Now that we’ve established the role of a mentor and the role of a mentee let’s go into a more detailed discussion of the field of “self-protection.” In this article I’m going to answer the question I posed in the title, “What is ‘Self-Protection?’”
You see, I use that term because “self-defense” is too narrow a term to describe what I teach and how I mentor. My time as an ordained minister has broadened my definition of “self-protection.” I’ve heard my role as a minister defined as that of a janitor, something I’ve decided is far more accurate than any definition that I’ve heard since I began the process to become a minister.
Here’s what I mean: I warn others not to do something or they’ll make a mess of things. Then, having ignored my warnings and pleadings, they wind up in the predicament I tried to get them to avoid. Next, they come to me and discuss the mess, and I begin the process of cleaning it up, sometimes with them and other times in spite of them. Then, sometimes we repeat the process, and other times, we move on to other potential messes.
I describe my role as a pastor with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, mind you. I actually don’t mind this process at all, otherwise I’d find something else to do with my life. I like helping people and I like teaching, irrespective of what it is I’m teaching.
But that’s not actually why I bring up my experience in pastoral ministry and use it as a way to define “self-protection.” The reason I bring up my experience is because my definition of “self-protection” has been expanded greatly during my ministry years. And I’ve come to the realization that my role as a “self-protection mentor” is far broader than merely teaching someone how to fight.
Let me use myself as both a good and bad example. From late-August of 2012 until the mid-May 2016 I pastored a small church in a rural community. This group had split off of a much larger denomination and needed a new minister since their founding minister had health issues. I stepped in and began working to move things forward while at the same time not rocking the boat with new ideas too quickly.
I had what I thought was, at the time, two fellow elders who would work with me to achieve a new level of community outreach and involvement. I thought that, while we may have had some difference, that these were merely philosophical differences about which we’d agree to disagree so that we could work as a team, for the good of the church and the town. As time would tell, I could not have been more mistaken, about all manner of things.
After about six months on the job one of my elders began to nitpick things that I said or did. Truthfully, it began long before that, but I only began to see it after about six months into the process. I was a young minister, relatively speaking (39 years old) and this was my first solo pastorate (I’d been on staff at another church prior to this), and I thought that this elder was trying to be helpful, showing me some things that I could do better, and that it was merely a difference in how we interacted with people that was the issue.
When I spoke with my wife about it, she expressed frustration about his ways, and I agreed, but tried my best to brush it off, for the sake of the ministry. I simply did the best I could to hear him, use what I could of his counsel, and ignore the rest.
We often do this, don’t we? We have a gut feeling, or something that we know needs to change, but we set our views aside, thinking we’re being more helpful, more agreeable, for the sake of the larger mission, whatever that might be? More on that later, let me get back to my story.
What these “minor nitpicks” led to was a full-blown attack and assault on me and my ministry. It became clear in how this man treated my in private, which was far different than how he treated me publicly, was that once he saw that I wasn’t going to do things exactly the way he said, as he said them and when he said them, he decided that I had to go.
Now, I’m not making this up, nor am I imagining it; this was his admission in private meetings with the other elder and myself, as well as later, when he was confronted by other elders from other churches. He made it clear, when pressed, that once he saw that I had firm convictions and would live by those convictions rather than be manipulated and coerced into action, he decided to push me out.
The whole time this was going on there were effects from his attacks that were impacting my personal life, my professional life, and the relationship between my wife and me. This man, who lived an hour away, bombarded with me with numerous emails, texts, and phone calls, all under the guise of “just trying to help.” It was like he tried to contact me every time a thought entered his head. I wondered for a time if he had some sort of disorder, it got so bad.
This man’s message could change the course of my day, affect how I got work done or got distracted, and even how my wife and I related to one another. It was like his super power was being annoying. For a season of time it was really an odd thing, and while my wife’s gut reaction was that he needed to butt out (and mine was, too), we thought that this was just one of those odd relationships I was told about in seminary that you couldn’t avoid. People had different personalities and skill sets and you had to find a way to work together.
Eventually, though, I saw that it was a tactic. It was a calculated, orchestrated ploy to drive me away that he readily admitted about two and a half years in. At a meeting of the elders (there were 3 of us) he said, “Once you move on, I’ll hire a retired military chaplain who doesn’t need as much money, and that way we can save up to call another full-time pastor a few years later.”
As strange as it may seem I managed to work alongside this guy for another two years. Finally I had reached a point where I saw that this wasn’t something I could avoid confronting. So, in our form of church government, I had the ability to reach out to other elders in our area for assistance. They graciously offered to help me find a way to work together to salvage the work of the church and even try to find a way to work together as elders.
What wound up happening during those meetings and communications was that this elder’s actions were discovered and called what they were, namely spiritual abuse. This man had used his relationship as a leader in the church to manipulate and try to force me to bend to his will. What’s worse is that he poisoned the congregation against not only me and my ministry but also the other elders who’d stepped in to help us.
When it became obvious that this man had developed a cult of personality the other elders and I reached the sad conclusion that it was time for me to resign and leave them to themselves. The group left our denomination so that they would not be held accountable for my full severance package or for their refusal to listen to anyone who dared disagree with their friend, my abuser.
Of course, there is much more to the story than what I’m sharing, arguments, threats, manipulation, and lies that are documented and preserved. And to be fair, I could’ve handled things differently. I could’ve reached out for help sooner, I could’ve not suppressed my and my wife’s gut instincts, and I could’ve probably been more assertive to this man’s face, since he saw my lack of a desire for face to face altercations as weakness. I simply listened to his attempts to control me, nodded (either face to face or digitally), and did what I was convinced would be the best for the congregation.
To a degree some of my actions were responses to his mental abuse and gaslighting (we’ll discuss that in another article). I’ll also lay out more of the lessons learned as time goes on, but for now, I want to let you know, based on this situation, why I expanded my definition beyond “self-defense” and the physical side of things to a more realistic term of “self-protection.”
The way that I might be a good example, and indeed the reason I want to offer my services to you through my Self-Protection Study Group, is that I became aware of the fact that I was being abused, and I reached out for help.
You see, I want to be a guide for you through your own self-protection journey. My primary focus is the physical side of things but it's not limited to the physical training side of the issue.
Self-protection could include fighting but is not limited to physical fighting. Self-protection included setting up boundaries so that you have clear guidelines for how you interact with people, for their good and for yours.
It’s guarding your heart and your time so that you aren’t easily manipulated by people to do their bidding and not what you’ve decided is in your own best interests. It is prioritizing your own mental, physical, and emotional health. It means learning and applying martial strategies in other areas of your life to promote a peaceful existence.
Simply put, self-protection is learning and applying the lessons of physical martial strategies in every area of your life in such a way as to promote a peaceful existence. During the process of learning self-protection there will be successes and failures but the important thing to recognize is that the journey is as important as the destination.
In my next article I'll lay out some of the "lessons learned" from my own lack of self-protection and what some of the consequences might be for you, as well. I'm confident that you'll understand just how vital self-protection is.
Until next time,