To me, the thing that is worse than death is betrayal. You see, I could conceive death, but I could not conceive betrayal.–Malcolm X
There are a couple of things I have to make clear before I begin the story:
- The story is only from my perspective. Because of this fact, I have only stated things that I know from first hand. Over the last two years I have tried to remove my emotional responses from my memories. That’s an impossible task since memory is created in our seat of emotion in our mind. We remember things that have emotionally affected us, but I’ve tried to edit the emotion out of the telling of the story at any rate.
- The purpose of the story is cautionary for any Christian organization. Although my flesh immediately wanted revenge and to destroy the organization I gave twenty years of my life to, my Spirit only wants to keep other Christians from finding themselves in the same situation.
My wife and I were the first two teachers hired by the small Christian school. Her job was to start the Science Department, mine the English. After we completed our Counseling degrees, I became the Director of Counseling, and she became the first College Guidance director. Over time we also developed a program for students with learning differences. We both continued to teach as we took on new roles. I was in the administrative staff by the second year of the school.
Eventually, when a principal moved on, I suggested that George (not his real name), the third teacher hired, and I become co-principals. We both could contribute to the roles according to our specialties. The Head of School agreed, and we built this professional relationship on our personal friendship.
George and I had known each other since the school started. When his daughter was married, I was there. When I had interactions with parents at the school, I ran my reactions by him. When he discovered marital problems, I was the first person to support him. We were brothers. We were also good administrators. He was slow to respond. I spoke too hastily. I was an open ear to faculty. Faculty often saw him as being detached. We balanced each other.
The problem didn’t start when a new Head of School came. It started before that. Fear set in as enrollment struggled. The Business Manager came to my office and discussed her fear with me. She also discussed her concerns about some of the teachers. One she felt shouldn’t teach PE because she had knee surgery. Another, who also had knee surgery, she criticized because she couldn’t move around the classroom. I was puzzled as to why I was getting a rundown on her opinions when I was the one who observed and evaluated teachers. She finished by saying that she had so much fear that the school would not survive financial problems that she could not sleep at night.
When the new Head of School did come, he spent much of his time with the Business Manager. Then the day came when a meeting was held to discuss the teaching loads of the teachers for the following year. I usually had a huge role in this discussion, but I was not invited to the meeting. George, the Business Manager, and the Head of School met alone. The next day, I discovered that the decision, shared with several staff before it was shared with me, had been made to remove me not only from principal, but from the administration completely. I asked what I had done wrong, but I was told that my performance had been exemplary.
When asked privately what went on in the meeting, George wouldn’t tell me. Apparently, the Head of School wanted one principal and not two, but what made me the one not chosen? No one would explain. I finally met with George and ended our twenty year friendship. He still has not told me what he knows about why things happened the way they did. He’s only told me that it was what the Head of School wanted, and he didn’t feel free to talk to me or my wife about it. When we tried to have a pastor mediate the situation, George refused. I did the last thing I should have done. I joined the fear of the Business Manager. I worried about my $10,000 salary reduction. I made the problem about money. It wasn’t about money.
When it was time for our contracts for the next year, my wife, who had been offered a contract verbally and in writing three times, was not offered one. She was told she acted unprofessionally. She asked whom she had offended. She was not told. Although she had been told there would not be a full time counselor position, a full time counseling position was given to someone with less experience and seniority.
I stayed the following year at my reduced pay as a teacher because there were no other jobs opened for me elsewhere.
The questions never answered were
- What did my wife do that was unprofessional?
- Why did the Head of School and George refuse to meet with us and discuss the situation and those we may have offended?
- Why did the school board not allow us to have outside mediation as designated in our contracts?
- Why did no one seem concerned that my wife had received a verbal contract from the Head of School only to have it withdrawn?
I don’t expect answers. A lawyer told us that the school could be sued for violating contract. There was only one problem. My wife’s new job paid $10,000 more than the old one. To have a case, we would have to prove that we were worse off for having lost the job. Even though the school was culpable, we were better off without it.
As I spoke with other Christians, everyone had either had the same thing happen to them at other Christian organizations, or knew someone who had. One man, I learned, had asked why he wasn’t offered a contract to return to his Christian school. “You know what you’ve done,” was the reply. The man was never told what he had done. Apparently, Christian organizations were doing things that secular ones didn’t dare to.
What did we learn from which Christian organizations could grow? Simply, put
- Talk. Remember that coworkers in a Christian organization are also brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t simply follow what the Business Manager advises. Follow Matthew 18. Why do we look at conflict as something to be avoided instead of an opportunity for betterment?
- Bring the facts into the light. Don’t talk about staff and faculty without their knowledge. If there is a problem with a staff or faculty member, make them part of the solution. In this school’s experience, sin was often hidden. A chaperone of a missions trip committed adultery while on the trip. The parents were never told, and the person is still employed by the school. Sin can’t be buried in a Christian institution.
- Don’t let fear take its grip in the organization. If God wants to close an organization, have faith that he will provide. Don’t worry about salary. God has you covered.
- Don’t let the organization become your faith. Your faith is your faith. Your ministry is your ministry. If God closes it, he will have a ministry for you.
The last word said to me as I left after twenty years of service was that the custodian would clean the floor of my office. No plaque, no party. As time goes on, I will continue to grow in my perspective. For now, I want to know as little as possible about what goes on on the administrative level of my new job.