January 2011


Words That Wound
By John Ashmen

You don’t have to be a news junkie to know that December’s most poignant story was the senseless shooting of a Democratic congresswoman and several other innocents in Tucson, Arizona. And almost as big was the rhetoric of political opponents and pundits trying to use the tragedy to score points for their side.

The Tucson incident was yet another disturbing example of how in today’s society, everything from major debacles to minor bungles are an opportunity to pull down one person or idea in order to push up an opponent or opposite point of view.

When someone makes a serious statement, immediately a panel of experts debates his or her qualifications or sanity. It doesn’t matter if the individual is a political figure, industrialist, economist, theologian, teacher, or parent. We are becoming a continent of commentators too quick to judge and too quick to speak. And so much of the speaking is laced with vitriolic words in doses sufficient to inflict significant emotional misery.

I’d like to say that all of the really serious offenders are at MSNBC or Fox News, but they aren’t. We’ve figured out how to wage wars of words very well in the church, and even in our own association. Some of us might make our statements with spurious laughter or a pat on the back, as if a hollow gesture will numb the sharp prick of the point made. It never does.

This past month, two missions that were long lapsed came back into AGRM membership; one was out for 14 months, the other for four years. The first mission let its membership expire after its CEO received a verbal mugging at a district event. In the course of a conversation about funding, the director mentioned to three people whom he considered to be friends how he was availing himself of specifically designated government funds to finish setting up a new program for homeless intact families in his city’s suburbs.

He told me it didn’t take long before the conversation got heated. As a small crowd gathered to hear why voices were elevated, one of the men put a finger in the director’s face and snarled, “People who take government funds these days needs to examine their hearts to see if they really are followers of Christ.”

He not only felt betrayed, but also humiliated.

“I cried halfway home, and spent the next two weeks on the verge of depression,” he said sadly. “I went to where I thought I would receive encouragement for the work I was doing, and instead received condemnation for the way I was doing it.”

Staff members from the second mission were ambushed in a hallway at one of our conventions by people who had an opposing point of view regarding addiction recovery. The opening volley was: “So we heard you took Jesus out of your program.”

Others gathered but only gawked. No one came to the staff’s defense. Wounded in spirit, the confronted group left and didn’t return.

Both of these missions are now back in membership because we have connected their leaders with other members who agree with their principles as well as their practices. The hurt is wearing off and they are feeling less alone.

AGRM is a big table; there is room for everybody serving the poor in rescue mission ministry. Only the essence of the gospel is non-negotiable.

When we at that table hear statements that go against our grain, we must learn to listen longer and then suggest softly. Certainly there is room for debate, but not in a way that grieves the Spirit. More than ever before, the AGRM family needs to be unified in purpose, even if we are diversified in our methods.

Scottish minister and author George MacDonald said, “My own conviction is, that if a man would but bend his energies to live, if he would but try to be a true—that is, a godlike—man in all his dealings with his fellows, a genuine neighbor and not a selfish unit, he would open such channels for the flow of the Spirit as no amount of even honest and so-called successful preaching could.”

In The Message, Eugene Peterson’s take on 1 Thessalonians 5:11 is essentially the call for a truce on any war of words among fellow believers: “So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.”

Certainly not everyone in AGRM is guilty of delivering caustic discourse. But who among us—myself included—is not guilty of thinking the statements and then adopting an attitude toward a person or group that reflects that thought?

A battle is raging for the hearts of the hungry, homeless, abused, and addicted all around us. Let’s make a commitment that in 2011 we will fight the real foe.
  leaders are readers  

As the AGRM board moves toward a March meeting that will involve intense planning for the future, we will be reviewing several books. I’m going to give you two management books this month, both with five in the title. Both are must-haves for your library.

The 5 Life Stages of Nonprofit Organization (Amherst Wilder Foundation, 2001)
This book’s value is established with a quote in the introduction. “Know when you’re shifting gears in life. You should leave your era; it should never leave you.” Every mission is at one of the five stages. Judith Sharken Simon will show you what they are, and how and when to move to what’s next rather than languish in an old paradigm.

The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask about Your Organization
(Jossey-Bass, 2008)
Management guru Peter Drucker’s famous monograph has been made into a book that has the additional insights of Jim Collins, Frances Hesselbein, and others. It’s a relatively quick read, but the afterthought will take your team quite a while to work though—and it should


There is so much going on in Washington, D.C., these days—especially with the new Congress—that affects rescue missions. For this reason, AGRM has scheduled a Washington, D.C., Summit for Tuesday, March 29, and Wednesday, March 30. We’re inviting rescue mission leaders to fly in to the nation’s capital for two days of important meetings.
On the morning of the 29th, we will assemble with AGRM Government Liaison Rhett Butler and talk about the association’s 2011 public policy agenda and the most important governmental issues facing your ministry. The afternoon and all of the next day will be reserved for appointments on the Hill and with the executive branch.

We have appointments set with several key senators and members of the House. We will also meet with the U.S. Interagency on Homelessness and the White House Office on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. There will also be opportunities to meet with your own representatives.

This is a time to make you voice heard. Please block out the dates, and we’ll send a detailed schedule and logistical details in about two weeks.  

For our members in Canada, we are looking at doing a similar event in Ottawa in the fall. Watch for more details later.

Association of Gospel Rescue Missions l www.agrm.org