Riding Fences

I’ve come across some people who are trying to figure out how to wrap their brains around a certain company. I don’t blame them – I’ve struggled with it myself!

You see, this company, which is organized legally as a for-profit, has a lot of contracted people who consider the service they’re providing for the company is a ministry opportunity.

In the name of a ministry opportunity, folks are working many, many more hours than they receive compensation for, providing services like tutoring and counseling they aren’t trained to provide, and in some cases even meals and workshops in order to serve the growth mindset of the company.

They’re happy to do so. They don’t understand why this would be a problem, and they are fairly condescending toward anyone who might feel differently. Some claim that because of this company, people are redeeming two generations of education at once, understanding more about Truth, Goodness and Virtue than ever before, and building relationships that are deep and true and phenomenal.

Those are pretty compelling arguments for the good of said company.

I know the company well. It’s had almost a decade of my own sacrificial efforts and the majority of my closest friends were made through the community orchestrated by the company.

When I professionally worked for the company I would recruit people into leadership positions using Scripture references and casting a vision of Biblical servanthood. In fact, I had one precious friend say, “I always dreaded it when {I} would say, ‘I think you should do this… just pray about it and see what you think,’ because I knew what the Holy Spirit was going to say!”

The reality? I did believe that God had His hand on the company and we were the workers harvesting the fields that were ready.

I also had to use the “spiritual card” because I knew that every single person would put FAR more hours into the position than they would ever have a glimmer of compensation. I made around $300 – for a YEAR’S work – my first year, and my team members in our rural area were routinely the lowest paid in the organization (yet they did the same if not more work than other areas).

I had no issue with talking the Biblical talk because the people around me also spoke the Christian-ese and it was a valuable way to communicate. We genuinely believed our efforts were making a difference in redeeming a corrupt culture.

But now that I’ve had a little time out of the rank and file of the organization, I’ve been convicted that I was wrong, really wrong, to mix ministry and business the way I did.

I just didn’t know any better. That’s what all of us did.

As a result of that series of unfortunate and painful events that led to my family’s departure from the company, this spring I went back and read every contract I could get my hands on from this company. I’d never done that before! (Despite being the one issuing those contracts on behalf of the company!) {Hanging head in shame.}

What I discovered in doing this contract review is that there are many, many items of “how we do business here” practices, woven deeply into the cultural fabric of the company, that are founded in a non-profit, ministry-oriented business model.

Yet, because the organization is legally set up as a for-profit company, those expectations are actually illegal for the contractors and licensees to require. In some (many?) cases, those “normal business operations” for the company violate local, state, and/or federal laws.

Ruh Roh.

These are things I had never questioned. These are things I never would have questioned if I hadn’t run up against unsavory state leadership that forced my hand into researching copiously.

I wasn’t looking for trouble. When I found it, it made me literally sick. (I’ve shared it here before, but to bear to witness to the shock of the events, during the season of discovery I stopped sleeping more than 2-3 hours a night, broke out in hives, and was emotionally in a rough space.)

Once I saw those questionable things, I couldn’t unsee them. As much as I wish I could look the other way and pretend they don’t exist… they do.

And because I have been so very publicly outspoken in my support and recruitment into leadership in this company in the past… I know I’d be ashamed of myself if I didn’t try to publicly right the wrongs I’ve personally promoted.

Because of this conviction, because I’ve “gone public,” I’ve tarnished my reputation. People I’ve never met are gossiping about me. Previous team leaders have told my previous co-workers I’m operating as a tool of Satan, others say I’m possessed by a spirit of the Anti-Christ. People think I’ve had a mental break down, that I’m overcome by vengeance, that I’ve stopped caring for my children and family because I’m obsessed with taking down the system.

Breaking News! Don’t believe everything you hear.

I’m spending my summer working on curriculum development, gardening, experimenting with goat’s milk recipes, and loving on my family. Not running eight practicums over two states has been liberating and it’s the first summer in seven I feel like I’m actually present instead of caught up in a flurry of spreadsheets and detail management!

So here I am. Spending my free time flinging words of discord and division around like confetti in the name of Truth, praying for insight and wisdom, and doing my best through a few blog posts to encourage people to ask questions that will help them decide what will be best for their own families.

Now that I’ve given a little bit of backstory for the new readers, I’d like to address a question I’ve gotten from more than one person who seems to believe that I’m furious and emoting anti-Christ venom simply because this “Christian” corporation is organized as a “for profit.”

Long story short: I don’t care how the company is organized. Really, I don’t.

