decide that they will never be burned again. Some simply “don’t play well together in the same sandbox.” I struggle what to say about that. Jesus worked as part of a team. Even when He sent his disciples out, He sent them out in twos– in temas. Paul and Barnabas worked as part of a team, and even when they broke company, they brought in others to go out as teams.

History is full of mission teams. Occasionally, a missionary will go out completely by himself or herself. I am not sure what to say about that. Bruce Olson seemed to go out on his own and serve God effectively. But that seems rare… especially rare as a successful venture.  Most recently, John Chau, went to North Sentinel Island as a Lone Ranger missionary and died there. Was this good or bad? I am still processing all of this. Maybe I will have a better answer in a few weeks. But I have to question a calling that led him to act disconnected from a supportive team. (Maybe I misunderstand the situation. As I said, I have to think about this a bit more.)

In general, however, those who treat mission work as an individual support are hardly doing Christian missions. They are doing something… maybe even something good… but hardly Christian missions. Jethro warned his son-in-law, Moses, that he needs to serve God with a team, not by himself. Elijah served as a lone prophet and burnt himself out. Finally, going before God to complain, God told him that he needed to train up someone to serve with him and replace him. That person, Elisha, appeared to have learned the lesson of Elijah, working with others (servants) and working with the school of prophets.

My wife and I have worked with many people in ministry. Working with some has been a pure joy. Working with some others in Christian missions has been highly fulfilling. In some cases, working with others was a disappointment. Some have, please excuse the dramatic language, stabbed us in the back (not many, thankfully).

This is the lesson of Trust Fall. The lesson is not that one’s team is always trustworthy and will always “catch you when you fall.” Sometimes they don’t. The lesson is that to do Trust Fall, one must act as if one trusts the others. The same is true in Christian Missions. One trusts others not based on the Pollyanna view that people will always be trustworthy. Rather, to do Christian Missions, one must work with other people. There is always a risk in this. When I was young we sang the Gospel chorus, “Christ is All I Need.” It is a nice chorus, and soteriologically true. However, not true for Christian Missions. God has called us to work together. We need each other.

To do Christian Missions, we must accept the fact that some people will fail us. And, if we are really honest with ourselves, we are not fully trustworthy to others either. We trust others because to serve God, we must.  

 

 

 

Therapeutic Use of Self

I have been reading “The Therapeutic Use of Self: Counseling Practice, Research and Supervision” by Val Wosket. So far it has been an interesting read. It is more for psychotherapy, but I felt that it was useful also for chaplaincy and pastoral counseling. Therefore, I wrote an article that was posted on the CPSP-Philippines website. (https://cpspphilippines.wordpress.com/2018/11/27/the-therapeutic-use-of-self-in-pastoral-care/)

You are certainly welcome to read it if you think it is valuable for your ministry. From a different angle, however, the research is suggestive of something more. The focus on methods is flawed. That flaw in psychotherapy may apply to missions as well.

  • Does it even make sense to ask the question “What is the best evangelistic method?”
  • Can one realistically argue what is the best churchplanting or church growth method?
  • Is it possible to say a mission strategy is consistently?

Taking a quote from my other article (which in turn came from Wosket),

Perhaps as well as considering ‘what approach is most effective and what can we learn from it?’ it might have been profitable for more researchers in the last few decades to have asked ‘which therapists are more effective and what can we learn from them?’

Carrying it over to missions, are we focusing on the wrong things? Roland Allen asked the question of whether we should use St. Paul’s methods (or principles) or our own?  I think a lot of what Allen said over a century ago was and is quite valid. But perhaps a better question would be “What quality traits did Paul (or Barnabas or Peter or John OR CHRIST) have that led them to be successful in ministry when others seemingly did not?”

Businesses are learning that a good resume’ does not make a good employee. Character isses such as EQ and morals/virtues and work ethic, and more are more important. What about in Missions?

 

Isaac and the Akedah

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” -Genesis 22:1-2

The Talmudic rabbis were fascinated by the Akedah (The Binding of Isaac) and analyzed so many aspects of the story seeking to understand motivations and ethics of God and Abraham. St. Paul utilized the story to support the argument that “the just shall live by faith”— even Abraham was declared righteous by his faith. Kierkegaard, in “Fear and Trembling” took the story to point to a “leap of faith.” I can’t argue against the importance of the story. Abraham agrees to do the unthinkable because God told him to. We like to know why Abraham agreed. The writer of Hebrews gives an answer— but a rational justification doesn’t quite give the full picture I think.

But I am more interested with Isaac. Commentators differ, but it is pretty clear that Isaac was most likely a teenager or a young adult. And Abraham? Well, he was old. Really old. In the story in Genesis 22 it states that Abraham left his servants behind and went up the mountain with Isaac alone.

Isaac almost certainly was a willing party. It became clear to him, eventually, that there was no sacrifice except for himself. Isaac could have run, easily outrunning his father. He could have fought back, easily overpowering Abraham. But he didn’t. He allowed himself to be tied up. He may have even helped his dad place himself on the altar.

Why would he do that? I don’t think he did it as an act of obedience to God. It could be, but Isaac is not used as the ultimate example of faith and devotion to God, Abraham is.

Abraham was devoted to God, but Isaac was devoted to his dad. That has a beauty to it, but a weighty thought for a dad.

As a parent involved in missions, I recall back in 2004 when my wife and I acted on our calling and got on a plane to go to the Philippines. We brought our three children with me. Our two youngest— ages 7 and 5— had no idea where we were going. They just went willingly where we went. In a three month period, we went from a very nice house in the suburbs, to sharing one room in a relatives house in the US, to sharing a tiny place in the international dorm of a seminary in the Philippines. Over the next few years, our children were bullied by kids who saw our children as “foreign.” They grew up to feel like outsiders wherever they live. All three of them had atopic dermatitis— possibly triggered by the air pollution problems here. None have died, praise God. Two of three are over their physical problems.

Maybe their living in a different country helped them. Maybe they are better for the experience. I would like to think so, but I don’t know. We are not privy to the results of paths not taken.

But that is not the point. We came here because of God… but they didn’t. They came because of us.

That is a burden. Abraham in the end did not sacrifice Isaac. I do wonder how that affected their relationship. Did it strengthen it? Did it weaken it? I don’t know, but it certainly changed it.

To me, the most interesting thing regarding the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, was that he was a willing party. He did it not for God but for his dad. More than interesting, though— as a dad, it is scary.