DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Barking Up Wrong Trees

Written by: on October 17, 2014

Within each individual there lies the ability to speak up against atrocities, against injustice, against discomfort, frankly, against anything that one so desires to speak against. This is the case in the western world where speech, as of this writing, is still currently free and protected. Though we must recognize that even in our modern/postmodern day there are places where this favored liberty of speaking up is not allowed by the dictators who, with great equanimity sitting in their office, seek to control all speech. Quite an oxymoron of power and fear but nonetheless an unfortunate reality in too may oppressed regimes.

Albert O. Hirschman in Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, takes us on an expedition of economic and social realities of the self-regulating behavior of the marketplace. One can detect Adam Smith’s metaphor of the invisible hand of the market as Hirschman alludes to it as being the choices, and voices that the consumer makes regarding their buying/staying power and their vocal displeasure regarding firms, organizations, and states.

Hirschman states that voice is far more messy a concept due to its unwieldiness to be maintained to a faint grumbling and its volatility to crescendo into possible violent protest.[1] Yet it is the “voice of the people” that has historically been the vying factor for change in states, governments, and regimes. It was on July 4, 1776 where a declaration of thirteen united states unanimously voiced a declaration of independence stating: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” This famous “voiced document” went on to declare the necessary “exit” from the King of Great Britain. Laying down with quill and ink the truths that were held to be self-evident that men have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness and if any such form of government becomes inept, even destructive, to these ends then it is the right of the people to both voice and then to exit (abolish) such government and institute a new government.

Such a demonstration of voice can and, in the case of the independence of the United States, was labeled as desertion, defection, and treason.[2] Though the expression of voice and then exit from a state/government is the most dramatic form of voice leading to exit it is also the most dramatic from of loyalty. For though the events following this voluntary signing of this treasonous document were paid for in much blood and cost of property there was an indescribable loyalty to the cause for which each man had blazoned his “John Hancock” upon that parchment. Unfortunately, the message of loyalty and bravery to voice opposition as the founding fathers demonstrated has not been the pervasive message that many have garnished from their actions. Rather the message captured and acted upon is that of “cut-and-run” when the going gets tough. “It is the flight to exit that has become much of American tradition. Dissatisfaction with the surrounding social order leads to flight rather than fight, to withdrawal of the dissatisfied group and to its setting up a separate ‘scene.’”[3]

I must swim back to the church for I feel out in deep water when treading among political science and economics. The plethora of denominations and schisms within the church scene hold enough evidence that the flight to start another brand of Christianity is alive and well in Christendom. The lack of loyalty is both pervasive and disheartening. Having pastored for 11½ years in the same church I heard the voices and witnessed the exit of many. Trying to “keep” the sheep happy and content was as difficult as Samuel Johnson descried in his fable about the Happy Valley of Abyssinia.[4] No matter how often, nor how well, you feed and watered the sheep there was discontent among the flock. I ought to have outfitted myself with the traditional fire fighter clothing as apposed to a collar or suit, for fire fighting was the mainstay of the duties I encountered. Yet there was loyalty, albeit, to the building more than the cause or the mission to which Christ has called His Bride to.

Could it be that our voices are raised to often in discontentedness more for issues that do not deserve our voices to be heard? Could we often be, as they say, barking up the wrong tree when it come to our dissatisfaction and complaining? Who will give voice to the Unreached, the uneducated, the unborn, the less fortunate, and those, who like our fore fathers, are today desiring a declaration of independence from the destructive governments they find themselves oppressed by? Will we be the voice of one crying in the wilderness or simply one of the many voices barking up wrong trees?

[1] Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), 16.

[2] Ibid., 17.

[3] Ibid., 108.

[4] Ibid., 10 see footnote 5.


About the Author


Mitch Arbelaez

International Mission Mobilizers with Go To Nations Living and traveling the world from Jacksonville Florida

36 responses to “Barking Up Wrong Trees”

  1. mm John Woodward says:

    Mitch, what a wonderful and sweeping post…from history to theology, from fable to reality…you had it all. I am especially captured by your idea that the voice heard in our churches are often times more negative than positive. I had not considered this idea, but I think it is very true. I find that often people who do not exit, grudgingly stay and have nothing positive to say (either about whose who have left or the state of the church). But I have to wonder why we feel that if we have voice we have to use it to complain, to tear down, to show our discontent. I love that your suggestion about using our voice for a higher cause – for the lost, the hurting and the least! I have to wonder, going back to your history example, if the founding fathers had use their voice only to rip apart King George and Great Britain without giving voice to a dream of freedom, equality and happiness, weather the Revolution would have been as successful? Maybe the church is losing steam for this very reason: We are the people known for complaining and dissatisfaction, rather than a people of hope! I think you hit the nail on the head, Mitch. If we have voice, let’s be careful how we use it! Jesus came and preached a new kingdom, a new life, and hope…maybe we should too! Great insights!

