I remember reading somewhere in the history of Women’s Track and Field that there was no women’s marathon in the Olympics until 1984 because it was unknown what in the world might happen to a woman who tried to run 26.2188 miles. Their organs might just explode. They could be rendered lame.
Therefore, women should not run marathons for their own good.
“For your own good” is a response that can feed resentment and defiance. We teach children to eat their vegetables, buckle their seat belts, and refrain from talking to strangers for their own good. And then they grow up and – we hope – make good decisions for themselves.
But telling adults that we are doing something for their own good is trickier. It smacks of condescension and possible deception. Among the “for your own good” comments I’ve heard in professional ministry:
- Our meetings are closed because most of our work would not interest the average church member and sometimes we need to discuss sensitive issues. It’s for the church’s own good. (Note: there are very few issues that should not be shared with the whole community for the sake of transparency and open communication.)
- We can’t tell you the real reason ___ is not longer on staff so you just have to trust us. It’s for your own good. (Note: Sometimes this is actually true. But sometimes, there is secrecy because of institutional missteps or power games.)
- Only six people get keys to the building. It’s for our own protection (i.e. for our own good) in case there is a crime in the building or something breaks. (Note: This is not about protection. This is about power. Or insurance company overreach.)
Our imaginations can run wild with conjecture when secrets are kept and trust is wobbly. And keeping people from information and access nurtures dysfunction which kills communities – especially spiritual communities.
How can we create spiritual communities of trust and health?
- Encourage authentic relationships. Connect even in times of conflict out of genuine care for one another.
- Reward emotional intelligence. Nominate your most self-aware people into leadership.
- Have open conversations. Acknowledge mistakes and learn from them.
- Make ministry the focus. What we do is not about perpetuating structures and choosing the easiest path.
- Create a safe culture. Dysfunction runs rampant when people do not feel safe. Things that make us feel unsafe: An inability to speak up for fear of retribution. An inability to call someone out because no one will believe us. Disparaging colleagues behind their backs.
Look out for anyone who says, “We are doing this for your own good.” Ask questions. Expect transparency. Seek deeper conversations that satisfy the curious. There is so much good work to do out there.
Maybe healthy ministry feels as overwhelming as a marathon. But so much good is possible in a world starving for Good News.
It’s time we trusted each other and were worthy of trust.
Image of Joan Benoit Samuelson who won the first women’s Olympic Marathon in 1984. Her brain did not explode.