Rules And NO




When you are part of a church or organisation, it is always hard when you ask for something and are told that you will not get what you ask for. You may be asking for funding for a project that you are passionate about, or it may for something that has to do with a personal need or the need of another person. The problem becomes more difficult to bear if the organisation we are working for is one where there is no class difference and the method of doing work is that of agreeing together or what we may call consensus.


In organisations with a class difference there is a clear demarcation between the bosses and the so-called “subordinates.” The boss’ word is law and is not to be questioned. When the boss decides; that is it! People get used to living in such a culture and resign themselves to the fact that they are at the mercy of the will of their leader. In a group where the members have the freedom to question and express disagreement, the pain of rejection is more marked because people expect their opinions and desires to be taken seriously. They are used to speaking about their needs and even expressing disapproval of the actions of their leaders. I believe this is the biblical model. But it hurts when, though you live in an environment where you can express your feelings, your request is rejected.



Excessive Reactions to Rejection


People who have not had many things they like during their youth and have struggled because of that, find great significance after they become Christians and realize that they are fellow-inheritors, with other Christians, of the riches of God’s kingdom. But the scars of the wounds received during their years of poverty and need remain. When an appeal for funds for a project is rejected, subconsciously something is triggered that touches those wounds of childhood. And the person whose request is rejected, usually acts with deep pain and sometimes anger. This is inevitable.


Two other groups of people who react excessively when their requests are rejected. First are those who were always given what they asked for. They have not got used to the habit of crucifying their desires, so when their request is refused they do not have the strength to bear the rejection. The other group are those who have often been treated badly when they asked for something. Both hate rejection—the first group because they are not used to rejection and the second group because rejection is associated with bad memories.


All these people see rejection as a personal attack on them.


What if parents and teachers had always acted fairly and the children had learned to trust their judgements? They know that the “No” of their parents and teachers was for their good, and they become people who are used to receiving good “Nos”. Such people quickly recover from the initial disappointment when a project is rejected.



Learning to Accept that Rules are Good


It will take time for people with bad experiences of “No” to accept in their hearts that rules are good even when they result in their plans being rejected. But what if they consistently see good people saying “No”? They may come to accept that rules bring stability to the organisation. Then, if they are people who are sensitive to God, they could little by little learn to accept the “Nos” that come their way. Even if the decision to reject the plan was wrong, the believer knows that God will turn that also into something good, in keeping with his promise. That helps him to bear the pain of rejection.  


Some people refuse to be healed. The fact that they have not been treated well is part of their identity. It gives them an excuse for their anger and for the fact that they have not progressed in life as they wished to. They take on the attitude of “righteous victims,” and become unpleasant people hurting others as they go along.



The Responsibilities of Leaders


When people are angry that their request is denied they will often express the anger to the official who is communicating the refusal. This could result in the official getting hurt. Then, out of his hurt, he can also begin to act rudely. That aggravates the problem as both parties end up becoming rude to each other. This kind of scenario could contribute to the growth of a culture of discontent within the organisation. Leaders must discipline themselves to control their anger and always act and speak politely and to explain the reason for the refusal carefully in spite of the hostility faced.


So it is essential that the person saying “No” always does so respectfully. If there is a hint of disrespect when the rejection is communicated, then the personal animosity to rejection resurfaces and results in hurt which is difficult to heal. People communicating the rejection often become rude because they themselves are nervous. They anticipate an angry response and that influences their attitude and tone of talking. What a vicious cycle! A person reacts rudely anticipating hostility, and he experiences the anticipated hostile response.


If the need for the refused funds is great and the cause is a worthy one, then leaders can attempt to personally raise funds for the project or make a sacrifice and help using their own personal resources. Organisations have rules, but Christian individuals are always willing to go the second mile. A leader may refuse to approve a project, but then without ending the conversation abruptly he could discuss with the person other ways to meet the need. Christian leaders are servants of those they lead. They always want the best for them. Jesus asked us to go the second mile on behalf of strangers. How much more committed should leaders be to the people of whose shepherd they are. Good shepherds lay down their lives for their sheep (John 10:11).


In the Bible righteousness includes mercy. Therefore biblical justice does not simply slap the law on helpless people without thinking of their need and backgrounds. It is what has been called “generous justice” where justice and mercy meet in keeping with God’s righteousness. I believe that helping needy people beyond the rules of the organisation or church fits in with this biblical ideal of generous justice.


We must also remember that the freedom to express anger is an important aspect of a healthy family. While bitter outbursts of anger with insulting and hurtful words are not acceptable, when those who are committed to a group are angry about something that is happeningin the group, they must express their anger. If you do not get angry when your family hurts you, there is something wrong in your relationship with your family. Actually people who are angry but do not express it are much more dangerous to the group than those who express anger. Their attitude helps breed disharmony and unpleasantness in the group. There is something lacking in their commitment to the group. The freedom to express anger is one of the things that bind one to the group.


