PODCAST | Persevering Hope Through Burnout (Feat. Peter Greer and Chris Horst)
In today’s podcast, our Senior Marketing Coordinator, Christa Neidig talks with Peter Greer and Chris Horst from HOPE International. They share about their newest book, The Gift of Disillusionment: Enduring Hope For Leaders After Idealism Fades.
If you are a leader that has felt disillusioned or cynical, this is a great resource to help you journey from idealism to enduring hope. In this conversation, Chris and Peter walk through lessons we can learn from the book of Jeremiah. We hope you enjoy the conversation.
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Welcome to the Vanderbloemen Leadership Podcast. I'm your host, Christa Neidig, senior marketing coordinator here at Vanderbloemen. In today's podcast, I get to talk with Peter Greer and Chris Horst from HOPE International. They share about their newest book, The Gift of Disillusionment: Enduring Hope for Leaders After Idealism Fades. If you're a leader that has felt disillusioned or cynical, this is a great resource to help you journey from idealism to a enduring hope. In this conversation, Chris and Peter walk through lessons we can take away from the Book of Jeremiah. We hope you enjoy the conversation.
Hey everyone. Thanks so much for joining us today. I get to talk to Peter Greer and Chris Horst with HOPE International, and we get to talk about their new book, The Gift of Disillusionment. Thank you all so much for joining me today.
Yeah. Happy to be here.
Thanks for having us.
So you all both have backgrounds with HOPE International. Chris and Peter, I want you to each to share a little bit of your background and introduction for anyone who doesn't know you or what it is you do. And then just some background leading up to this book. Peter, why don't you go ahead and get us started.
Yeah. Thanks Christa. And so just real briefly, we both work for HOPE International. It's a global Christ-centered, micro enterprise development organization serving in 18 countries with microfinance savings groups, small and medium enterprise, and really trying to connect employment, job creation and the hope of Jesus in places of financial poverty around the world. So that is our day job.
But in addition to that, we have the great joy of working together on some writing projects over the years. And I would say really for us, this idea of writing is a way for us to make sure we're continuing to learn. And we tackle some of the really significant challenges that we are facing at HOPE International, but more broadly as leaders. So we work together on mission drift, how organizations can keep their Christ-centered identity as they scale and grow, make sure they don't lose what matters most and rooting for rivals. How can we have more collaboration and partnership within the nonprofit and ministry space?
But really this one started with the question of how do leaders sustain hope over the long term? Because our experience and the experience of many of our friends is that we jump into this work with certain expectations of what it's going to be like, a certain level of idealism. And inevitably, we hit these moments where it is just really, really hard. And so the question is what is it that sustains hope of leaders and organizations over the long term? And so that's what we really had the fun and joy of researching, learning and writing together with this book, The Gift of Disillusionment.
That's great. I'm so excited about this conversation specifically, because I know this is going on so much right now. We see it in our industry. We're talking to pastors and leaders and we're just tired. I mean, there's a lot going on. But Chris, I want to hear a little bit from you. I know Peter got to share a little bit about what it is you're doing. But just your background as well. And I know this is you all's second book together, right?
Yeah. It's actually our third.
Peter mentioned this already that we like to share what we're learning at HOPE, but I also think it's what we need. When we've written these books, it's been an opportunity for us to go public with what we want to be held accountable to being about as an organization. We want to remain mission true. We want to root for our arrivals and be generous in how we approach our sector and the world at large and not be an organization known for being protective and viewing scarcity in the world as opposed to abundance.
And this book, we both needed it because we've both been through seasons of really difficult and disillusioning times. And the last few years, I think we've all experienced that at some level. But I do think this is a unique challenge that faces Christian faith based nonprofit leaders, and we've experienced it in our own leadership journeys.
Peter's been at HOPE for about 18 years. I've been at HOPE for about 16 and we've watched as the organization has gone through mountaintop moments and valley moments. And we've experienced those in our own personal lives. We've watched it happen within our departments and teams. And so this book is, in many ways, a reflection of something that we need. We're not thought leaders, we're not experts on the topics that we're writing about. We're students of these topics. And the things that we find as we're encountering our own challenges within HOPE and within our sector, they're things that we need. And so we find a lot of joy in writing about the things that we really desire and need here at HOPE.
That's great. I'm so glad to hear that. I want to talk a little bit, so in the book, you talk a lot about this journey from idealism to disillusionment. For those who haven't read the book yet, and don't know exactly what this means, go ahead and explain that and just talk about why you believe so many leaders go on this journey.
