And now as I review my memorial article for Lanny (see Part 1) 10 years later, I would add some other lessons I’m currently distilling from the life of Lanny, his story of restoration, and contemporary situations in the Kingdom. One of the things not mentioned earlier was that Lanny came from a ministry family. And, as I have discovered over the years, many times MKs (missionaries’ kids) and PKs (pastor’s kids) end up not OK. They frequently suffer spiritual wounds, whether through actual neglect by parents who are more committed to “ministry” than to their own families, and/or through unreasonable expectations of congregations, and/or through their own faulty perceptions about their parents. Whatever the sources, the damage can go deep. It did with Lanny. He felt like a “throwaway” – unwanted and unworthy of love. His convoluted self-condemnation perverted one of his greatest qualities: his kindness. It turned inside out his genuine desire to act for the benefit of others, into a twisted offering of himself for misuse by others.
It saddens me immensely that destructive wounding can happen in our churches, and not just “in the world.” That is more than a sidenote in Lanny’s story. But, just as the wounding can go from church leaders and congregations to an individual, so the gift of restoration in the life of a damaged disciple does not remain a personal gift. Its benefits cross back over into the church, and raise the level of health in the Kingdom.
What are some of the gifts that those being restored offer to the community? I spoke of one already: that a real measure of success for a church is found in how they treat their most fragile and apparently “least-contributing” members. Such children and teens, women and men hold the power to offer a huge but intangible gift of grace to a body of disciples. They give us a mirror to how we embrace our own limitations, our own fears of uselessness and abandonment, our own prejudices to prefer the best, the beautiful, the bright. Where some would see a throwaway, we should see a thermometer that measures our level of unconditional love and the strength of our spiritual structures. Will we receive what God gave them to offer us? Will we value those who seem to hold neither high potential or high profile?
For inspirational stories of families and communities who demonstrate this very vulnerable kind of love, get a copy of The Power of the Powerless: A Brother’s Legacy of Love by Christopher De Vinck. He is an amazing writer, with powerful things to write about …
It seems contradictory to suggest that those who are powerless offer a powerful gift. And yet, to quote from the Code of Dinotopia, the illustrated children’s book with good systems principles for all ages: “One raindrop raises the sea.” In a consumerist model organization, the contributions of only certain people are welcomed, or only those contributions of certain types or sizes. All others are unwanted, as they are, ironically, considered unproductive. Yet what does Jesus say about the issue of giving? It’s the heart attitude, not the amount. And it is accepting what God sends, not only embracing what we desire. I believe this ties in with ways we choose to work together, and shapes the messages we broadcast about who/what we value. This may be especially true of those in leadership roles – something that I find of growing concern these days.
For instance, Lanny was not a leader in the usual sense, either before or after his restoration process. He had no role of authority over the lives of others. And yet, I would suggest that he held a unique power in the lives of others, through his very powerlessness – yet the possibility to experience restoration in community. That was his best gift to the Body of Christ. It allowed those of us around him to embody God’s perspectives on embracing human dignity, avoiding judgmentalism, and exercising perseverance.
Which brings me from the theoretical and the past to the present and the practical. It’s no secret that I have written extensively – and as carefully as possible – on issues related to spiritual abuse and recovery. There is much going on right now that causes me concern. And lesson about restoration and power that I learned from Lanny are relevant to contemporary situations.
At this time – the end of winter 2009 – several leaders previously prominent in the North American Christian community are apparently seeking public “rehabilitation” from relatively recent indiscretions, immaturities, and failures. But it appears that the actual goal of themselves and their handlers is relocation into the same public role of authority, or its near equivalent. Might I suggest instead that the authentic goal should be restoration while remaining in a position of powerlessness? I’m not saying their past actions make them Disqualified For Life from leadership roles. However, real restoration in biblical accounts is seldom about ending up in the same place spiritually as before, as if nothing bad happened, but in a different place precisely because something bad did happen. I don’t think, from biblical evidences, we can expect that restoration of leaders always means the exact same positions are open to them – just as it doesn’t mean they must be forever blocked from them. So the bigger question is about spiritual health, not ministerial activity.
So, here are some things I’m looking for and questions to ask as signs of genuine restoration, versus a counterfeit relocation under the garb as reinstatement to leadership:
- When candidates and/or their advocates lobby for their reinstatement as leaders and make demands about their return to power, that’s a probable sign for discerning that the reinstatement is premature – and in fact, that the possibility may need to be removed as an option permanently. In genuine restoration, I expect instead to hear no unilateral moves, no one-sided demands, no quick timetables.
- When there is genuine repentance and a process of restoration, I also expect to hear about the realities of their newfound powerlessness, taking responsibility for their own failures, and insights they’re learning about personal problems that led to their needing to be removed from leadership roles. And, if they are never, ever returned to a position of leadership, will they now still follow Jesus faithfully? What demonstrations of this attitude of humility are in their life, both in words and deeds?
- Perhaps an individual’s temporary lack of position reveals a long-term lust for power. Such a “fatal flaw” is at the core of those who seek to be overlords. And overlording – demonstrating spiritually abusive/legalistic leadership that attempts to dictate and control the actions of others – is a strong biblical indicator of current disqualification from service, is it not? And this perhaps could prove a permanent disqualification unless the person deals with the tendencies and overcomes the activities. What evidences are there for whether corruption by power was/is present in his/her life? Has it been dealt with? How? Are those in an appropriate position to evaluate and restore subject to the same issue?
- As with all of us in all things, our own “tone” is a guide to our heart attitude. Are those seeking restoration to leadership too busy to be bothered by responding to legitimate criticisms of their efforts at reinstatement? If they don’t really have time to explain things in a civil, respectful manner, however can we trust that they will (re-)lead others in a civil, respectful manner? Do they consider all criticism to be illegitimate by definition? Are they too closed to listen to voices of reason and discernment within the community and without?
- Do they display a lack of conscience in how they treat others? Are they “respecters of persons”? In this regard, J.K. Rowling challenges us through her character, Sirius Black: “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals” (Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire). If a supposed leader shows contempt for underlings and deferential treatment of those above them and peers, what do New Testament scriptures have to say about their ability to lead others?
I wish such things would not even have to be voiced, and yet, the North American church seems dominantly undiscerning on such issues. This is as constructive and hopefully redemptive a response as I can find to ongoing rifts in the Body of Christ caused by questionable “restorations.”
This series was cross-posted on my futuristguy blog at Missional Tribe.