I remember going to Youth for Christ International gatherings early in my ministry and being surprised at how leaders from some countries would speak heatedly about issues. Soon I realised that this is part of the ethos of our movement. I realised that YFC was a group that people found difficulty in leaving because it had truly become their family. Soon I found that there were heated arguments in our leadership team meetings also. I would often be hurt by the things said. But I knew that giving people the freedom to express anger over something that is happening communicates the message that they are important to the group. Though this is initially painful for the one who receives the angry blows, soon that pain is overcome as dialogue results in a resolution to the problem.


When people express anger over something that has happened, even if the leaders think that it is unfair and expressed in an inappropriate manner, they must respond to it with all seriousness. The word used for the murmuring over the distribution of provisions to the Grecian widows in Acts 6:1 is a word that expresses much unpleasantness. There was unpleasant complaining in the body of Christ. But the leaders regarded it with utmost seriousness and responded to it immediately. We have to create a culture in our groups where it is understood that people have the freedom to speak up and that their protests would be regarded with seriousness.


Sometimes I have heard people say that they will not share because the leaders will take revenge on them if they point out problems to them. Sadly, this is a common idea among many people. If leaders have given this impression, they must do all they can to change that. If they do harm those who complain, then they should repent of their ways and change their way of responding. If they cannot do that they have disqualified themselves from Christian leadership. Indeed leaders will be hurt. But they battle the hurt and plead with God to help them to be fair in their response, for that is the will of God. If they are too weak to overcome the hurt and treat the complainer fairly, again they disqualify themselves from Christian leadership.


One of the biggest scandals facing the church in Asia today is the anger that junior workers have towards their senior leaders. We must do all we can to remedy this sad state of affairs. A first step would be for leaders go the second mile on behalf of their younger people.



Restoring the Honour of Rules


A key to the restoration of the honour of rules is for top leaders to follow the rules. Rules remind people of how small they are. They have memories of being deprived of good things while powerful people received those. In our part of the world, big people do not have to submit to rules. When “ordinary people” go over the speed limit by a little, they are charged a fine. When an influential person goes over it by a lot, they get away scot free. Some have lived with anger over that kind of unfair discrimination all their life. There was one way they could get away; and that was to pay a bribe to the officer charging them. But as Christians they cannot do that; and that makes them even more angry. So when they are inconvenienced because of rules it gives an occasion for them to nurture their anger about the injustice in the world.


What if they see leaders who carefully follow the rules? What if their leaders refuse to go to the front of the queue when they are asked to? What if they cordially accept the rejection of their projects? Seeing the top leaders follow rules will give others the sense that that rules are a part of the stability of the organisation. That makes it easier for them to bear when their requests are rejected because of the procedures of the organisation.


Sometimes I get hurt when YFC refuses me the permission to spend some of the money I have earned through my speaking and writing ministry on a project. My first reaction is to say that I earned this money and I should be given permission to spend it as I wish. But I know that this very thing which deprives me of fulfilling some of my desires is the thing that gives stability to our organisation. So even if I feel they have been unfair in their refusal, I drop the matter.


In Sri Lanka we are seeing the havoc caused by leaders not following the rules of organisational accountability. They may use the funds of their organisations or churches for their pet projects without the full backing of the body, sometimes claiming that God told them to do this project. They may break the rules of responsible financial accountability in the reporting of their expenditure.


I have found that generally YFC staff workers are proud of the financial accountability that is found in our organisation. They are proud of the fact that their leaders also submit to the rules and refuse to live as people belonging to a different class to the rank and file. They know that the leaders do not become rich from gifts given to them even though they have the opportunity to do so. But when these same rules are used to reject a proposal that they present, many get really mad! That is an inevitable reaction as nobody enjoys rejection. But my prayer is that as they mature these staff will learn that it is a good thing to have good people in the organisation who are not afraid to say “No.”


All of this is possible

  • when leaders also keep submitting themselves to the accountability provided by the rules of the organisation;
  • when they talk to their staff politely and respectfully;
  • when they resist the temptation to resort to the CEO model where they give orders which others must obey without any opportunity to question or object; and
  • when they adopt the biblical idea of costly commitment to the community and its members in an age that is too impatient to endure the inconvenience and pain that such commitment requires.


One last question…. Will the model of leadership advocated above work in the business world? I think it is worth trying! God’s principles provide the best way to lead any group of people whether they are Christians or not. But the church is not part of the business world. We most importantly have to biblical; and being biblical has always taken Christians along paths that are different to the ways of the world.