Friendly fire?

Source: www.freeimages.com

Why are we still shooting our own people?

‘Toxic leadership’ is a phrase which buzzed around the mission world a few years ago, and then went away.  I haven’t heard it mentioned in a member care context for some time.  Perhaps we got bored with the issue.  Perhaps we thought talking about it for a bit resolved the problem.  Yet a number of incidents that have recently been brought to Syzygy’s attention remind me that, like Chernobyl, the fallout from one critical incident continues to have a devastating effect for many years.

  • Broken and hurting mission workers dealing with the pain of bullying and abuse, often for many years after the original incident.
  • Agencies losing good personnel for utterly avoidable reasons.
  • Churches grappling with supporting wounded mission partners who can’t easily be ‘fixed’.
  • People dismissed from their roles in circumstances that would count as unfair or constructive dismissal if they were UK employees.
  • Mission workers who have original or different ideas being victimised for challenging the status quo.

One influential member care agency uses the tagline “Because we don’t separate the Great Commission from the greatest commandment”.  Yet it seems that all too frequently in our eagerness to do the first, we don’t adequately care for our people, particularly if they have strong personalities or are not afraid to express their opinions.

A misguided model of leadership seeks to impose unity on a disparate group of mission workers  by demanding conformity, rather than building unity by valuing and affirming diversity.  Weak leadership imposes authority through domination rather than winning followers through serving.  Reluctant leadership abdicates, leaving the team without direction.  And people who speak out, complain, or even make constructive suggestions can be tagged as rebels, unfairly targeted, and removed from service.

In most cases, these situations result from structural weaknesses in our organisations rather than merely one or two poor leaders.  Often it’s not the result of deliberately abusive leadership but more to do with neglect of mission workers’ needs, lack of support or failure to intervene in difficult situations.   As Rob Hay wrote in 2012:

Mission is full of specialists and empty of trained, skilled and experienced leaders and yet up to 80% of people who go into mission not expecting to lead end up in some kind of leadership position.

Sadly, it seems nothing much has changed in the last 5 years.

How do we resolve this situation which seriously impedes our efforts to fulfil the Great Commission?  First, sending agencies have to be committed to valuing the people they partner with.  Mission partners need to be seen as valuable yet often fragile people  who need to be nurtured and developed.  They are not an expendable commodity to be exploited.  Agencies invest so much money in the early years of mission workers – recruitment, training, support, language learning – that it is also economically foolish to ignore these issues.  If the agency were an international business, high attrition levels would not be tolerated.  These need to be monitored closely as they are often a sign that something is wrong.

Second, churches need to understand the difficult dynamics of cross-cultural mission and be proactive in supporting their mission partners and working with agencies.   They need to be willing to ask difficult questions, and challenge agencies when problems arise.  One of the most encouraging things I ever saw was a group of church members haranguing an agency leader at a public meeting because they felt the agency was letting down their mission partners.  I thought “I want those people on my support team”!

Third, mission partners need to be honest with their churches and agencies about the real issues.  Misguided loyalty to failing leaders and leadership structures needs to be exposed, or it will merely be covered up and somebody else will get hurt further down the line.  People who have been hurt by an agency can be tempted to slip away quietly and lick their wounds – but they need to be supported and helped to fight their corner so that they expose bad leadership and force organisational change.  And agencies need to determinedly debrief workers (preferably with the involvement of a third party) and be committed to frank exit interviews – the ostensible reason people give for leaving is often not the whole story.

Finally, agencies need to be committed to addressing the problem Rob raised, by committing to proactively developing the character development, leadership ability and management skills of all their leaders.  Often they appoint people to leadership who have strategic vision and fruitful ministries but little interest in pastoral care.  They don’t have to be pastors themselves, but do need to understand the need for in-field member care and take steps to facilitate it.

Resources that Syzygy recommends for dealing with the fallout from toxic leadership issues include:

  • The books A Tale of Three Kings and Honourably Wounded for mission workers wounded in action.
  • A personal debrief for mission workers still struggling with injuries inflicted in the field.  Email info@syzygy.org.uk for more information.
  • Space to rest and reflect while receiving love and acceptance.  Syzygy can provide several options for this, and also recommends Ergata and Le Rucher.
  • Mentoring by Rick Lewis for leaders in mission.  A completely confidential, personal service aimed at developing godly character at the highest level in churches and agencies.
  • Reading Rob Hay’s 2012 paper on the Global Connections website and the associated reading list.
  • Bespoke consultancy aimed at identifying specific issues within an organisation and tackling the causes of it.  Email info@syzygy.org.uk for more information.

