We generally go away for a weekend retreat twice a year. This fall my vision was to for the first time take with us several new people who have been slowing gathering towards us in ministry – volunteers, students, and leaders of a the “satellite” ministries that are under our umbrella. But frankly, it’s been tough this fall to build enough unity in our core group to do this. So we finally decided to just retreat, literally, and go ourselves for some serious relationship building fundamentals. The following is a letter I wrote to the leader of one of our mission’s divisions – an order called InnerChange. His insights to me have been incredibly helpful and encouraging, and I am more and more thinking that on order is exactly what I am called to form. Here is my report to him about this weekend:
Here is my account of how the weekend retreat went. Feel free to respond when you can, and we can talk.
According to the schedule I had worked out (and run by everyone), we were to cover 6 questions over the 2.5 days:
1. By summer, what would we like to be said about the quality of our relationships?
2. And what would we want to be said about the quality of our working relationships?
3. To this end, what project could we most confidently work on now?
4. To work on the above, what broadly do we need to focus on over the next several months?
5. How would/should growth in the quality of our relationships influence our ministry to and influence with others?
6. How should our week be structured, and in particular our core group meeting on Monday evening in order to facilitate the above?
Our newest member, who is ironically the oldest, was a ministry partner with Bill O’Byrne here for 20+ years, and he turned over leadership of Imago Christi in Russia to her. I asked her to facilitate a lectio divina at the beginning of each block of time.
For the first block we read from Rom. 5 and then had each person do a Mind Map about how he understands the need for moving our relationships deeper. We had a good discussion for a while, but half way through it broke into conflict that was so strong I thought I was about to lose my right hand person. By God’s grace, that was patched, and we moved forward. I’ll say this, these people are tough. We met from 5pm to 1:30am, except for dinner.
Saturday I wanted to cover three topics, but we barely did one. The lectio divina was on 1Sam. 14:1-15 – Jonathan and his armorbearer. This was most definitely a fruitful passage that was useful for us throughout the weekend. After this I had decided to have what I called a “funeral” for all those who have walked with us over the years but aren’t now for whatever reason. At first they didn’t even understand why this might be helpful, but as we began to process each person, one at a time, allowing each to stand, share feelings, hurts, questions, and then pray a prayer of release for each one, they began to see how very healing it was. So much so that the entire process to us all day until after 10pm that night! They felt a completion in it, and also they realized that even when they had thought they released someone before, they had not fully. It also revealed deeper levels of hurt and ways in which their own limitations were exposed. Twice over the course of the weekend I heard (from two people), “I don’t know how (or am not able) to love you.” This was of course a profound recognition of what true community demands and how we fall so far short of this without God’s help. But at the same time, for me, and certainly not only so, it was painful to see how limited they are in their capacities. We are covering ground that I’m sure none of their families and none of their churches or small groups had ever covered. I don’t see evidence of anyone trying to build Body-life relationships to this level. And yet the trauma in Russian society is so deep, that there can be no way forward without it.
I woke in the middle of the night terribly grieved over a couple of dynamics in the group that finally became clear to me, and I realized that I needed to say a strong word of correction to everyone about the importance of honoring each other by keeping our word. Even this level of commitment is hard to attain here. So to this end, on day 3 I decided that what needed to happen first was something I had thought about doing for a long time – place myself before them, asking each to speak out whatever they felt necessary about me so that I could ask forgiveness of them. Even though there were only essentially 2 issues (a couple of minor ones that I owned and asked forgiveness for), and neither new to me, even this took us the entire 6 hours we had left in the day. I’ll go ahead and share what came out:
1. One man said I can bring correction in a way that doesn’t feel like the encouragement he needs to change.
2. Two of them said (though it applies to three) I don’t take the initiative to mentor them.
On the first point, I had to tell him I was at pains to know even how to respond. I had to admit that, quite the contrary to his expectation, I knew exactly how my correction would likely be received, knowing his own weaknesses and his past, with a pastor who was very harsh in his correction. Because his behavior (not showing at times, or being very late) so affects everyone, I said I truly was at a loss to know how to help, and that I needed his input. Others added the need for him to overcome his emotional response to hear the heart of my concern. I share this as a small example of how hard it can be to know how to bring correction in general in a culture that is so confrontational, where defenses are so high, and emotions so deep.
On the second point, though I admitted being troubled by the concern and very much wanted to confess, I told everyone that my posture has always been that of making clear that:
a. initiative has to come from them;
b. I refuse to invest more into a person than he into himself;
c. I periodically remind them of my availability, and;
d. I even sometimes through out challenges to individuals or to the group as a whole.
But as we processed this more, something crystallized for me. I saw that I was reacting to a highly authoritarian culture by being highly non-authoritarian. And yet, as they kept sharing, they were admitting their profound weakness (“infantilism” as one put it), and inability to sometimes even ask for help. I know that many in leadership development positions, and the West in general would take a strong stance here and say that I am essentially wasting my time with people who are so immature that they can’t even take full ownership of their own growth. But three things stopped me in my tracks:
1. what you said the other day, that you had wanted a team of super leaders, but God gave you a team of average people so that you could develop a system that would make them extraordinary;
2. what God has repeatedly said to me, that this is my team, even if some come or go, but that I have no right to exclude any, because this is the culture I have entered. There are few people out there so mature, no matter their outward signs of success, that they would not react the same way as what we have here. Moreover, God has shown me that the key here is not in finding successful people, but in learning what it means to love, for this is what will give us strength, momentum, witness, and attract influence.
3. As much as I talk about the orphan spirit here, I suddenly saw to a new level its ugly head. An orphan doesn’t know to, or know how to, and I suppose can’t even, go and say, “will you be my father?” An orphan doesn’t even know what he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know how to get there, and he is paralyzed to even consider – fear I suppose – the idea of taking on that kind of responsibility. It is the responsibility of the father to say, “Come here. Let’s walk together. I’ll take you under my wings, and we’ll figure out how to make this work.” The initiative comes from the father. I have been using the analogy of the Prodigal Son all this time, and inappropriately so. For the initiative of the son is only demanded under conditions of rebellion. There are too many other biblical texts and precedents to show us that the Father is the one who initiates, and who takes ownership of the process of maturing us. It is something I am learning now in my own relationship with God, and, interestingly, something I am learning to a new level in raising my own boys. So I can’t just demand and punish. I can’t just wait for them to get It all right, or even to ask for help, but I have to walk with them at each step until they learn to walk alone. And then I walk with them to learn the next skill. Fathering never ends.
So, in conclusion, I repented for my leaving them as orphans all this time and promised to get in the driver’s seat. And as a result of seeing all this together, I have made a few unilateral decisions about the unanswered agenda items so as to not take more group time on them, so they can move forward on the level where they are – learning how to plain old love each other.