Leadership vs. The Jonah Complex


I said last week that we need two conversions: One from the world to God, and Two, from the Church to the world. (We don’t leave God behind as we try to be “salt and light”, as Jesus said, for the world.)

When I was student-pastoring a church in South Dakota I decided to enter a bar to try to minister to the patrons there, even though I might be criticized by church members. (Didn’t Jesus make friends with alcoholics, prostitutes and other “low-lifes”?) Years later, in Fresno California, I found out that, as in many cities, churches were often deciding to plant daughter churches in, or even move to, the wealthy north side of town, away from the grime and crime of the inner city. Why? Simple: that’s where the money was, and the people would feel safer there.

But I felt closer to God while ministering to jail inmates than I did when sitting in church! (I still do!) I also felt energized, as I seldom did in worship services, perhaps seeing the needs for ministry, and imagining how I could help.

The droll story of Jonah shows first the power and danger of imperative thinking, and then how it was replaced with reflective thinking, through which the heart of God is seen. Like the prophet of old, I have at times had what’s called “The Jonah Complex.” Psychologists have used this term to refer to people shrinking back rather than living up to their potential and following their dreams.

Have you ever shrunk back  from the highest and best you thought life or God or destiny were calling you towards?     If so, what did that feel like? (It’s the opposite of leadership.)

No one should really blame you, Jonah,
for wanting to flee.
Ninevah was in Assyria, after all, home of
cruelty incarnate.

Who would want to preach to Israel’s ancient evil enemy, even a warning of destruction?
Maybe you believed the date of judgment  would turn  into an appointment with grace, and for you, disappointment.
Or were you merely reluctant to rise to the occasion?  
Maybe you knew you couldn’t face God’s call to caring.                                                        

Why darkness may be preferred is seldom apparent.
“The heart has its reasons. . .” said Pascal.
No doubt racism was one, fear another,                                    
the comfort of the known one more: all led to fleeing.                        
Sailing away stirred up a storm; Nature revolted; feeling undone.                   

(Note below)
Who wouldn’t flee with you, old Jonah?
We cling to what we think we know,
and get swallowed by the dark,
‘till God does Easter work on us below.    —HPK

If taken literally, the story doesn’t make much sense. But taken symbolically, it represents Israel’s refusal to take their calling and ministry to the world seriously, thereby getting swallowed up in darkness. It’s funny, too; Jonah pouts like a spoiled child as he thinks, after Ninevah is spared: “I knew you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

The Jonah story has been called a great missionary tract, designed to confront the people of Israel with their duty to be a light to the nations. But it is so true to life! We probably  do not pout because God shows how gracious and compassionate he is, but often we can be like the older brother in the Prodigal Son story, (Luke 15) pouting and angry when God seems to unfairly love bad people when we have worked so hard all our lives to serve him. (As if love is a pie, with only so many pieces to go around; common problem in families.)

NOTE: If you have an interest in ministering to inmates, ex-inmates, or surrenderees, please contact me at hpkuipe81@gmail.com or at 09206330016. A half-way house/recovery center is badly needed in this area.