February 28, 2009 at 6:53 am (change, Feedback Received, Introspection, Leadership, Musings, Social Networking) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I was listening to an interview with a NYT reporter who had spent some time in Afghanistan.  He talked about the chaos and the violence.  He talked about the tribes and the warlords.  It was quite interesting, to hear from someone who has walked in the streets of a place so war torn.

Fresh Air from WHYY, February 25, 2009 · New York Times foreign correspondent Dexter Filkins reports that the Taliban are waging an increasingly aggressive campaign in Afghanistan — a fact evidenced by a 40 percent increase in Afghan civilian deaths in 2008.

Filkins said that Afghanistan is now the leading producer of opium in the world.  He said that the president of the country is really no more than the mayor of Kabul.  The warlords and tribes have taken over the country.  They have established “cooperative” agreements with one another – a sort of, let bygones be bygones arrangement.  However, the US and allied forces have become their common enemy.  They work together to push back against the invading army.

The one thing I found fascinating was the religious zeal of the Taliban.  Here is a group of religious conservatives.  They hold strongly to the laws of Islam, but at the same time are unkind, vindictive, and killing others.  They produce opium to support their armies, and they are oppressive to women, children, and anyone they deem to be against them.  I can’t seem to wrap my mind around this.

It was at this point that I had an epiphany.  In many ways, church is like Afghanistan.  We have thought leaders, people of influence, who have gathered their own tribe (clique?) around them.  Some have great influence and others have very little.  Some are well respected, while some are shown respect, but in reality have little political capital.  These thought leaders have, over time, learned to cooperate and not encroach on other’s territory.

One of these church elders told me, “Well, [he] and I don’t see eye-to-eye, but we’ve learned to get along.”  Another told me, “I don’t really trust [him], but we’re good friends.”  And still another told me, “Ever since he [did this], I will never trust him again.  But we get along great!”

Coming in as a relative new comer, I can feel the tension.  Everyone acts as if they are great friends, but in reality, they have just learned to operate with informal treaties.  These leaders have their own cliques and they rarely steal followers from another.  Some are based on philosophy, some on theology, some on cultural differences, and some on a mutual survival strategy.  But each little tribe is very aware of loyalty issues surrounding the various members.

It’s all handled in an outwardly fun display of good humor, but there are obvious pressures put on tribal members to conform, cooperate, and pick a team.  Those that wander from tribe to tribe are seen as spies.  Those that have not chosen a tribe are viewed as losers.  Those that are faithful to the tribal leader are given much power and respect within the group.

Some tribes are family oriented, with a matriarch or patriarch.  These family groups are seen as benign and without the political moxy to influence the greater church.  Some groups center around socio-economic social commonalities.  But common to all the groups is the safety in numbers, herding instinct.

What really saddens me is that the majority of the church is not in a tribe.  They are a loose collection of people.  Some too wounded to belong, some too broken to get up out of the pit they’re in, others are too independent to submit to another’s leadership, and still others are so discouraged and disenfranchised to even care about the workings of others.  What saddens me about all of this is the relative indifference shown by the various tribes and their leaders.  There seems to be no attempts to be inclusive and to embrace the so-called “losers.”

Until the tribes learn to work through their differences, prayerfully, biblically, and with great grace and love, I don’t see a solution.  Their pride keeps them from repenting, and their fear keeps them from letting go of the pride.

As an outsider who has come in to unify the church, breakdown the barriers to growth, and seek better outreach and service opportunities in the community, I am often viewed as the evil invader – and a likely target that helps the tribes to have a common goal.



  1. Brent Logan said,

    You’re not an evil invader, just a leader of a competing tribe.

  2. Mt. Tabor Vistas said,

    Indeed. If I was given the same level and respect as the US Military, I wonder how that would change perspectives? I think you’re right – and in many ways, maybe the “Survivor metaphor may be better suited: “Outwit, Outplay, & Outlast

  3. Brent Logan said,

    Pick your battles carefully. Many aren’t worth fighting. I think that’s what the other tribal leaders have concluded.

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