Avoiding the Trap of Exploitation by Jimmy Mas

Of the many transitions that occur in a ministry leader’s life, handling the changes that come when their function changes over time could perhaps be the most challenging. 

At her core, the Church is to be salt and light to the world, which inevitably means that she by nature is a transformation organism. However, the Church’s ability gets hampered when she lends herself to model the present culture instead of transforming it! 

If our goal in leadership is to help advancing generations with the mantle of transformational leadership, then our standard should be to avoid repeating or even encouraging debilitating cultural weaknesses.  One of the toughest transitions to overcome is in the area of relationships. Relationships change over time and especially in the arena of ministry. How those relationships change is a topic worth addressing because sadly, there are many ministry leaders among us who perhaps languish in relationship transitions that have left their mark.

When it comes to ministerial relationships it would be helpful to strengthen existing relationships by not using the current cycle of self-absorption so prevalent in our culture. That means we need to avoid the trap of exploitation: which is the tendency to only stay connected with people as long as they function “for us” or our need, or stay useful to that end!

          Genesis 40:9-15, 20-23 9, "So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.”  “This is what it means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison.  I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon”…Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials:  He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand— but he impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation.  The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him. (NIV)

Exemplifying Value over Self-Service

There are challenges when it comes to maintaining relationships that have changed because of differing functions. There is a virtual wasteland of friendships scarred by forgetfulness but even worse by exploitation. They were used when someone thought they were useful for their own needs and then sadly, forgotten. Ministry relationships transition in life through differing functions that grow with need or simply morph into a new era of usefulness. We can avoid exploiting our friends especially those we once deemed useful, by exemplifying value over self-service. This allows everyone to grow into their new season with grace rather than being forced to maintain a relationship based on a past function. Joseph’s life turned out okay through the grace of God—but not without its share of disappointments and heartaches.

No one would ever argue the point that Joseph’s experience placed him in the perfect situation for the perfect need in the arena of the perfect crisis—and that he was the perfect man for the job!  But unfortunately – we inadvertently take no account of his real humanity!  JOSEPH WAS FORGOTTEN AFTER HE SERVED A FRIEND’S NEED. In fact you could argue that Joseph was simply forgotten by those he served, something that happens all too often in the world of modernistic exploitation or self-service. Help for him was always a carefully placed memory away! He just needed to be important enough in the cupbearer’s heart (gratitude) to stay on top of his mind. Two full years would pass before he would be remembered again. For many, that delay may be a killer of hope.

Genesis 41:1-2, 9-15 When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile,  when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat…   Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings... 1 So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”  (NIV)

Exemplifying Value over Self-Service Requires Some Understanding

What we pass on to succeeding generations called to pick up the mantle of ministerial leadership requires that we model a better culture of honor and respect. Ministry (no matter what we say to the contrary) is performance–based, which for better or worse opens the door to a range of conflicting feelings.

·         The dueling feelings of great success and even larger defeat

·         The dueling thoughts of inadequacy and giftedness

·         Being highly used and subsequently shelved

To add insult to injury—all of these come more often than not, on the heels of silence – where changes have occurred without announcement from friends. Nothing is ever said but the temperature in the relationship has changed drastically. Silence is the ultimate cancer eating away at whatever feelings of validation still existed for those who previously served in a vital way. To say that we are not validated by our ability to perform is to underestimate the power the lack of validation has as a weapon in Satan’s arsenal!

Our enemy uses this lack of validation as a precision scalpel to cut the ministry life out of our “friends!” How can we challenge that mentality? We can start by avoiding the trap that leads to exploiting others. Exploitation is basically a self-centered usefulness paradigm, which speaks, “I can use you for my benefit!”

Adapting to Seasonal Changes really does Require an Openness on ALL Sides!

Your ministry does need to adapt to function in strength as you “age” but it also requires the respect of others who still see the value you bring to the table.

I often share the metaphor (bear with me!) about my baseball playing days. I was always a middle infielder by position meaning that my comfort zone was as a shortstop but I could also transition to second base. Those who understand that position understand that you had better have some range since it’s a lot of territory to cover defensively. When I played softball regularly as an adult I usually stayed in the same areas of play. However, a couple of years back when I was playing with a younger and more agile group of players it became evident that my function needed to change. I still could contribute and still had a needed skill to compliment a team but my position or contribution needed to change. I could fake my old position but a grounder to my right would immediately let everyone in on the secret!!

That is what happens when Kingdom position players who have been used to contribute for years and years into ministries that blossomed with their wisdom, at times feel trapped to continue in the same role lest they be forgotten. When they cannot deliver at the level of expectation – they are shelved! It’s a culture all too familiar to many in ministry service because sadly, some of those who suffer now had sown the same mentality in the past. We often preach about “anointing breaking the yoke” but so often in our present culture, may be trapped to believe anointing can only come in the new, shiny package that makes the waves. So how can I contribute less to exploitation and create a substantive respect for changes that occur in the function of others and even us?  Here are some things that every principle leader who fully expects to encourage a new generation of leadership should understand.

  1.   Recognizing that the Kingdom Mutually Exposes both Seed and Sower to Enormous Potential! That means that while what a ministry gift “sows” as a result of their ministry is valuable, the actual “sower” or minister also gets recompensed in potential because they are valuable. Relationships should mature and strengthen when there is shared value.
  2.   If Ministry has Been Fruitful in the past—then the “Tree” Still Exists! Many times the voice of such is a useful tool not only for those in your congregation but also for yourself. Maturity through experience (both suffering and exploits) when enjoyed pays rich dividends. Every leader must model to a new generation, a respect for voices whose gifts still possess value!
  3.   Avoid the Disillusionment of a Friend’s Forgotten Assignment or Value. Be diligent to let your yes be yes and no - no. Keep your promises and lean not on frivolous superficial promises. Do not “use” brethren for your own needs. What you ask for – you must be willing to do in return. And—STOP making verbal or written promises you do not intend to fulfill. It’s bad modeling for future generations, it’s bad for the Kingdom and the Church, and it’s bad for relationships!
  4.  Relationships Cannot Breathe without the Oxygen of Honesty and Communication. Superficiality though culturally accepted, is cancerous to friendship.

It’s good to remember that our next generation, which is currently being developed, will ultimately follow our example—not our principles.

© 2017 Jimmy Mas / jmas@newcityministry.com

Jimmy Mas is currently the apostolic team leader of New City Ministry, a ministry dedicated to providing guidance, strategic impartation, and apostolic alignment for Spirit-led ministry leaders and churches. Authored “Developing Secondary Leadership” a manual and seminar aimed at character development of future ministry leaders, used in several nations and cities in North America. Jimmy Mas is a member of ICAL.