Profile of a Dead End

Dead End in Life

National Association of Christian Ministers Leadership Series

By Michael Mooney, Exec. Elder

It seems reasonable to say that people typically have goals, dreams, and aspirations.  Such is often noted as being the driving force behind mankind’s search for purpose.  When life is lived without this qualities people tend to lose sight of things, and depression is a very possible outcome.  Contrarily, well defined directions lead to the sense of personal development and meaning.  They give people reasons to get out of bed in the mornings and face the world.

For Christians it is common that their goals are in one way or another intertwined within the big picture of pleasing God.  The closer such believers are to Christ, the more seriously they begin to equate their purposes with ministry.  This is not to say that all people who are close to God will be pastors.  Rather, that devout believers come to see their whole lives as a ministry unto God.  It follows that many of these ministries will develop within organizations –often churches.

Now please allow a little grace for the frankness of the following thoughts. 

Whether we like to admit it or not humans (in most instances) act in their own self-interests. Please don’t focus on this one statement and miss the rest of what is being said.  People have lots of motives for joining organizations: networking, fellowship, service, learning, etc. As long as their agendas are served they continue in their organizations. When these expectations go unfulfilled, they leave and search for other places to fulfill their desires.  Herein is how it how it unfolds:

1) Humans enter organizations with agendas -even if they are noble ones, they are still agendas. These are usually packaged in the forms of goals, values, and principals.  Such usually are introduced with phrases like, “I came to serve the Lord”; “God sent me here to…”; “My gifts are…” etc.

2) Christians generally affirm that their decisions are guided by the Spirit. Therefore it follows that such are keenly in tune to the will of the Lord.  Interestingly, when the time comes that these people are not permitted to serve in the ways that they desire, (the Holy Spirit must change His mind because) “the Lord leads them elsewhere” –pun intended.

This is only further proof of their agendas. Having a motive is not necessarily wrong; it is a fact of human relations that needs to be expected.  As a result, when motives are truly manifested they inevitably support organizations or egos.  (Note: this is not to say that organizational and ego support cannot coexist, rather that agendas usually separate the two).

This is where the profile of a dead end begins

Dead-enders typically come to organizations, churches, ministries, etc. with agendas that are way too obvious.  This is their first mistake.  Organizations also have agendas; such is the very reason why groups of people organize in the first place.  People do not typically gather without reason.  This would almost be absurd.  However, the dead-ender seems to forget this point.  They think that they are aware of it, but their actions usually prove otherwise.  The worst of dead-enders totally disregard this organizational element, and the best of them at least attempt to demonstrate how their agendas are synchronized with those of the church, etc.  But both of them eventually fail because the organization’s agenda is ingrained within the culture of the group and such people eventually spot others who do not authentically share their interests.

At first these mismatched values are easy to mask behind the lingo of the overall Christian purposes –to save the lost, rescue the weary, heal the sick, train the people…  However, in due time this purpose must narrow on specific targets and that is where conflicts of interest arise. The result is subtle at first.  People of the ministry only begin to be a little suspicious which cause them to become a little more watchful of attitudes towards their defined targets.  Once suspicion is embraced, confidence and trust is compromised and flags are raised around their influentially.

Over time, as dead-enders fail to rise in credibility, influence over decisions, and persuasiveness, they begin to experience frustration.  At first the feeling of unfulfilled expectations is concealed and analyzed internally.  Much thought is given to the potential hindrances that prevent them from rising to the roles that will permit them to fulfill their purposes.

It is here that dead-enders begin to criticize the church’s leadership (organization, etc.) by defining perceived incompetence –while appreciating themselves for their undiscovered talents, skills, callings, or spiritual gifts.  From here they begin to see their circumstances as a sharp injustice.  This attitude soon begins to take shape externally, and they stop attempting to hide their feelings.  The more that they attend organizational functions, the more they fortify the ideas that God’s will is not being honored.  Here are a few examples how this attitude is expressed:

The Iron Sharpens Iron Approach

* “This organization is full of ‘yes men’.  The leadership only wants people who will agree with them.  They are unwilling to hear anything negative.

