3 Biblical Ways to Respond to Bad Bosses

pexels-photo-117025.jpeg

For the Christian, we know God has given us what we need to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. However, we sometimes feel trapped by our understanding of His direction. We may think when we are serving in a Christian ministry that there is a one-way road map when dealing with a self-serving and destructive ministry leader. However, there is more than response to toxic bosses found in scripture. Continue reading

Experiencing Matthew 7 Under a Toxic Boss

This is part 4 of a series of articles describing the experiences of Christian organization employees working under abusive bosses. These articles are the fruit of interviews with employees who sought diligently to respond to their foul bosses in biblical and thoughtful ways. This article describes their application of Matthew 7:1-6. This site is largely based on this passage as evidenced by the title.

cropped-pig-in-pearls-antolik-e1513805141601.jpg

In Matthew 7:1-6, Jesus is coming to the close of his Sermon on the Mount. He challenges his hearers, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.[1] In verse six, Jesus goes on to say, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.[2] Continue reading

Experiencing 1st Peter 2 Under a Toxic Boss

This is part 3 of a series of articles describing the experiences of Christian organization employees working under abusive bosses. These articles are the fruit of interviews with employees who sought diligently to respond to their foul bosses in biblical and thoughtful ways. This article describes their application of 1 Peter 2. For an analysis of 1 Peter 2 in the context of employment, please see two of my earlier blog: Submission to Harsh Bosses.

horse on field

The apostle Peter begins a section on “submission” to various authorities in the second chapter of his first epistle. Starting in verse 18, Peter instructs, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.[1]

My interviewees were asked if and how they applied this passage to their interactions with their toxic supervisor. Not surprisingly, most considered the principals involved and struggled significantly with their application.

Continue reading

Experiencing Psalm 55 Under a Toxic Boss

This is part 2 of a series of articles describing the experiences of Christian organization employees working under abusive bosses. These articles are the fruit of interviews with employees who sought diligently to respond to their foul bosses in biblical and thoughtful ways. This article describes their application of Psalm 55 – a prayer for the destruction of the wicked. For an analysis of Psalm 55 in the context of employment, please see two of my earlier blogs: Imprecatory Praying & Hatred.

King David wrote Psalm 55, an imprecatory psalm, praying for mercy as he suffered the “oppression of the wicked.” He says, “They drop trouble upon me, and in anger they bear a grudge against me.”

In the middle of the psalm, David explains the enemy he has been describing is “my companion, my familiar friend.” David cries for God’s judgment saying, “Let death steal over them; let them go down to Sheol alive; for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart.”[1] Continue reading

Experiencing Matthew 18 Under a Toxic Boss

This is part 1 of a series of articles describing the experiences of Christian organization employees working under abusive bosses. These articles are the fruit of interviews with nine employees who sought diligently to respond to their foul bosses in biblical and thoughtful ways. This article describes their application of Matthew 18 – the confrontation of a sinning brother – to their unpleasant circumstances. For an analysis of Matthew 18 in the context of employment, please see my earlier blog.

battle black blur board game

In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus outlines the process for confronting a brother who has sinned against you.[1] It goes through three steps of confrontation: 1) Go to the brother one-on-one. If he does not respond in repentance, 2) take one or two other witnesses along to confront him. Again, if he does not respond to the grace of confrontation, 3) take it to the church. If after these steps he does not respond in repentance, the church is to treat him as an unbeliever – he is clearly not interested in what Jesus calls him to be. Continue reading

You Can’t Make An Omelet Without Breaking a Few Eggs

pexels-photo-89235.png

Some say, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” There are always excuses for dysfunctional leadership.

A little slicing here. A little dicing there. A little arrogance and meanness thrown in…and somehow we think a productive work environment has been cooked up. Continue reading

Leadership: Solomon’s Slide

We see in the story of King Solomon typical leadership.King Solomon

Solomon began as a King of Israel with a spiritual fervor to serve the Lord and His people. He built the Temple to God’s specs and outfitted it in great splendor. He proceeded to give honor and praise to Yahweh in special speeches, prayers, and offerings. [1 Kings 8] Continue reading

Shalom: Peace in Departure

pexels-photo-247851.jpegApproximately a year after her termination from an international mission organization, Susan said, “By the grace of God [I was] not looking over my shoulder and not wishing things were the way they were.”

Susan relayed how an acquaintance, who had gone through a similar experience of abusive leadership, had remarked that it was over two years before she was starting to feel like herself again. Susan’s acquaintance was told by advisors that following these kinds of events, “You have got to be easy on yourself. You’ve got to realize the depth of hurt and confusion that’s gone on and it’s going to take months.”