Being shot by one’s own side does not necessarily mean the end of a life of mission.  Given the right support, many people make a full recovery and are able to resume their lives and ministries, as I have done.

But wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t wound our own mission workers in the first place?

 

All you need is…

Beatles

The Beatles: all you need is love

We were represented at a recent International HR Forum in London.  As 60 people representing sending churches and agencies discussed selection and recruitment criteria, one of the speakers introduced us to this quote which he had found on the internet*:

The only required characteristic for being a missionary is that you have complete and utter faith in the Lord.  God does not choose the equipped… he equips the chosen.”

On the surface, this might seem very reasonable.  Surely that is all we need.  After all, most of the people we read of in the New Testament seem to have had very little formal training, if any, and Jesus actively discouraged his disciples from being too thoroughly prepared (Luke 10:4).

On the other hand, as Gentiles started joining the Jewish church in Antioch (Acts 11:22-26) Barnabas appears to have sought out Saul for his cross-cultural experience.  Although Jesus did send his disciples out lightly equipped, they had already spent quite some time in his company, watching him heal and hearing him teach.  They had been mentored by him.  And we wonder if John would have headed home early from Pamphylia (Acts 13:13) if he had been better prepared for the experience.  Perhaps he was homesick, or maybe he had culture shock.  Or was Paul too hard a taskmaster?  Some better member care may have helped him.

So is it really true that we can go into complex, different and often dangerous situations without some sort of preparation?  Is it still a world in which the likes of Jackie Pullinger can just get on a boat and do effective mission wherever it stops?  Or is it a more prudent, risk-averse world in which churches and agencies will stop us doing anything risky because they have a duty of care? (See our blog from two weeks ago for more on this issue)

We asked some mission workers what they thought were the qualities mission workers really needed.  Here’s what they said:

  • A sense of calling
  • Patience
  • Humility
  • Stamina
  • An ability to laugh at themselves
  • Recognition that God is more interested in what he can do for them than what they can do for him
  • Realistic expectations
  • Ability to cope with disappointment
  • Realisation that who they are is more important than what they do
  • Understanding that God has called them to be faithful, not successful
  • Resilience
  • Flexibility
  • Experience of coping with hard times at home before you leave
  • Compassion
  • The ability to ask for help

We don’t disagree with any of these.  They are all really valuable qualities, which most of the mission workers we asked are recommending with the hindsight of their own experience in the field.  What interests us most is that without exception all these qualities relate to character and life experience.  Not one of them is a skill, qualification or competence.  Nothing that was learned in a school, management development course or Bible College.  And we didn’t specify that we were looking for character qualities.  It seems that, as one of them commented, it really is more about who you are than what you do.  And as we concluded in our HR forum, the most important character quality is Christlikeness.

So perhaps the anonymous author of this dubious quote is right, in a certain way.  Perhaps God does equip the chosen.  But it would appear that God equips them before they are chosen, as well as after, using the difficult times we have encountered throughout our lives to make us look more like Jesus.  That, perhaps, is all we really need.

* It has been observed that you should never trust anything you find on the internet.  Except on this website, obviously.

Best Practice in Short-Term Mission

CBPSome of us will only just have come back from a summer trip abroad, but for others it’s already time to be thinking about what to do next summer, as it can take a long time to find the right agency and programme, get accepted, do the training, raise the funding and go.

One of the many dilemmas is how to determine which agency to go with, and as one way of narrowing down the alternatives Syzygy recommends you only pick an agency that complies with the Global Connections Code of Best Practice for short-term mission.  You can tell them because their publicity will carry the Code logo, and they’re listed on the Global Connections website.  They’re also highlighted in the Short-Term Service Directory, which is produced by Christian Vocations and is an invaluable resource for anyone considering a short-term trip.  While adherence to the Code is not necessarily a guarantee that your trip will be perfect, it does demonstrate that the agency has submitted itself to a peer-reviewed process checking how well its practices match the Code.

