DMINLGP

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

Don’t Let the Door Hit You…

Written by: on October 16, 2014

The Door

It is amazing how much an organization can change over time, sometimes for the better, but often for the worse. And almost always, at least in my experience, the change is linked to leadership. If the change is for the worse, what do the old-timers of the organization do? They usually either voice their concerns, which just might get them into trouble with the powers that be, or they vote with their feet and leave the organization altogether. This kind of change is painful, especially if you are one of the old-timers. But what if you are the leader making the changes? Is it hard for that person as well?

At least for me, situations like this have occurred many times in my lifetime. And whether it is a business owner, a college president, or a senior pastor, these scenarios are never easy and are always painful for somebody. Frankly, I find myself in one of these complicated situations as I write this post, and I am wrestling with what to do. Do I speak up, and if so, to whom? Do I remain loyal to the organization and quietly voice my concerns? Or do I exit – quietly? But then what – I still have to pay the bills. But are these my only options?

In his short book, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, Albert Hirschman writes about these matters in relation to economic, social, and political systems. Hirschman paints a dark but realistic picture that failure and dysfunction will always be a part of every institution, business, or system. But, if the system is to survive, there must be a way for society to “marshal from within itself forces which will make as many as the faltering actors as possible revert to the behavior required for its proper functioning.”[1] To be honest, this sounded harsh to me. But to an economist, it is what it is. It’s not about being nice; rather, it’s about keeping the system viable. And if there are casualties, then there are casualties. But I am not an economist!

So what do I do when an organization of which I am a part becomes untenable? Do I just leave? “If you don’t like it, you can leave; just don’t let the door hit you in the butt on your way out.” How many times have I heard this coming out of the lips of well meaning people? In fact, I have said these words to others myself, and I am ashamed of myself for doing so. Is there a better way?

This brings us to the “speak up” option, what Hirschman calls “voice.” According to the author, this option is more costly than voting with one’s feet. Hirschman writes, “Hence, in comparison to the exit option, voice is costly and conditioned on the influence and bargaining power customers and members can bring to bear within the firm from which they buy or the organization to which they belong.”[2] The voice option, then, entails risk. What if I voice my concerns and others say that they will join me – but then they lose their nerve and I find myself all alone? I have experienced that on more than one occasion, and the pain is still there after all these years. On the other hand, having this experience puts me in better stead for the next time I am forced with that tough decision of “Fight or flight?” I have done both and don’t like either option. Again, is there a better way?

The majority on my working life has been with Christian organizations. Many of my experiences have been positive and life changing. However, on a few occasions, I have felt the need to speak up to leadership about unjust situations I was seeing in the organization that were being carried out by the leaders and by the system. One might think that working with leaders who are Christians is an easy thing to do since “the Holy Spirit leads them and guides them in all that they say and do.” I wish it were so, but the problem with that line of thinking is that these people – all people – are also human, and humans have this tendency to act like humans. So what can happen to a person who tries to use the “voice” option in a Christian organization? The toughest obstacle I came against when I used my voice was what I will call the “God on Our Side” argument. It goes something like this:

  • God has appointed and anointed me/us to be the leader/s here.
  • You are “a” leader but not “the” leader.
  • We pray and hear God’s voice and know where God is leading.
  • Because of this, I/we know that God is on my/our side.
  • According to Scripture, we are not allowed to “touch God’s anointed.”
  • After prayer, we have determined that you are a hindrance to this ministry and don’t fit in any more.
  • There’s the door; don’t let it hit you in the butt on the way out.

Unfortunately, these stories are not uncommon so, who wants to take the “voice” option when this is the outcome? Leaving the organization, though, is hard to do, especially if one has invested deeply in the people and built important relationships. I have walked out the doors with tears streaming down my face. Hurt and shame follow the tears, and if not vigilant, bitterness and resentment will follow. I know; I have experienced this firsthand. Maybe you have as well.

So what have I learned from my experiences and from my reading for this week? First of all, I have learned that exiting a product or an organization is common and normal. But often the exiting is a good thing. From a Christian perspective, at least from a semi-Calvinistic perspective, God orders our steps – even the ones that are difficult. And, God uses these situations, if we allow Him to do so, to build our character and to teach us wisdom. Granted, this process is not easy, but it just may be necessary. Secondly, I have learned that sometimes voicing my concerns just might precipitate change. But it is a risk to do this. But sometimes risk is the best option. And yes, it may cost me something; however, quality costs something – but you do get what you pay for. I have also learned that my voice is important. I need to be confident in this. Although it might seem like a voice crying in the wilderness, there is a time to speak up, but this is not the only option. Finally, I have learned that, sometimes, longsuffering loyalty is my best option. The older I get, the more I realize that wisdom is the “golden bracelet upon which all the other virtues hang.” Wisdom never gets me into trouble. It is always the best option – especially at the beginning of making a costly decision. Somewhere the Scriptures talk about my strength coming from “quietness and rest.” By God’s grace, I am trying to live by this principle in my present situation and pray that God might be glorified in this.