Choosing to Go and Let God

In my last blog, I sought to encourage those who choose to stay in an organization led by a toxic leader. There are good reasons people choose to stay. But, many find good reasons to leave. There is heartbreak and trauma with which to contend and I hope the following stories will be an encouragement and instructional to those who have made the difficult choice of moving on.

One former missionary told me, “I came to a point where I knew in my heart spiritually, emotionally and professionally that the person I am did not line up with who and what the organization leadership had demonstrated to me.” Martha continued,

“The hierarchy of power and status based on race (‘we are white and therefore superior’) and the lack of grace, humility, and servant leadership displayed by the organization leadership was directly opposite of everything I believed that God called me to be and how he called me to serve. I could no longer be part of an organization that manipulated Scripture to promote its own agenda.”

Once they leave an organization, how do survivors of leadership abuse survive? And heal?

Moving On with Purpose

Part of the healing process is seeing purpose in where God has sent you following the experience of toxic leadership.

God gives every one of His servants purpose and sometimes it is realigned with experiences like those of my interviewees.

Martha said, “I am genuinely excited about and…grateful for where we are now.” She and her husband have found meaningful ministry since leaving the toxic organization.

Bryanne, a former missionary teacher, felt purposeless when arriving back in the United States after she and her husband resigned from a toxic mission. They had committed all of their remaining working days to the organization – intending to work until they retired. Bryanne determined to take a “year of jubilee” when returning to the United States. She took time to rest and simply do nothing.

But, several months after returning, she was approached by a family that needed help with aging parents. There was significant healing that took place as she found a God-given purpose for the use of her God-given gifts.

Jeff was fired following a confrontation of his toxic leader. The large, international mercy ministry was led by a sexual predator. Following the confrontation, Jeff and numerous others were fired by the leader. Jeff said writing a book about his experience helped “close the door firmly on that chapter” and he felt “100% whole again” despite having carried much bitterness and cynicism with him for many years. He said it took him 20 years to get beyond the hurt.

It took nearly two years for Jeff to find a job. However, he was hired by a church whose pastor had died. He said, “They were a wounded church…and I was a wounded puppy. We got together and licked each other’s wounds and I think that was good for both of us.”

Though Jeff suggested, “Don’t take 20 years to get over it,” he said the suffering led him to go back to pastoring a church, what he believes was his first love and call.

Getting Together & Telling the Story

Jeff remembered the first few months following being fired when telling me his story.  Everybody (who was fired) was “still in town and we would worship together.” He said, “We would have bible study together and so we had a lot of debriefing time together.” Isaac agreed. He found the most healing when he talked to people who had been through similar situations.

Getting together with others who have faced the struggle or will at least listen is often an important means of healing for those who have suffered at the hands of abusers.

Harris noticed he was talking about his experiences more than he wanted. “But,” he said, “I realized I had to talk about it. I had to tell the story in order to gain mastery over it. Otherwise, it was inside of me and it didn’t make sense.” He said, “I was grateful for a group of friends that…helped us.” A few months later, he and his wife “brought together a group of people we called the ‘discernment team’ just to help us think about what God might have for us next.”

For Brad and Martha, an important period of healing came when they returned to the United States. There was a mission group at one of their supporting churches who cared for them. Martha said, “They just really embraced us and were willing to help.” Brad added, “They wanted to know how we were doing. How they could help us.”

The group asked Brad and Martha to come meet with them to “debrief with them, not to pick apart the ins and outs of the organization, but for us. It wasn’t about trying to fix what we left behind.” He said most other people didn’t really understand and that made this mission group’s support so helpful. Martha added, “There was a measure of failure you wrestle with. We moved our entire lives and sold our house…and for only two years? But, we were never made to feel like failures” by this group.

Forgive the Unforgivable

Mark was employed by an educational mission in a developing country. He was chosen as interim Director for one year. He and his wife lasted less than half that time as they became mediators between the students / staff and the toxic leadership of the mission.

When Mark had turned in his resignation, but was still working with the organization, he said, “I [was] finally able to live with myself because I had watched so much abuse, excused so much abuse, explained to others the abuse they were enduring, but here it now visited me…that enabled me to say, ‘I’m with them, not you anymore.’”

Even now, he seeks shalom. He said, “I think it is a lifelong process in terms of forgiveness.” He explained,

I have had to realize that forgiveness is not necessarily something communicated to the other but is settled in my own mind. I have had to conclude that forgiveness is selfish…so, that I can move on and cease to allow these people to have control over my thoughts, my daydreams, my conversations, my fantasies of what could have been.

Mark had the impression that for there to be forgiveness, there had to be a sit down. There had to be one-on-one interaction. But, he realized, “That would be impossible knowing…they wouldn’t come with the same motives in place. Theirs would be to just keep things quiet.” He believes forgiveness is “being able to accept their humanity and to…not hold them accountable for how [his] life has gone.” He said it has been very difficult, but he “has made great progress in that arena.”

