November 2011


They Found Dave Dead
By John Ashmen

Every night on my homeward commute, I notice more and more houses adorned with colorful blinking bulbs. With Thanksgiving now a memory but Christmas looming large, there seems to be a scramble in the neighborhoods to illuminate lawns and brighten spirits.

Despite the lights and the abundance of public festivities, psychologists tell us that the end-of-year holidays yield the most depressing days of the year for far too many people. The reasons for this are as long as a 10-year-old’s Christmas wish list. For many folks, reflection of loved ones forever gone—at a time when they are yearned for most—and recollections of better days bar the mind’s door, denying entry to the realization that God’s love is complete and sufficient, and the blessing of breath needs to be celebrated here and now.

All throughout the holidays, the physical needs of our guests are great. But those we can immediately recognize and easily handle. However, the emotional needs—not always recognizable—are even greater. And that means all of the people passing through our doors need more time than usual to be heard. They need more time than usual to have someone hold them, weep with them, and admit that even though the mission staff members don’t have all the answers, they know a Savior can soothe wounded souls.

For mission CEOs, this can be a paradoxical season of ministry: We have good news to proclaim to the dispirited poor, but we often don’t have the time because we are busy proclaiming the success (or the needs) of our year-end ministries to donors and the press. Not being available to listen when guests really need to talk can be our greatest dilemma. What do we do? Enter the curse of pat answers. Well-meaning, we pass out the Good News as if it were a one-size-fits-all garment, packaged in our theological wrappings, tied together with a curled smile.

My good friend, Lloyd Mattson, covered in his blog the story of a young man who had all he could take of pat answers. Lloyd writes: 

They found Dave dead, duct tape covering his mouth and nose, killed by theology. The story will make the paper, so I betray no one’s confidence.

Dave is the son of a friend of my own son, Kevin, hence our intimate knowledge. Married with four small children, Dave walked away from his job as an electrical engineer. Divorce was pending. His church and pastor came down hard. They did not listen; they judged, passed rules, and offered [pat answers]. Dave was on a depression med known to induce suicidal impulses; he knew he was sick, but they would not listen.

On Wednesday a failed suicide attempt left him in a homeless shelter. Friday morning Dave disappeared. His father sent Kevin the suicide email. Saturday, I read and reread the words Dave addressed to his wife and pastor, praying Dave might be found alive so we could invite him to our home for healing. Then, with heavy heart, Kevin brought the sad news.

Here are a few of the thousand last words Dave wrote:

I hope, for the sake of the next struggling soul, that you will consider all aspects of the human condition. Sola Scriptura sounds so good to the intellectually brilliant, but it misses the mark. No slight on God or the Bible—both are indeed sufficient. But [Christians] try to make tough situations into easy-to-solve riddles to appease their conscience...never admitting that life is just plain messy and difficult. I hope you won’t just brush aside my demise... but that you will all search your hearts and step outside of your fortresses a bit. The hope behind [this final] message is that the next individual in my situation will not be pegged to the board, and pounded [with pat answers]. You have no idea what it’s like to walk in these shoes.

As you approach Christmas, may you be given the gift of time—and the free conscience to use it—to give real answers to people like Dave and so many others who are filled with gloom in the midst of a season that should be filled with joy. You never know...two extra minutes with a person might make all the difference in the world.

  leaders are readers  

The New Evangelicals (Eerdmans, 2011)
Just off the press is The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good (Eerdmans, 2011). Author Marcia Pally reveals a growing movement within Christendom that espouses anti-militarism and anti-consumerism but promotes poverty relief and immigration reform. The book is full of interviews, including Rich Cizik, Joel Hunter, Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, and yours truly. It’s a must-read for the times in which we live.

  To give you more time, I won’t leave you with a lot. I’ll just remind you of three 2012 events in which you, as a rescue mission CEO, will definitely want to participate:

March 19–21: D.C. Enclave
Public policy sessions (with special guests from the political world) for CEOs held on Capitol Hill, accompanied by numerous private meeting with lawmaker and committees

May 20–24: The AGRM 99th Annual Convention – This is the event of the year for top and down-line leaders at North America’s rescue missions. Choose from among nearly 100 seminars, and be wonderfully inspired by general sessions. Come a couple of days early (or stay afterward) and enjoy Orlando.

September 25–27: CEO Summit (combined with Movement Day)
With big-topic discussions just for mission presidents/executive directors, this event is held in Manhattan, New York City. On day three we’ll join 1,000 other leaders of national and local ministries making a difference in North America. 

Please have your assistant put these on your calendar ASAP. 

Association of Gospel Rescue Missions l
 This issue of Executive Session is sponsored by City Vision College.