I would like to close this post with one more thought. One of my life goals has been to go to a Bob Dylan concert. Well, I am finally going this coming Tuesday night. And I got good quality seats, which cost me. In fact, my wife and I decided that the concert would be our Christmas presents to each other this year. As I was writing this post, I was reminded of an old Dylan song that always made me think about something I said above. Sometimes we think that God is on our side. But is He? We need to think deeply and honestly about this; I know I do.

 

 

“With God On Our Side”

Oh my name it is nothin’

My age it means less

The country I come from

Is called the Midwest

I’s taught and brought up there

The laws to abide

And the land that I live in

Has God on its side.

 

Oh the history books tell it

They tell it so well

The cavalries charged

The Indians fell

The cavalries charged

The Indians died

Oh the country was young

With God on its side.

 

The Spanish-American

War had its day

And the Civil War too

Was soon laid away

And the names of the heroes

I’s made to memorize

With guns on their hands

And God on their side.

 

The First World War, boys

It came and it went

The reason for fighting

I never did get

But I learned to accept it

Accept it with pride

For you don’t count the dead

When God’s on your side.

 

When the Second World War

Came to an end

We forgave the Germans

And then we were friends

Though they murdered six million

In the ovens they fried

The Germans now too

Have God on their side.

 

I’ve learned to hate Russians

All through my whole life

If another war comes

It’s them we must fight

To hate them and fear them

To run and to hide

And accept it all bravely

With God on my side.

 

But now we got weapons

Of the chemical dust

If fire them we’re forced to

Then fire them we must

One push of the button

And a shot the world wide

And you never ask questions

When God’s on your side.

 

In a many dark hour

I’ve been thinkin’ about this

That Jesus Christ

Was betrayed by a kiss

But I can’t think for you

You’ll have to decide

Whether Judas Iscariot

Had God on his side.

 

So now as I’m leavin’

I’m weary as Hell

The confusion I’m feelin’

Ain’t no tongue can tell

The words fill my head

And fall to the floor

If God’s on our side

He’ll stop the next war.

 

 

 

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

[2] Ibid., 40.

About the Author

mm

Bill Dobrenen

I am a husband, father, and educator. I love my wife, my two amazing children, and my students. My dissertation research is on the importance of Traditional Native-American Tribal Leadership Practices. Being in the LGP program is a gift from God for me during this season of my life. I look forward to another great year with my LGP4 cohort.

16 responses to “Don’t Let the Door Hit You…”

  1. mm John Woodward says:

    Thank you Bill for your heartfelt thoughts this week. You bring up some very heavy and hard issues that I think all people in Christian organizations struggle with…that is, how to voice your concerns without being shut out, fired or ostracized? I believe there is a bigger issue here, and you can let me know if this is true of your experiences. As you mentioned, there is a spiritualizing of Christian organizations that either suggests that everything has to be accepted because it is “God ordained” — how can you question the leaders in this situation? Or, if there is a problem, you should pray about it and God will fix it! If this holds true for an organization, then any attempt to voice one’s concerns or worries will be instantly shot down! “You call yourself a Christian…!” What is missing in most Christian organization is a process for voicing concern. I am presently reading, “Global Member Care” by Kelly O’Donnell, talking about how to care for missionary/aid workers. It suggests that all organizations should have in place guidelines and methods for voicing and resolving conflicts and issues, that protect those who voice their concerns as well as procedures to deal with those concerns. Obviously, you are in a place where that must not be the case. But where in our church structures do we find anything remotely similar to what companies and even government agencies now have in place to provide a voice for those who have genuine concerns? Because we fail to provide this outlet, it is no wonder that so many Christians choose to exit…what other choice do they have. Excellent insights, Bill. And my condolences for the situation you are in!

