Stephen W. Smith wrote Inside Job for leaders, leaders who find themselves trying to “climb the slippery, treacherous slope of success,” often falling with a crash and landing in a heap below.
Stephen was once among them. When he began life after graduate school, he says, “I developed an addiction to work that was applauded by every organization I worked for in my career. I was hooked—as every addiction hooks a person.” For Stephen, that work included his service on the mission field.
The solution, he writes, is to redefine success and to prioritize the care of one’s soul, what he calls “the work within the work.” Using the “Great Eight Virtues” listed in 2 Peter 1 as his foundation, in Inside Job Stephen presents the need for emotional and spiritual transformation and fleshes out what must be done to bring it about—”a process of learning, adjusting, repenting and starting anew with courageous convictions.”
The work within the work includes finding rhythm (not balance) in life, saying “no” in light of our limitations, recognizing the need for Sabbath rest, and understanding and managing transitions.
For many of us, this will require a nearly 180-degree turnaround, as we currently function as if the outside work is of ultimate importance. Get that right and the inside will naturally follow. Things in the soul not going well? Work harder for ministry success and everything else will fall into place.
Of course, Stephen knows that missionaries are among the leaders needing inner work. He and his wife, Gwen (an adult TCK for whom Ethiopia was for a time home), previously served as church planters in Europe, and Stephen has pastored a church in the Netherlands. When I asked Stephen about the dangers to the missionary soul, he said that they “are as huge as to anyone else: ego, not knowing how to do conflict—the number-one reason missionaries come home—and past unresolved issues in life that keep trapping and tripping missionaries.”
Stephen writes about a cross-cultural worker who came to him. He had been serving for many years and was suffering from compassion fatigue. “I’m here but I feel like I’m in a coma,” he said. “I’m numb. I fee indifferent to everyone and everything—including God. I don’t even want to care anymore. I don’t have care in me. It’s gone!”
In his role as cofounder (along with Gwen) and president of Potter’s Inn, a ministry dedicated to spiritual formation and soul care, Stephen ministered to this man. Under Stephen’s guidance, the cross-cultural leader allowed “time, a place apart and solitude to do what no other power on earth can do.” Stephen calls this slow process a “trickle charge.” He talks more about trickle charging when he takes up the subject of a rhythm of rest, urging leaders to create times for resting on a weekly, monthly, yearly, and sabbatical time frame.
When it comes to transitions, Stephen understands that they take time, as well. My family and I met Stephen and Gwen a few weeks after we had returned to the States following 10 years living overseas. One of the points they stressed to us in our debriefing was the need to understand that adjusting to our new lives and surroundings could not be rushed.
In his book, Stephen mentions missionaries as an example of people who must navigate a myriad of transitions—between homes, houses, cultures, languages, jobs, schools, friends, and the list goes on. All of this too often happens, he writes, without needed help:
Rare is the church or sending organization that helps a missionary family in transition. Expectations are established that the work is what counts. This has led to devastating statistics in mission organizations forced to look at their retention rates for missionaries who simply are not prepared for the long, hard and challenging transition to life in a new culture, or the transition that takes place when the missionary comes back home. Few missionaries are allowed to process what happened inside them as they did their outside work. Churches and agencies are eager to hear reports of growth, but what about the internal chaos happening in the life of the one who was sent?
Understanding the reality of this chaos was another theme that the Smith’s presented to us. This chaos in the missionary soul often happens as missionaries take great pains to look on the outside as if all is well.
Dealing with that chaos and the other inner challenges of the missionary life takes work, work by the missionary, by the church, by the sending agency, by member-care workers, by family members, and by friends. It’s the inside work that makes the outside work possible. It’s the inside work that allows us to step away from the “treacherous slope of success.” It’s the inside work that can help us after we’ve fallen, to get up and walk a better path.
(Stephen W. Smith, Inside Job: Doing the Work within the Work, IVP, 2015)