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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Dragons that Can Destroy Your Ministry

     In C. S. Lewis’, The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” Edmund and Lucy are forced to stay with relatives due to circumstances during the war. Their frustration is magnified through the actions and dealings with their self-centered cousin, Eustace, who becomes swept into Narnia with his two cousins. In one scene, Eustace is transformed into a dragon, the visible expression of his inner character.  Since his condition could not be hidden, he is forced to confront his true nature and begins making choices to serve those around him. He finally comes to a point of self-sacrifice, not wanting to be a burden to the group knowing that they had no way of maintaining him for the rest of their voyage.

It is at this point that he meets Aslan, the Lion, who tells him he must follow him, but to do that he would have to  “undress” first.  After shedding three skins, Eustace realizes he can’t get deep enough to get them all, upon which Aslan tells him, “You will have to let me undress you.” The Lion’s claws torn through the dragon’s skin with searing pain and then tossed the boy into a nearby pool of water. The transformation was complete, Eustace was a not only a boy again, but now restored for fellowship with the others through the power of Aslan.

The greatness of Lewis’ work is that his writing is effective at so many levels and the previous story is particularly timely for those involved in ministry. We all have “stuff” inside us– dragons, so to speak. No, I am not referring to demon possession, that is a subject for another time. I am referring to attitudes and responses that, if left unchecked, will destroy our lives, our homes, and our ministries.  Unfortunately, many of these are not as obvious as the one Eustace had and many times we can be completely unaware that they are lurking within us.  This is in part because we tend to focus on the symptoms and not the cause, choosing to minimize their importance.

What are some of these symptoms that would indicate there might be deeper issues beneath the surface? Since entire books exist on the subject, I will just mention a few.

1. Ignoring or minimizing how much impact the patterns our parents and family have in how we approach and deal with issues.
– Some families avoid conflicts at all costs, rather than learning to deal with issues. They lock up hurts, emotions, etc., in hope that as long as no one says anything, the issue will just go away. Many times all this accomplishes is an explosion of frustration at a later time, ulcers, or some other physical issue.

Leadership that avoids conflicts at any cost many times is a result of such patterns modeled at home or some traumatic event in which conflict was poorly handled.  A more biblical response is to learn to speak the truth in love. We must learn to recognize when we are being driven by past patterns rather than by biblical truth.

2. Ignoring or minimizing past traumatic events and how they may be affecting our responses.
– Tragedy, divorce, abandonment by a parent, prolonged illness, being fired from a job, loss of a child or sibling, being unjustly accused, promotion or recognition of a colleague when you did most of the work, etc., all these can have a major impact on how we perceive problems and respond to them.  Time is needed to admit the loss, grieve the loss, confirm that God is still in control, that He loves us and has a plan for our lives, and that we can trust Him now and in the future.

Leaders who have failed to deal and process loss can be greatly affected and not even be aware of why they react as they do. Some of the decisions they make may seem illogical or ill-timed. Time must be taken to step back and ask, “Why am I responding in this way?  “What is the truth of God in this situation?”

3. Emotional responses that seem to be excessive, or emotional explosions over minor issues.
– Some people seem to be time bombs waiting to explode and those who live around themwalk in fear of the next explosion.  Underlying anger may also take another form of strong sarcasm directed at the individuals perceived as responsible for the problems. Both of these anger issues are like a fire in that anyone in proximity can be burned, whether or not they were the indented target.

Like the previous issue, the first step is to not minimize our action or response, but to ask ourselves, “Why am I responding in this way?  “What is the truth of God in this situation?”

4. Taking a defensive posture at any perceived threat to our position or worth.
– When someone offers a commentary or evaluation of what might have been done or said differently, sometimes there is a quick and immediate defense, and an effort to argue down the other person. Rather than receiving such comments as being an evaluation of an action or activity, the person perceives it as a personal attack. The further explanations only lead to a more divisive atmosphere and then the defensive person attempts to enlist others into the “camp” that sides with the opinion of one of the two sides. Many times this is a response from a very insecure individual.

          We must come to the realization that our worth doesn’t come from who we are, or what we’ve done, but Whose we are. Our worth comes from what God has done in us through Jesus Christ. Nothing we can do can make God loves us more and nothing we can do can make Him love us less. What God did through His Son on the Cross is what has been put into the lives of those who have Him as their Savior. Our worth comes from what God has done in our lives, not anything we might be able to do or not do.

5. The need for total control.
– Part of leadership is precisely being in the lead and supposedly knowing and directing an organization or event. However, for some leaders, there exists a need to control every detail of every part of the event. Micromanaging minimizes the recognition that God has gifted others with abilities and ideas that might be even better than that of the leader.  Tragically, some leaders purposely enlist those with lesser abilities so that they, as the leader, will not be shown lacking. This lack of humility might also be related to the previous “dragon” in that there is an absence of understanding that our worth of a person doesn’t come from our performance, but what Christ has done in us.

We must remind ourselves that it is God who equips and that there are many who might have abilities that far surpass our own. Wise is the leader who is secure enough in Christ to seek out and enable others for the tasks without feeling the need to get the praise for what is accomplished. Maturity and wisdom realize that only God is in total control and we are not. We are mere stewards of what He has given us and the tasks He has called us to do and it doesn’t matter who receives the credit, only He is worthy of the glory.

I am fully aware that there are many more “dragons” and many times these overlap, become entwined, and are very difficult to separate and deal with.  Many times we need to enlist the help of a professional that can help us sort through. We need not be ashamed to seek help; we are all commanded to “bear one another’s burden and so fulfill the law of Christ.” We all have dragons; we must ask God to begin to “undragon us” so that we can recognize what our dragons are and then ask Him to help us learn how to deal with them.  A very helpful resource for me has been Peter Scazzero’s The Emotionally Healthy Leader.

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