The code was developed nearly a decade ago in order to find a way of ensuring that agreed minimum standards are adhered to by agencies organising short-term trips.  The code was produced as the outcome of a number of consultations involving experienced practitioners and is a valuable statement of the values and practices the short-term mission world thinks are important.  It is kept up to date by the Short-Term Mission Forum on which Syzygy has a voice.  The Code includes a number of factors including:

  • Genuine partnership with local churches or mission workers that is driven by the local need, not our desire to send teams
  • Careful contextualisation of activities and accurate publicity
  • Authentic care for the team member reflected in careful selection, training and debriefing
  • Ongoing commitment to local partnership
  • Seeing personal discipleship as a key outcome for the team member
  • Careful monitoring of results in order to deliver continuous improvement
  • Adherence to meeting all legal obligations
Short-term mission can be great fun and make a huge difference

Short-term mission can be great fun and make a huge difference

The Code is regularly reviewed to ensure it reflects current standards, and a biennial review process checks that agencies which wish to be seen as operating under the Code do in fact comply with it.  That’s not to say that agencies which do not have the Code logo aren’t delivering great results – but there’s nobody out there checking up on them to confirm it.  Agencies using the logo will have procedures in place to deliver a well-rounded short-term mission trip and we recommend that you use one of them.

You can see the full text of the Code of Best Practice here.  Syzygy recommends that if you’re thinking of doing a short-term trip you read our Guide to doing short-term mission well first!

Getting your TCK into a UK university

Is it going to happen for TCKs?   (Source: www.sxc.hu

Is it going to happen for TCKs?
(Source: www.sxc.hu)

One of the concerns at the back of the minds of UK mission workers with children is how to get their children into a British university.  The standard understanding around the world is that you have to return to live in the UK for three years in order to establish the right to get your kids into university, but this is not strictly true.

The situation revolves around that vexed question of ordinary residence which we have already encountered when thinking about income tax (see Tax doesn’t have to be taxing and Statutory Residence Test).  You don’t have to be physically resident in the UK to be ordinarily resident.  If you are UK citizens who would live in the UK if you weren’t working for a mission agency, you are considered resident even if you are ‘temporarily’ abroad for your work.

This means that the children of UK mission workers should be eligible for university entrance and student loans even if they have never lived long-term in the UK.  However even if you fill in all the application forms correctly, many universities are wrongly categorising Third Culture Kids (TCKs) as international students.  While this situation is usually corrected on appeal, this process can take time, so don’t leave it till the last minute to submit the forms.

The Global Connections TCK Forum. considers issues such as this and has some very helpful resources listed on its webpage, including a very helpful paper by Steve Bryant and a powerpoint by Ann Christian which presents the issues visually in a helpful manner.

If you are having difficulties persuading a UK university to accept that your TCK is ordinarily resident, please contact Syzygy on info@syzygy.org.uk and we will try to enlist help for you.

Featured Ministry: Passion for Mission

Many churches are passionately committed to sending, supporting, financing, praying and caring for the mission workers they send abroad.  But sadly there are other churches which do not have a tradition of sending people into mission, and although they may want to, they do not really know where to start.  Too many mission workers, when asked if their church is supporting them, purse their lips and say ‘Kinda’.  These are the sort of people Syzygy spends a lot of time with, helping them deal with the stress of trying to do too much on their own, coping with being inadequately resourced, and feeling isolated.

The ever-expanding list of Syzygy Guides to Doing Mission Well has just acquired a page dedicated to helping churches excel at supporting their mission partners.  Through this page we hope to equip churches with new ideas and resources.  It’s still in its early stages and will grow over the coming months, but it does already feature a link to this month’s featured ministry – Passion for Mission.

Our friends at Global Connections have put this site together with a view to placing a lot of resources under the same roof.  The site as a whole sets out to equip churches to do mission effectively, locally as well as overseas.  Presented in a variety of formats – article, blog, videostream, pdf – the site is easy to navigate and contains a lot of useful and relevant information.  It features interviews with key experts, and perhaps even more relevant, church leaders who’ve already led their churches into being passionate about mission.  The site also incorporates GC’s website and resources available through Christian Vocations.

We particularly like:

Go surf!