Updated: Sep 12
This is a post that I wish I did not need to write.
Over the years, in different contexts, I have seen too many ministry friends go missing. One day everything seems normal, and the next day they are gone from the ministry. Almost without a trace.
And the ministry continues, almost as if my friends never were a part of it. Friends who lived and prayed and worked and served with all their hearts, now excised from the ministry. An almost-surgical cutting takes place, removing their names, their stories, their dreams, their contributions.
It is heartbreaking and gut-wrenching.
In this devastation, someone will ask what happened. Maybe you have asked what happened.
It is at this point that I want to focus light on two of the lies that I see unhealthy ministries use. Maybe you have heard one of these… or both…
"Give them space to process and pray.”
How does this sound?
It is designed to sound so.
But what is it actually?
In unhealthy ministries, it is often said as almost an edict, often in a fatherly voice.
Without actually saying so, it suggests to you that your friends have done something wrong. But, of course, the actual nature of the situation cannot be shared by the ministry. And since you are being told not to talk with your friends, the actual nature of the situation cannot be shared by your friends either.
In unhealthy ministries, often this edict is reinforced by a non-disparagement agreement (NDA).
Your friends are adults. Could they not receive your inquiry and speak for themselves if they indeed want space to process and pray?
Of course they could. And in a healthy ministry setting they would.
“It is an issue of alignment.”
This one sounds sophisticated, sterile, professional.
It suggests that something has changed, but no heart content can be heard in it. It implicates your friends, while not actually saying anything.
Maybe the ministry has learned of out-of-bounds theology that your friends hold.
Maybe your friends simply have a growing ministry focus that no longer fits the vision and mission of the organization.
Maybe your friends have ceased to believe in God.
Remember, though, that the ministry will not share the details. And since you have been told that your friends need time to process and pray, you will not hear the details from them either.
Again, in an unhealthy ministry setting, these words are silencing, isolating, suggestive, implicating.
And so, in an unhealthy ministry setting, these two lies work together, the first infantilizing, the second making you feel like a trusted insider. And in an unhealthy ministry setting, in the middle of this are your friends, isolated, torn up, hurting, alone.
What can you do?
If you find yourself in an unhealthy ministry setting, recognize the pattern. Ask questions.
Reach out to your friends. You love them and they love you. Do not desert them in their time of need.
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. – 1 John 1:5
Hear their story. Seek God for how to speak truth. If your ministry setting is healthy, leadership will be willing to listen.
But if leadership abuses your friends, and isolates and silences them, then there is a problem. It does not matter how much good a ministry is doing in this case, and the problem will not just go away.
If this is the reality in which you find yourself, talk with your friends, talk with God, and take the hard but important steps that God gives you to love your friends and to live your life with the integrity to which you are committed.
It will be a hard journey.
But it is important, and ultimately it will be a good journey.
If this blog post has stirred up memories, questions, pain, please feel free to reach out to us. The Enhearten team can be reached through Jenny’s email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
About: Jenny Switkes is a pastor, mathematics professor, and missionary who is passionate about Jesus and loves the bivocational life that God has given her. She loves helping apostolic leaders clarify their calling and take next steps to live their call.
Photo from FreeImages.com/Lauren Lank.