Harris was the CEO of a major Christian mission. His ministry was scuttled by a controlling and self-seeking board chairman. When the new board chairman and new president of the organization asked for Harris’ forgiveness, he knew he had no option but to forgive knowing he had received forgiveness from the Lord.

He realized he had many advantages having been “born into a loving family” – five generations of pastors – and “having a healthy body and healthy mind.” He recognized them as gifts from God. These realizations helped him have compassion for the chairman and he felt like he “had to honor the relationship.”

Forgiveness rarely brings reconciliation in these situations, but my interviewees consistently spoke of their deep spiritual need to forgive their oppressors. Though the leaders did not seek forgiveness, my interviewees were able to place the leaders in God’s capable hands.

Growth Through Trial

Isaac and his family worked for a medical mission in a developing country. Following his resignation, he sought “cultural clarity” through nationals who were not free to share their insights about the organization prior to his resignation. Like Mark (above), he found encouragement in finally being able to connect with the nationals to whom he ministered unlike when he was employed by the paternalistic, toxic mission he described to me. He learned much about the culture during that time of freedom from the organization.

When his family returned to the United States, they “hid down at a condo on the beach.” While there, they “tried to sort out what was next” as a family. He said they grew a lot as a family. He believed it could have been a difficult time for the family relationally, but he said it helped he and his wife to be more “vulnerable and go through a lot of hard things and not really have the right answers.”

Isaac believes the experience was great, “even the bad stuff.” He said it “helped us understand ourselves better…strip away some of the ways we read the bible obviously from our culture.” Rather than tearing him down, Isaac and his family grew in the Lord from the experience.

Not one of my interviewees has failed to see positive growth from their experiences though they may continue to struggle with the traumatic effects of the abuse they received.

Vindication

Isaac experienced a certain vindication when a young man with whom they enjoyed working and then lied about them to the founder, “ended up back in the states a year later than us.” He had experienced the same difficulty with the founder as Isaac’s family.

For one family, it was particularly satisfying that many missionaries resigned from the mission giving further evidence of the toxicity of the leadership. “Those missionaries are now free as we are free,” Charles said. “They get it. It is very vindicating to know we were not crazy or misguided in our view of the leadership when we chose to leave.”

Often we wish to level the playing field by suggesting everyone in a conflict is wrong in some ways, making the victim equally wrong. However, in abuse, there is not a level playing field. It is helpful when victims of evil leaders find vindication, the evidence of their boss’ failures rather than their own.

Conclusion

There are many ways God’s people find Shalom when they have left the work they love because of toxic leadership. There is hope in that the Sovereign God of the Universe uses the failures of man, even toxic leaders, to direct His people to ministry that brings them purpose and Him glory. He is always growing His people more and more into the likeness of His Son. And ultimately, God will be vindicated!

Don’t give up…

Do you have a story to tell. Please share it for the healing of others.

Shalom: Peace in the Serving

longsuffering-burden-of-Christ_FotorMany who join Christian organizations as volunteers or paid employees understand it to be a calling from God. This calling drives them on while facing the inevitable trials associated with serving Christ in a broken world. Beat up relationships, financial struggle, and thankless service are commonplace in our service in God’s kingdom. We find shalom (peace) knowing God is in our work.

However, there is an added layer of trial when the employee serves under a toxic leader. It is shocking when those who claim to follow Christ lie, cheat, and steal. The employee may begin to second-guess the calling he has been so sure of since he joined the organization. Some employees I have interviewed have sworn off working for Christian organizations not ever wanting to deal with that level of pain again.

Called to Suffer

But, there are many reasons why an employee will continue to serve in an organization led by an abusive leader. There are unbiblical motivations of which I have written before, but there are also Christ-serving reasons.

Long-suffering (and long-serving) employees may build relational capital within the organization, giving them influence others may not have. Their commitment to the organization, if not to the leaders, may provide the clout necessary to challenge the leadership or change the direction of the ministry. Seeing a Christian ministry molded to pursue Christ rather than image or wealth is certainly a God-honoring goal and mission.

Our individual service to others may also motivate (positively) our commitment to staying. I thought for several years that the work I was doing was valuable whether the leadership was onboard or not. My family not only hoped to influence the leadership, but we had many opportunities to serve others. We joined many other missionaries believing we made a difference in the lives of others by staying and suffering through abusive leadership.

We determined the bad outweighed the good and left our organization. But, others have chosen to stay and battle on. Here are some things that have helped others to stay in that battle.

