aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

The hardest lesson I ever had to learn

Many years ago, I found myself the Director of a Boy Scout Summer Camp. It was a lot of work to put it all together, but I enjoyed it. But that first year (of the three I directed camp) was particularly tough for me. You see, I had never fired anybody before. I'm a pastor. We pretty much take people as we find them and try to get the best out of them -- but trying to fire a volunteer is hard, and it gets messy. Plus, we really want to see everybody grow and be happy and accomplish stuff together. So I'd never done it.

I hired lots of good people, I thought. All good Scouts. But no matter how good and excited they are, supervising staff is more than just coaching the willing. And sometimes, trouble comes along. I had some staff that were getting into some bad things, all unbeknownst to me. I could see the disturbances down the line, but I couldn't get a line on where they were coming from. And then, two young teenagers I'd particularly recruited got into real trouble. The older, slyer staff members weren't around when these two stepped over the line. What should I do? I agonized over it, and in the end, I just couldn't lower the hammer on them. I found a way to keep them on the payroll (after some earnest counseling). And with that, my authority fell apart, and ever more skullduggery was indulged in. By the time I'd identified who was really making all the crazy happen, the summer was about over, and we limped across the finish line with me exhausted and disillusioned.

But I learned something. Sometimes, severity is the only way to show real kindness. If I'd fired those two 15-year-olds, that would have hurt them, and me -- but I would have spared the rest of the staff, and the whole camp, the hassles and butthurt that followed from my inability to enforce the rules. I now understood that putting up with stuff just means you get more of what you put up with. And that means it draws in even those who were at first not inclined to participate. The next time I directed camp, I had a young man do a really stupid thing, and I fired him. Even the Scout Executive thought I was being too harsh. But it ended the problem, and nobody crossed any lines again that summer. We ended that summer with everybody friends and a good record all around.

I still hate to confront people. I would prefer it that we converted our problem children with enlightened counseling and personal affirmation. But sometimes, the only way people learn is to let the consequences of their actions drop on them. And even if they never learn, sometimes the only way to heal a group is to hold somebody accountable, so that everybody starts acting in accountable ways.

And all this has to do with the issues confronting The United Methodist Church. In all our discussion of various plans for how to deal with the divisions amongst us -- particularly within the American wing of The UMC -- I keep saying, "throw the bums out." People who can't or won't keep the rules need to be expelled, especially clergy. Fire them. Don't receive them. Enforce the rules. I don't say this because I'm a martinet or a rule-monger or because I am unfeeling toward their principles (however wrong I may think their principles). I say it because I have learned that the kindest way to act is with judicious severity.

Those who keep devising schemes for "gracious exits" and "affiliated autonomous conferences" and all the rest of it are too delicate to enforce the rules. That's too messy. They want to pension off their opponents and purify the church, not with fire, but with aromatherapy. But here's the thing: whatever you tolerate, you will get more of. And if you're too prissy to enforce the rules on the disobedient now, then they know you won't do it later, no matter what the structures and rules are.

Devising a "gracious exit" for those who are currently in mutiny is fruitless. They don't want an exit -- they're winning. And the only way they will ever take that exit, gracious or not, is if they are convinced that if they don't, they will be expelled. And they know you ain't got the guts to expel them, so, ipso facto, ergo, and a Q.E.D with sprinkles on it later, they're not leaving no matter what scheme you come up with. If you want them to take your gracious exit, then you must be willing to throw them out on their ear without one, and they won't leave until you pitch one or two just to show you mean business. You want to avoid all the heartbreak and lawsuits and bitterness you fear? Throw the bums out.

In the end, severity is the kindest "way forward."


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