People frequently ask me, “What’s the biggest challenge of running a large orphanage?” It’s not funding, it’s not dealing with childhood trauma, it’s not even dealing with government bureaucracy. My biggest day-to-day challenge is keeping “grown-ups” from killing each other. Think of any group you’re involved in (work, home fellowship, whatever). Now imagine living with those people seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. If you’re honest, you might want to kill someone also.
All human beings are flawed, weird creatures with their own baggage, wants, and needs. When people work and live together for long periods of time, all that baggage tends to go on display. You’ve probably heard the saying: “Fish and houseguests go bad after a few days.” Anyone can live together for a while, but over time the quirks and irritating habits come out and grate on each other. Most of the groups we host at our ministry come in for a weekend or maybe a week. When a group books for two weeks we try to have them take a break mid-way through to spend time apart decompressing and to catch their breath. We’ve seen well-intentioned groups self-destruct after having to live together for more than a week. One group gave up and left five days early not speaking to each other. People are complicated.
In our home, we have over 100 children and about 30 adults that all live together. Our large staff is made up of multiple cultures, a wide range of educations and backgrounds, and an even more extensive range of personalities. In spite of the many interpersonal challenges that come up, along with the occasional romances, everyone gets along remarkably well. Not that we spend a lot of time discussing it, but the reason most of our team gets along so well is a sense of humility. A humble servant’s heart helps in any situation or relationship. Listed below are a few thoughts on ministry relationships, in no particular order.
Know that you have your own issues. You’re no picnic. It helps to realize you are as difficult and irritating as everyone you work with. Being self-aware is a challenging and complicated goal. It’s incredibly healthy to hold up the proverbial mirror and take a long look at yourself. “What am I doing to add to the conflict?” There is one person that I need to work with daily who is about a third of my stress. When I feel my blood pressure rise, I’ve started to look inward. Why is this bothering me so much? Does this matter? How am I hurting the situation? Sometimes it is the other person, but it’s pretty hard for any conflict to be entirely one-sided. When you’re frustrated with someone, it’s good to realize; you’re not so great yourself.
Lose the pride. Most people react from one of two places: pride or humility. I know some people who seem to be offended by EVERYTHING, I’m sure you know the type. When someone is always offended, it screams pride. “How dare they do that / ask that / expect that? Don’t they know who I am?” Pride really is the basis for all sin; it’s amazing how it can screw up relationships, workplaces, and lives. People reacting from pride are hard to work with and impossible to correct. You probably thought of at least one person after reading that last sentence, but ask yourself: “How do I respond to correction?” Do I get defensive? Or do I take an honest look at myself and see if changes need to be made? It’s a huge symptom of pride when we can not see our own faults. Throw several prideful people together, and it never works for long. Humility is needed in a ministry, in relationships, and in society, if we are going to survive.
Have grace for others. God has shown wild, abundant grace to us, way more than we could ever deserve, we need to have that same abundant grace for those around us. We need to show that grace to others, pour grace over others, and see them through our Father’s eyes. It’s easy to focus on what someone else is doing wrong; it’s harder to look at the person and see why. Everyone has been hurt; everyone makes questionable decisions, everyone is looking at life through their own warped lens and history. We need to “walk a mile in their shoes” and try to understand them as the valued individuals that God sees. When we see people with God’s eyes, they appear very different. When we truly hurt for someone, it’s hard to be hurt by someone.
When we’re looking for new staff, the most important thing we look for is a servant’s heart. Skills can be taught to anyone willing to learn, but a servant’s heart is essential for living in a community. A humble servant’s heart means someone has an understanding of what it means to walk in Christ’s example. Christ was a humble servant, and people were (and are) drawn to that. Christ was honest, He was OK with calling out sinful behavior, but it was always to teach, never to yell “gotcha.” He wanted what was best for all those around Him.
People are irritating, ourselves included. By walking in Christ’s example and seeing people as He sees them, living and working with others shifts into what God desires for us. We can live and work with others in peace, if it’s not about us.
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