    • John,

      I hope I don’t sound bitter in my post this week. I don’t mean to be, but these memories just flooded through me as I read Hirschman’s book. I know there are others who have experienced something altogether different than I have. And I am so happy for those who have. Perhaps the answer to my dilemma is not to find leaders who are willing to listen humbly but rather to be one who does. Frankly, this program continuously challenges me to think about leadership, particularly about good leadership. I long to be one of those. Presently, I am a too busy leader. I need to slow down and I need to examine my own heart regarding how much I listen to those whom I have the privilege to lead. I hope that I never become like the models of leadership I have experienced in Christian organizations. But there is always that scary possibility. Again, I need to be honestly self-reflective in this matter. My goal is that when I finish this program, I might be a better person and a better leader. I look forward to seeing this unfold.

  2. mm Deve Persad says:

    Those are some tremendously challenging stories Professor. I appreciate the way you were able to communicate your experiences but more importantly your resolve to glorify the Lord in the present and future, despite those experiences. That is to be commended. There is probably no greater form of oppression than the one in which hope is extinguished from the lives and lenses of others. Exodus 14:14: “The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.” It may not be the verse you had in mind, but your comments reminded me of this instruction from Moses to the Israelites, who felt hopeless…and then the Lord parted the Red Sea, right in front of them. I always appreciate your vulnerability and am encouraged by your resolve and look forward to figuring out how we can influence our organizations to better at listening and learning.

    • Deve,

      I look up to you as a healthy pastor and friend. Who knows, maybe I will move to Canada someday to sit under your leadership.

      I am concerned that I sound like a bitter person in my posts whenever I talk about leadership. I do not want to be this way and am constantly looking for a way to let go of this pain. I know that God can “restore the years that the locusts have eaten away.” But I have not as yet found the answer for that. However, as always, your comments help, and I so appreciate that you always take the time to share with me honestly and scripturally. Actually, I look forward to your posts and your comments every week. It is true, the answer is not on waiting to find the perfect leader, since that is not a realistic goal. Rather, the answer is to become the kind of Christ-like leader that I am called to be. I long to become proactive rather than reactive in this area of my life. I appreciate your prayer on this and I thank you in advance. I will keep you posted on the process of transformation. It is interesting to note that already I see hints of hope since the beginning of our LGP program, particularly through the interaction with my cohort members. What a gift!

  3. Hey Bill, I would have to say I have been on both sides of the preverbal door as it swung shut. As a Sr. pastor for 7 and 1/2 years I tried to keep people from voicing their disappointments with only the “exit” card being pulled. Yet as you said, “Hirschman paints a dark but realistic picture that failure and dysfunction will always be a part of every institution, business, or system.” This is true of the church, both its leaders and its members. Eventually, I was looked at as the one who needed to walk through the door as suspicion fell on me for being the “clog” impeding growth of the church. I have been gone now for nearly 7 years and the church I left has dwindled down consistently since my departure. I could gloat over the fact that I was not the clog, but the main emotion is sadness that I wasn’t able to be the leader and “the voice” to make the necessary changes that this church needed. Sure dysfunction abounded, but I have witnessed other leaders function in the midst of the ever present dysfunction and turn organizations and churches around. I am now in a church that is healthy in many respects but I still see dysfunction. Will I, should I, address it? We will see.

    Oh, as for the scripture you are referring to it might be Isaiah 30:15:
    15 For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
    “In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”
    But you would not,

    • Mitch,

      Thanks for your comments. I have also been on both sides of that door. As I see it now, I choose to be on neither side.

      You use the word dysfunction more than once. This is indeed to right word to use. But by God’s grace and hard work we don’t have to live in that dysfunction. If we are open to dissenting voices and have those who we trust to tell us what we need to hear, rather than what we want to hear, we can be healthy leaders. I know it is possible, but it is, at least in my experience, very rare. It is nice to hear that you are in a church that at lease has some health; that is encouraging. My prayer is that we who are in this LGP program would each be healthy leaders in our given situations. That is one of my greatest goals for my own life; I know that this is true for you as well.

      Thanks also for the Scripture reference!

  4. mm Julie Dodge says:

    You spoke to the human side of exit, voice and loyalty. Thank you, Bill. While Hirsvhman writes from that Western-European matter of fact, task oriented (it’s-business-not-personal) point of view, we are human. Our decisions to leave or speak can cost us relationship, respect, influence and more. This can be painful, as you have noted. Hirsvhman does well to describe behavior, but he often detaches our humanity from it. Thanks for re-connecting those.

    • Julie,

      Thanks for your comments. I’m not exactly sure what I connected. I always tend to stress the “human” side — maybe too much. I wonder what I will think about my posts in five years?