I have tried to warn them but they do not appreciate my special insight…”

The Prophet of God Approach

* “God has anointed me to be a prophet to the nations.  I came to this church to tell them what ‘thus says the Lord’, but their ears are hard of hearing.

They have hardened their hearts against the Lord and He will remove His anointing from this place if they do not repent…”

The Problem Solver Approach

* “Can’t anyone around here see that we are headed for trouble?  If we do not take care of XYZ surely we will be sued, lose our membership, or God will remove his presence from us…”

The common element of each of these scenarios is criticism. It would seem like it would be obvious to dead-enders to know why such responses do not result in their desired outcomes.  Rather, with each attempt to “speak the truth” they are further insulted that they are not embraced.  Their blind spots are in frustration with rejection, or at least with not being discovered as qualified for their agendas.  As Dale Carnegie is remembered for saying, “I’ve never met a man who appreciated me correcting them.”  Just as people do not like correction, neither do organizations –which consist of people.  This is a simple truth of human relations that dead-ends have not learned.  They are not aware that they must establish a proper amount of “right” to speak into people’s lives before issuing rebuke or reproof.  Rather, they live in a world of “the way things should be”, and people should appreciate opportunities to improve.  Unfortunately, the dead-ender is often wrong in their assessments because their judgments are clouded by their own disappointments with the organization.

That being said, “no one has ever erected a monument to a critic” (Zig Ziglar). There seems to be many Christians in the world who act is if it is God’s calling on their lives is to go about pointing out what is wrong in every situation -as though they are doing the world a favor.  Then when they are rejected and ostracized, suddenly they become “martyrs” of the truth.  They are further convinced that they simply “tell it like it is” and people do not want to hear the truth.  The sadness of such situations is that this is the story of every martyr; hence the reason they are put to death…

There is nothing unique or talented of people who are able to find fault.  Rather, people who can “encourage” solutions in such a way that others follow them away from fault, now there is something special that organizations will embrace.  To approach this situation any other way is to follow the path of a “dead-end”.


If you have a past of dead-ending, here is an action plan for changing rout

Upon making first impressions with the church (organization) make no mention of your spiritual gifts.  Christians like to discover these gifts within their fellowships.  If you really have a gift, it will surface.  However, there are a few things that you can do to aid discovery.

1) During group interactions such as small groups, suppers, Sunday school, etc. when given the opportunity to speak tell a story about situations in the past where you are discovered for having a talent (only one, don’t overdo it).  It may seem like this is a bit taxing, but time and again it is observed that Christians do not like for others to announce their gifts.  They are more accepting when they discover these traits personally.  By telling stories of accomplishments, they are given the hint without making it obvious.  Note: there is nothing unethical about this approach.  It is merely packaging your message in a manner that is more likely to be received.  A pastor would not show up on Sunday to preach in a bathing suit.  Why, because it would hinder the delivery of his message.  The same principle applies here, it is just less obvious to the general population.

2) Volunteer to serve the organization; however, be careful here.  Often dead-enders are only willing to serve in the areas that aid their agendas.  If you take this attitude it will work against you because people will notice in a negative way.  Instead, try to volunteer for tasks that will bring you as close as possible to your goals; however, do not turn down other opportunities to serve.  Helping in any area send the message to members and leadership alike that you are interested in the organization’s purpose.  This generates is the potential to meet the right people to help you accomplish your own goals.

3) If these above methods do not begin to generate opportunities within the course of a year, you may consider moving on to a new organization.  It is possible that you have made poor impressions, or that you are simply in a closed environment.


How Churches Can Respond to Dead-Enders

Leaders need to understand that dead-enders are unaware of their problem.  Therefore, they should be given a little grace for their social ignorance.  Seek to discover their agendas and help them to see the organization’s (church’s) goals in terms of their interests.  Talk to them about serving to gain experience, internships, etc., but explain that they must first serve in other places to show the people that they love them.  Explain that this allows them to establish the relationships necessary to building “trust” and the right to speak into their lives. Take them under your wing and begin mentoring them to understand the church’s culture.  In a short time it will become evident as to whether or not they are responding well.  If they do not embrace the process, expect that they will attend, then they will sporadically miss attendance to see if you notice, then they will inevitably leave.  This is all a part of ministry.  Embrace the challenge.