I’m not at all furious about profit vs. non-profit. I consider organizing as a profit to be quite clever.

(There are really good reasons to organize as a for profit company in this country, and the first and probably most important is that if you want to retain controlling interest in a corporation, you don’t incorporate as a non-profit because being a non-profit requires you to share the control of a company with a governing board!)

Let’s review: This company was the brain child of one woman! When I gave Information Meetings, I never spoke about “the board” of the company, I always told the personal, inspirational story of one woman and her desire to have community and accountability for her own children and their attempts to home educate from a classical perspective!

This one woman’s business model was presented in an entrepreneurial business competition and won $1,500 in 2001 and this company now provides employment for all of her family members – from children to wives, etc. – and let’s face it, there’s nothing else like it and the idea has been like a breath of fresh air into an arena where people were craving community!

The whole shebang is her idea. She owns it.

We have all just been part of her dream.

My real problem is that somewhere along the way (possibly because the majority of the people who participated in the business growth were wives of pastors and people of faith who resonated with the slogan “To Know God and Make Him Known”?):

The expectations that one would have of a business got convoluted with the expectations one would have of a ministry opportunity.

The clear became muddy.

Thus, because people were so entranced with verbage like, “Our job is to set the captives free,” and “We don’t dispose of people,” and “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called,” things got a lot questionable about whether this company was a company… or a ministry.

Maybe this started as an entrepreneurial venture, but over time, in the same way that the Dread Pirate Roberts transitioned his crew when he wanted to pass the torch to a new Captain in The Princess Bride, new folks got involved and talked about this organization for Christians that meets at the church every week and wants to Know God and make Him Known with the same vocabulary terms they use for church and Bible Study.

Then others got involved and, truthfully, they loved the ministry aspect of the activities much more than the business! So that’s what they focussed on in their conversations when they recruited new members.

So on and so forth… until eventually most people never even knew that at the root of all of the starry-eyed passion there was a traditional business that was directly profiting the owners of the company and everyone else was helping build that family’s American dream!

“No one’s getting rich here” is still a true rallying cry of the servant leaders on a local and even state level. (Maybe higher?)

Those servant leaders believe in the party line, the vision, the commitment to the long haul dream of a well-educated child… and so when it comes out that the entrepreneurial family at the top actually makes millions off of the dollars the average homeschool mama squeezes out of her grocery budget… well it doesn’t feel so good to those who have been selflessly serving in the name of ministry.

Some might argue with me that there is no deception, and I would, I think, agree that this deception wasn’t an intentional outcome. But the confusion definitely exists and is not corrected promptly and fervently by company corporate leadership. To correct the misinformation would alienate the bulk of the participants who want to believe that they are participating in a ministry effort.

For anyone who questions if what I’m saying is true: If everyone is aware the activities of the company are NOT a ministry… why do so many people regularly state that their hours of investment into the organization serve as their own family’s ministry of service to homeschoolers? Why do they expect to get service hours for their teen helpers during summer conferences?

(I’m just gonna propose – instead of sacrificing your own family on a weekly basis to the effort of managing science and art supplies…. if you want to invest in a ministry to homeschoolers… why not run a monthly date night program for families where you have a fun and safe environment where the kids can be while Mama Bear and Papa Bear get to finish a conversation without interruption for once?!)

To be honest, I don’t see a similar confusion in regard to the business operations of other for-profit companies… people don’t volunteer at WalMart or Chuck E Cheese.

You know what else? Licensees for a business opportunity usually aren’t controlled to the degree that if they do anything out of line they are told they are possessed by Satan or walking with the Evil One.

Is your salvation truly at stake as a local leader if the tutors you contract don’t attend all three days of a training session? Is your Christian walk really compromised if you don’t keep to crisp, 30 minute segments of presentations?

Of course not. That’s nonsense that we’ve been told by leaders and it is illogical.

Does the nuance of what I’m saying make sense? Do you see the spiritual overstep that has been accepted as a normal way of doing business that is out of line for a ministry organization but sincerely bizarre for a for profit business?!

You see, there is a difference in the way businesses and ministries run.

Businesses pay people to run their marketing events in accordance with what the company thinks that worker’s value is to the profit-earning potential of the event. Ministries ask people to volunteer their kids as teen helpers and hedge at firm numbers of how much each position might get paid based on a variety of factors.

Businesses tell their contractors it’s normal to sign paperwork for their franchise as an LLC, not sole proprietors. (Well, to be honest, if they exert franchise control they actually set up franchise contracts rather than licensees!) Businesses train their staff members to know the laws of their locality because it protects their partners. Ministries say, “I’m sure it will be ok,” and pray God will protect them because their heart is in the right place and love covers a multitude of sins.