      You are correct about our decisions to either leave or speak up in an organization. Perhaps the best decision is to stay and influence what one can, being careful to keep one’s heart from judgment and anger and bitterness if the situation is ugly. I just don’t know. I guess it all depends on what one is willing to spend emotionally and vocationally. I would hope that the older I get, the wiser I would get in regards to this matter. But I’m not sure about that. However, I do understand now why lots of people start their own organizations and their own ministries.

  5. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Bill, Great post! I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability. Your insights from your life experience and reading from this week are very helpful for me to reflect on my own leadership. One insight stood out to me is the importance of voicing our concerns that might bring about change. Yes, there is a risk to speak up, but there is also a risk not to do so. So, like you say we need God to teach us wisdom how to address the issues in ways that does not cause unnecessary contradiction with those who lead us. Thanks again.

    • Telile,

      Yes, that is a very good point that “there is risk if we do not speak up.” But as I look at my my life experiences, there are some situations when I spoke too soon or too harshly. Looking back, I know that this was not the best option. But what if I had not spoken up? That is a good question. I will be thinking about that this week, especially in regards to my present situation. We will talk more of this when we see each other next week. Thanks again for your thoughts. You are a wise person.

  6. Bill…
    First of all, you do not sound bitter in your post, this one or anyone, and even if you did, perhaps that is part of a healthy though a challenging place to be. Reading your post got me thinking that perhaps the voice in exit is that the Church might recognize the Spirit’s pursuit of us, that we might live into the identity God has given to humankind. That might sound a bit idealistic, but I do think it is part of what you write of in your posts. Wanting to ponder this a bit…. Thanks!

    • Carol,

      I am glad that my post made you ponder. It also made me ponder, especially after I pressed the “send” button. As I just said in another comment, I am starting to understand now why so many people set up their own ministries and organizations. Is this good or bad? That is not the right question. Perhaps some of these start-ups are just what the doctor ordered, but I am sure others, especially church splits, are sometimes pure reaction. Again, is that good or bad? I guess it depends on the heart of the person/s who leave. I have left organizations in one of two ways: bitter or better. And I am still working on the “bitter” departures, since it is I who am damaged be these ruminations. Thanks, Carol, for helping me to think more deeply.

  7. mm Clint Baldwin says:

    Bill,
    Thanks for your post.
    The Dylan song reminds me of a related take on it offered by Bruce Springsteen (one of his acolytes). I think the title of the song by Springsteen is “Devils and Dust” from the album of the same title I believe. Anyhow, the point is the same…what we think is true may well not be…have some humility.
    What I appreciated about your post, like what I appreciated about Hirschman’s book is that there is no one right answer to all of this. Hirschman, just names the process and some important principles to keep in mind. He never lays out a play-by-play for all situations for all time. You do the same. Sometimes exit is important. Sometimes staying and using your voice is important. But, as you note, it’s always important to do it all in love and grace…hoping the best for the situation and trying to be your best as you go about whichever action you feel is appropriate. May we all be given the grace and strength to live into such things wisely.

    • Clint,

      I always look forward to reading your posts and comments, so thank you for taking the time to comment here. Yes, may we all leave wisely from the organization with whom we disagree. Because if we don’t and we leave in anger, rage, resentment, and bitterness (which I have done in my past on more than one occasion), then it is we who suffer. We suffer internally if we live in reaction rather than in “proaction.” I know, since I have usually done the former. Why, however, does it take us so long to “get” this? I don’t have an answer to this question. My hope, though, is that by the time I am 80 I might have a better grasp on this. I wonder what my posts would sound like then? Perhaps we will see.

  8. mm rhbaker275 says:

    Bill,
    I always find in your post pertinent and relevant applications to the reading. I like your take-aways from this reading:
    Exiting can be common and normal – so how do I exit right?
    Voicing is fertile gropund for change – How do others view my “voice”?
    Voice is important – Can I have a non-threatening voice?
    Silence can be golden – How do I distinguish between loyalty and passive aggression?

    Great post Bill, I have much to learn and apply…

    • Ron,

      Wow! What a great reply. Thank you for this.

      How do I leave right? What a great question. At least part of the answer to that has to do with this question: Have I consulted wise counsel before I left? I think this is crucial, since leaving impulsively will probably bite me in the butt later.

      Voicing is fertile ground for change and voice is important. Yes! At least it can be. But who does the changing, I or organization? I guess the hope is that both will change. So how do others view my voice? That is so important. I hope they view it as wise and loving. If not, maybe I should keep quiet until I can speak in the right spirit.

      And I agree, Silence can be golden. What more can one say?

      Thanks again for your good comments, my wise friend.

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