Deirdre

Deirdre, a missionary in a developing country, said she negatively learned from the example of the founder of the organization she served. She said, the founder would treat the national workers as “subhuman.” She said, “It was not nice. She would come out, open her door and stand there and scream at the top of her lungs.” Deirdre said, “I don’t treat them the way she did.” Despite all the frustrations Deirdre endured with the founder, she said,

In all of it – for all human beings are fallible in so many ways – I think there are so many good people out there doing different kinds of mission work…But we’re all human beings with so many trials and tribulations that may be separate from what we are doing for the mission that affect our lives. I don’t want to give up. I didn’t and it’s my desire to be there until I’m done.

Unlike all the others I have interviewed, Deirdre outlasted her abusive boss. She noted that her mother passed away when she was only thirteen-years-old. Deirdre recounted the time her father asked her if he should get someone to help with “cleaning and cooking.” Deirdre said, “No, I’m going to do it.” She noted, “I have always been that way…I just plowed through these circumstances.”

Deirdre was sure she had moments she wanted to “run away” from the mission, it just never worked out to leave to another mission in the country where she serves. Since the departure of the founder, Deirdre says she is able now to “follow through with things” that the founder “didn’t allow me to do.” She said she has always “needed to be doing something for somebody…I need to be needed,” and that motivated her during her time under the founder’s toxic leadership.

Adam

As he suffered through conflicts with the CEO, the CEO’s wife, and the founders of his organization, Adam said he would “go home and go to bed and get up the next day.” He said, he would try to think of them as like himself: sinful and broken. The humility to see his own failings helped him reject judgmental thoughts of his leaders.

In addition, when speaking of his pastoral role at the organization, Adam said, “I think the comradery of suffering became a comradery of healing as well.” He was convinced the sharing in the experience with others who were suffering at the time was also important in the healing.

Adam noted that he and his wife made a decision to limit the time they discussed their leaders. He said the amount of complaining about the leadership was evidence they had made the leaders to be “idols.”

He explained that when another person is allowed so much control over your emotions and thoughts, they have become an idol to you. Adam made a concerted effort to turn from his “idolatry” by thinking of other things.

Harris

As Harris was facing his crisis, he found direction and comfort in knowing, “The one who called you is faithful and he will do it,” quoting Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.[1] Harris considered God’s calling to be fundamental to confronting a “traumatic experience.”

He said, “I didn’t come here because it was my idea. The Lord God called, he summoned me.”

Harris also received the encouragement of friends, including well-known pastors who sought out individuals on the board or staff to help mediate the conflict. They showed by their actions, their belief in Harris’ story. Though their efforts were rebuffed by leadership they contacted, their support was very encouraging to Harris.

Frances

Frances said she felt prepared for the experience as she experienced similar toxicity in other similar situations. She said it gave her “some perspective in how to navigate what was happening.” She said it “emboldened” her. She knew she had come through the fire of former situations and would this one as well.

Like Harris, Frances was hearing from former trustees and friends of the ministry who were supporting her. She said, “Several people in those positions have been fully supportive and critical of the organization throughout.” Family and friends have not necessarily been “critical of the organization,” but have been “supportive of us, praying for us.”

One former board member showed solidarity with Frances, rejecting an invitation to a planning meeting, to which Frances should have been invited but was not. The former board member said, “I can’t look Frances in the face if she isn’t involved in the meeting.” [I have written of the incredible need for the church to stand behind those who are abused before.]

In addition, Frances said, “In the intense heat of the struggle…I had…a sense of the Spirit of God” as she awoke at night with “adrenaline flowing.” She would take long “prayer walks…that were really quite moving.”

In fact, she needed “time to recover physically a few months later because of sleep loss.” Her commitment to prayer, evidence of her dependency on Christ, was true sustenance to her.

In addition, Frances was committed to supporting others. Though “feeling a bit lost as to what was next,” Frances was “really more focused on the ministry of the organization as well as the hurt [the situation was causing other] people who had been involved in the organization for many years” rather than what hurt it was causing Frances’ family. Reaching out rather than becoming self-consumed was helpful and healing to her.

Final Thoughts

It can take extraordinary selflessness to remain in an abusive organization. It may be foolish and self-destructive. But, when someone remains committed to an organization for good reasons and not out of fear for the future [ie. where am I going to get another job?], he or she can take great comfort knowing Christ also suffered unjustly and did not run from it in the end. There were in fact times He “slipped away” when the religious leaders threatened to take Him by force, but when He faced the temple guards in the garden, He gave Himself up. His time had come to suffer cruelty in the service to others.

[1] 1 Thessalonians 5:24.

Sheol: For What is Imprecatory Praying Really Asking?

tombstones.jpgI have written about the Imprecatory Psalms before. But, over the past several months the lives of women who are being (or have been) abused by men have instructed me and molded my understanding of these prayers.

As noted in my former writing, Christians are very uncomfortable with praying for the destruction of wicked people. We are a people of love and redemption. We were loved, not destroyed, by our gracious God despite our wickedness…and this should frame our thinking and practice towards others. Continue reading