When businesses ask their contractors to travel, they provide a per diem and a hotel. Ministries ask people to donate food, vehicles, and housing without hesitation to cut costs at every opportunity.

Businesses require that anyone working with children go through a background check and get fingerprinted for a national registry of sex offenders. Ministries say, “Oh, I’m sure it will be okay, they don’t seem… questionable… to me at all.”

Businesses agree upon a standard fee for facility rental for a marketing event. Ministries ask the attendees for a love offering and hope that will cover facility cost of the air conditioning bill and the cost of the plumber to come and unclog the toilet a kid shoved six rolls of paper down on day two of the event.

Businesses know their contracts and train their staff members to understand what is lawful and what is not. Ministries contract anyone with a heart to serve and set them loose with little guidance and trust that God will cover the details.

Businesses are careful not to discriminate regarding marital status during a hiring process because that triggers questionable intent regarding Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Ministries regularly interview the spouse of an applicant during their contracting process to make sure there’s a “good fit.”

These are just a few items that I’ve seen where what could be clear becomes muddy. This list could go on for much, much longer.

There is a fence dividing ministry and business in our country. We don’t really think about it a lot of the time because we have acknowledged and normalized that difference.

For example, we don’t expect the same level of service from a teen at a youth group fundraising dinner that we expect of a server at the restaurant we visit for our anniversary. We recognize the difference in a business and a ministry without a hitch in this scenario.

However, the workers of one company in particular are straddling this business/ministry fence with one foot clearly on the side of numbers and profits, territories and contacts, and business ethics and another foot planted on the other side, where people are guilted into giving sacrificially for the benefit of their kids, from a desire to serve, and/or because they believe it brings glory to God.

The bad press is coming out because there’s an identity struggle and the company has yet to decide which way they want to jump. Someone needs to choose one side of the fence or the other or their people will keep catching the heat.

Because you know that’s what they say about riding fences, right?

“Anyone who rides a fence is bound to get splinters.”

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5 thoughts on “Riding Fences

  • July 2, 2019 at 6:24 am
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    So well written. It is so painful to me to realize the ways that I was taken advantage of by the machine of this company. I gave up my own precious time with my children to “serve” others, but ultimately send tens of thousands up the line to the family.

    This has been the best summer ever. Not only am I not working my tail off for the corporation, I am also not spending hours and hours trying to supplement their curriculum for next year to fill in all the holes and provide some context to what sometimes feels like random memory work.

    Reading this truly made me feel a pit in my stomach as to the spiritual abuse practiced by those entrenched to get others to pretty much work for free. To allow their own families to be ignored and suffer for the good of this “ministry”. It is time for everyone to wake up and realize that it is not a ministry and there are people getting rich – my guess is tens of millions a year on the back of your service. Jesus never intended our service to be for the HUGE monetary profitability of a few. That is not biblical servanthood. We must stop calling it that.

    Reply
    • July 3, 2019 at 6:24 am
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      This has been my best summer in years as well!

      Reply
  • July 2, 2019 at 7:26 am
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    It actually is truth, beauty, and goodness.
    I do not see Chick-fil-A or Hobby Lobby asking for volunteers at events.

    Reply
  • July 2, 2019 at 2:48 pm
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    You really have a way with words.
    Clear, unemotional, easy to read.

    As I think of some of the ways I live my life, in order to protect and keep my children safe. I shudder at the thought of leaving my kids with adults that I know nothing about.

    I have a background check every year I volunteer with AYSO. I never gave it a thought that I, an E&T tutor, was never asked for a background check. Meaning, the other adults present were not asked either.

    I can’t think of any place I leave my children unattended where the adults present aren’t background checked EXCEPT VBS AND the unnamed coop being alluded to.

    Dance, public school, gymnastics, soccer… all adults have been screened.
    VBS, nope. Because I volunteer and haven’t been screened.
    Coop, nope. Because I tutored for 2 years, wasn’t screened.
    AYSO, yup. Every year.
    Dance, yup instructors are livescanned.
    Gymnastics, yup instructors are livescanned.

    This resonates with me.
    The whole article speaks to me.

    Reply
    • July 3, 2019 at 6:23 am
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      My sister is the Educational Psychologist for a school district. We were talking through things and I mentioned that I wasn’t required to do background checks in my community and her reaction was extremely powerful. It made me realize that something I’ve never given a serious thought to is actually a really, really big deal.

      Reply

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