A word from vicar and founding director of Mind & Soul, Will van der Hart
Does the end always justify the means?
If you read the overwhelmingly positive feedback – via social media – to ‘Meeting Pastor Bill’, an extended interview feature on children’s evangelist Bill Wilson in edition 3 of Childrenswork magazine, you would have thought so. My admiration for Bill and his incredible work with children should not be underestimated, but here was an article that should have been setting alarm bells off in any mature leader. It seems that once you have 62,000 people in your ministry you are beyond the reach of even the Ten Commandments.
Of course, if Bill had said he stole regularly we would all have been up in arms. Yet the fact that he says on p25, ‘I don’t take a day off and I don’t have vacation,’ came across not as a wilful violation of the Sabbath principle (Exodus 20:8-11), but as a badge of honour for a truly committed saint. How foolish we are to applaud such self-determination. What sort of role model are we actually trying to propose to children’s or indeed any of the leaders in our churches? As long as you are ‘successful’ you can ignore God, and your need to be spiritually, emotionally and physically restored by him?
Three areas to look at more closely
1) Accountability: If we lose sight of critique and perceive it as a blockage to success we are in danger. Bill says (p25) ‘I don’t care what people say, this is what I do. They don’t do what I do; they didn’t have 62,000 kids in Sunday school last week did they?’ And on (p27) ‘I don’t agree with spending time with negative people.’ There is a terrible danger that success in ministry leads us to disconnect from mentors, supporters and critics. Any self-directed leader is a risk to themselves and the people they serve. If we are too busy or important to come under authority; we need to reconnect with our early good practice – which we allowed when we had more time and less people involved in our ministry. There is always value in seeking advice, listening to mentors and spending time with people who are not like ourselves and so offer us a fresh perspective. The likelihood is that these supports were a big part of any initial success anyway.
2) Emotions: Bill attributes his success (p26) to ‘paying the price’. He says, ‘My commitment is stronger than my emotions and that is the million-dollar statement.’ As someone who works extensively in the emotional arena this is the single most concerning statement I have heard from such a significant leader. Emotions are not anti-gospel, they have been created by God himself, been expressed in fullness by Christ and we too should value them. Emotions are not expressed for their own sake; they point to deeper truths about our experience and motivations. Therefore to repress, suppress or deny them is to store up significant mental, emotional or even moral problems for ourselves at a later date.
3) Time Poverty: We believe in a God who rules time and yet many people lead out of time poverty not wealth. Not only does Bill make a point of never having a day off (p25), he also references not having time to receive urgent treatment for Yellow Fever: ‘I am supposed to go to the centre for disease control but I haven’t found time yet’ (p26). Later in the article he scorns the idea that he might do something relaxing, (p26) ‘Do I look like I play golf? Do I look like a golf guy to you?’ Healthy ministry needs nourishment and all leaders need to be recharged and to spend time simply resting in God’s presence. Jesus regularly takes retreats, heads up the mountains or relaxes with his friends as the meal table. If it was good enough for him it should be good enough for us. Ultimately the greatest risk to any leader is the over-estimation of his or her own importance in God’s ministry. We always have to come back to the reality that God could do it without us, but he graciously chooses to do it with us. Rest and restoration is not about being lazy, it is about being humble.
Will van der Hart is an Anglican vicar and founding director of www.mindandsoul.info, where you can find his blog.