    • John, Thank you my friend for your encouraging words. I was doing a Cultural Intelligence workshop Thursday and was taken up full-time with that. You are right in the unfortunate use of our words often more for complaining than for praise or for good. I know this is a continual area that Michelle and I desire to grow in. May we be the people of hope and the new life of love that Christ exemplified for us. Amen John, so be it!!

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  2. Richard Volzke says:

    I enjoyed reading your post. You said that in the West we still have free speech, while in many other countries people do not. I agree that this is true when compared to some other countries, although recent news gives indication that American freedom is becoming more and more complex. From what I am hearing and reading in the news, Americans may not be too far off from losing some of the freedom we have so long experienced…. Look at what is happening in Houston, TX. The mayor and city attorney are attacking pastors for what they say about homosexuality and comments on “the bathroom lawsuit”. Per Fox News, “The city’s attorney said the pastors were subpoenaed because they were helping to lead opposition to the Bathroom Bill.” We are beginning to tread on some dangerous territory when Christians or other religious groups cannot speak freely. Churches and pastors are now under direct attack from the government not, only in Houston, but across the US. At the individual level, I believe many don’t really experience the freedom to speak up as it isn’t always culturally acceptable. If one doesn’t follow the norm or crowd, they are often ostracized. This is especially true in churches where we fail to allow or have healthy conflict; therefore we do see people speak up more with their money or by exiting.

    • Hey Richard, Yes, indeed you caught my alluding to the Houston incident with my “where speech, as of this writing, is still currently free and protected” statement. It is astonishing what we are seeing taking place in our “free society.” I believe Houston is the first of many scrutinized comments from the pulpit that we will begin to see. Hate crime then speech crime, then thought crime?? Lord, help us!

  3. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Hi Mitch, Great post. You raise great questions relevant to my context as well. Like you I also believe it is our Christian call to give voice to the Unreached, the uneducated, the unborn, the less fortunate,.. This is also an area where churches in my community are not doing so well. How can we grow if we do not have vision for our neighbors and disconnected from our community? So, as leaders in ministry we need to rethink how we are discipline people in our circle or church. Thank you!

    • Indeed Telile. It must start in discipleship. Training the next generation to think beyond themselves and their fair ministry. We must help them to see the broader picture of a world needing our voices. Let us continue to speak up for those who need our voice as opposed to just speaking out for our own wants and desires. Amen Sister!

  4. mm Ashley Goad says:

    Mitch, a wonderful post, indeed! Your writing style reflected your voice. (Do you ever do that? Read someone’s writing and hear their voice reciting it in your head?) For me, reading your blog was a breath of fresh air. Coming from a love of political science, your stroll down independence lane brought the concepts of this book alive. The risk our Founding Fathers took in crying out of the injustices and exiting from the “mother country” changed the path of our nation. Their courage is admirable and yet scary! As you say, who will stand up today? Who will risk their lives and speak out? We nitpick and complain amongst our circles, but does the voice of reason stand up with rational remarks to create change?

    • Thanks Ashley! You are always encouraging with your comments. I hear your voice and appreciate your words. Amen to your comment about who will risk their lives and speak out. So many raised their voice against US troops in Iraq when that war was going on for independence yet no one brought the fact up that French sons were sent here to help us gain our independence from Britain. If it were not for the help of others we might not have won that war and history could have been a lot different. So, the question is back on this…”Will we be willing to add voice and action to nations that need both?” Hummmm?

  5. mm Clint Baldwin says:


    Love this.
    Query that Hirschman also intimated…founders exited from one society only to decimate another in pursuit of goals. We may at times as you note raise our voices in a cacophony over inconsequentials, but if we do not, perhaps we won’t have learned how to raise our voice when the consequentials come about? I wonder if this might at times suggest our export (exiting) of problems? Foreign violence tends to result in positive upticks (however fleeting) in political polls at home for incumbents…
    Anyhow, I think your point is completely vital — I definitely affirm using our voice “for the least”: just offering another side of another coin so to “speak.”

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  12. ords. Amen to your comment about who will risk their lives and speak out. So many raised their voice against US troops in Iraq when that war was going on for independence yet no one brought the fact up

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