Finding out how sausage is made

by Amy Page-Whiting

Have you ever had the moment where you sit down and open an email or letter to discover that someone you have led, invested in and cared for is unhappy and is leaving – often with accusations, criticisms and grievances aimed at you? (Just about every leader I know has had this happen – if it hasn’t happened for you yet…it’s probably coming!)

I got one of the worst letters I’ve ever got recently – in it a person who had been part of our church whānau for decades was accusing me of heresy and other awful things. They left (taking others with them), and shared their beliefs far and wide. It was carnage – both at a community level and for me personally. * (I’ve put a thought at the bottom about how to leave a church/organisation or group well)

There is nothing more gutting and confronting than the work you pour your life, energy, time, heart, and resource into being ripped apart. When your devotion and obedience to the call of Jesus is brought into question. When your reputation is attacked. When you cannot control the narrative that is being circulated about you. We all know that our personal worth should not be linked to our accomplishments, and in theory we all nod our heads in agreement. It’s in moments like these you see how linked they actually are. It also causes us to ask searching questions of what Steven Garber* would describe as our vocation, defined as the “understanding who I am and what I am responsible to for Love’s sake”.

Simply put, he asks the deep question of, “Can you know the world and still love it?” or put another way “Can you see how sausage is made, and still want to eat it?”

This is not the first letter I’ve received, and it won’t be the last. In leadership you get to see the very best and the worst of people (including yourself). You also must face the reality that you cannot control what other people think, do, or say. People you have loved, served, and ministered to are going to hurt you. So, knowing what I know, will I still love the people and vocation I’m called to?

Criticism, accusation and being mis-represented are soul eaters. They drain your energy and your resolve and distract your focus. I think one of the biggest challenges to leadership longevity is keeping your heart open enough to risk being hurt again, because that is what it means to love.

Some of the things I’ve done to keep my heart open include:

Making forgiveness a tangible habit – I walk the dog every day and if a person or situation comes to mind, I say “I forgive, bless and release ……. into the hands of Jesus.” (FYI it took me 6 months of doing this on the above situation to get to a point where it is truly free in my heart).

Having my person (Jesus with skin on) with whom I can share all the details, say #%* words, react however I need to, without it damaging community – and then having them speak truth and healing to me.

Clearly articulate your vocation* - this can be a process and you don’t have to have all of it nailed at once, however, recording what you know about your vision, values, and voice so far is a powerful tool to keep you focussed.

Find fellow vocation radicals - sometimes in the middle of ‘finding out how the sausage is made’, you forget what you love and are called to – you need fellow vocation radicals – who are committed to reminding you of the good, holding you accountable to your call, and inspiring you with the way they are working out theirs.

Our world needs people of faith in all arenas of society, who understand their unique vocation - their best gift to the world around them and live it out with all their heart, mind, soul and strength.

Knowing what you know, can you still love?

*Leaving your church/organisation well is hugely important for both your integrity and wellbeing, as well as the witness of the kingdom. Most likely, if you are somewhere you now need to leave, you were there because it initially offered you something good. Alongside this, you will most likely see the leader/Pastor and other members of the group on this side of eternity (let alone the other – so don’t do anything that makes it awkward if your mansion is next door to theirs). If you leave well, this is good for all of you. Write a physical card where you thank the person for the good things they have inputted into your life. Bless them and the church/organisation for the next season. Put in a gift voucher to something nice (and I mean a decent one not just a token $10 petrol voucher). If you are not going to stay, do not air your list of why nots – you don’t have the right to do that. Just bless and release. Process your hurt with Jesus. Resolve to speak well of the other – and as my Granny used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”.

*Visions of Vocation by Steven Garber is a fantastic resource for exploring calling and vocation, and is part of our Arrow NZ reading list.

*This is a key exercise in the Arrow journey – find out more here

Amy Page-Whiting

Amy Page-Whiting manages Learning & Development for Arrow NZ. She is also the team leader at Cashmere New Life, a diverse faith community in south Christchurch. She completed the Arrow NZ programme in 2014. A voracious learner, she has spent the last 8 years learning and training in contextual discipleship, mission and the creation of movements. Amy is married to Bevan and they have two children.

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