Yeah. Christa, well, I think just the personal journey, I remember I was in college. I was studying in Russia and for the first time heard about this field of microenterprise development and I was hooked. I just was so fascinated by this idea of job creation and places of poverty as a way of supporting churches and ending global poverty. And I got so excited. Ended up working in Cambodia and then Rwanda and then Zimbabwe and then graduate school and then joined HOPE and really entered into the sector, believing in the promise and potential of these tools and this approach. And I still believe that. But as Chris said, I've also realized this is way more complicated than I ever thought. And that journey where you hear about something and it's not just youthful idealism, I think it's also for those people, mid-career who make a change to a non-profit space or individuals that enter into full-time pastoral ministry or those individuals that have a change of career.
There's an element of idealism about stepping in. And then what we find, what we have experienced is when, not if, but when those really difficult seasons happen, the question in those moments is what is it that keeps us going? Because there's a lot of individuals in those moments that say, "It's too difficult. I am out." And to your point, Christa, we're seeing a lot of that right now. The stats about pastors that are thinking, planning, dreaming about a transition out. We see that among the education sector, almost 50% of teachers are now thinking about other schools or other careers. We see that in the health sector. And so this moment, especially after the last few years, there's a lot of discouragement and disillusionment, and that's not even talking about then the headlines that we keep reading about this failure or that failure, there are valid reasons to feel disillusioned and discouraged. But the question is, what happens?
And so our research methodology for this was to find individuals that had experienced those setbacks, had experienced those painful moments, and yet somehow found a way to hold onto hope. And we were trying to figure out like, what is it that they think differently? What is it that they do differently? What is it that allows them to experience those same life shocks, those same moments, but not given to cynicism, not get discouraged and say "I'm out," but to continue to have a faithful obedience in the places where they work and serve and to really understand from their stories? And we feature a lot of global leaders in this about individuals that have had terribly difficult times, and yet somehow have found a way to hold on to the very best of that idealism, the very best of the ideals of what is possible, and then not give into the discouragement or cynicism and to really say, what is it that they think, what is it that they do that has sustained a lifetime of faithful service?
That's great. And I want to get into those what it is and those common themes in just a second, because I know I'm on the edge of my seat, wondering, okay, what are these leaders doing? What are they doing that I'm not? How can we all continue to learn from that? But first I want to talk about those leaders a little bit. There's 10 global leaders that you have in this book. And I want to, Chris, if you don't mind, telling us the connections you all have with those leaders, how you chose these people and how that research went? Was it interviews? What did that look like? And then in turn, what are some of those common themes? And both of you can speak into some of those common themes for everyone.
Sure. Well, we reached out to, as Peter mentioned, like a network of experts, industry leaders, friends that are very deeply invested in our sector. This book, we hope is an encouragement to people working in business and working in the church. But we reached out to those that we know in our sector of this Christian parachurch ministries world.
And so we reached out and asked, who do you know that best embodies these values and has exhibited hope through incredible challenges over the course of a long tenure, not a few years, but a few decades? And so with that initial invitation that went out, we got a ton of names. And so we started doing research and began with just desk research. And then we came up with a list of folks we wanted to interview and had the chance to interview dozens of leaders from around the world and got to hear their stories. And then those stories that we felt were both like, not stories that you're going to read in other books. I mean, it's great to have well known leaders that you've heard of, but we wanted to really feature leaders that maybe are a bit less public and they're not necessarily on the speaking tour and someone that we might-
Yeah. Almost those everyday leaders that we-
Yeah, yeah. And then we really were prioritizing leaders from different parts of the world. So we wanted this book to reflect the true diversity of the whole church. And so we have leaders from 10 different countries from all the regions of the world and chances to really allow them to share their stories of what this looks like in their context. And the surprising thing was how similar, what we heard in their stories was one person to another. It didn't matter if they were working in Poland or they were working in Zimbabwe, it was like the stories of how they sustained hope were so similar. Maybe Peter, you can share a little bit about what some of those common themes were that we saw.
Yeah. That would be awesome, Peter. I would love to hear what those themes are from these leaders.
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Maybe just the first thing that surprised us was how many times we heard referenced of an Old Testament prophet that I had not spent a whole lot of time thinking about. But time and time again, there was this pointing to the prophet Jeremiah. And Jeremiah is someone who had every reason to be discouraged and disillusioned. Literally, nothing went according to what he would've hoped or expected. And yet, isn't it ironic that he is the most quoted prophet in the Old Testament, his words about a hope in a future. And yet, if you actually dive into the context, it does not look like there is a hope and a future. It looks like it's the exact opposite. He's left in a cistern, he is watching his beloved homeland and country fall to an invader. You're watching so many challenges, personally, as well as nationally.
And yet, he continued to show up day after day, year after year, faithfully, following the call that he had on his life as a young person to be this prophet to the nations. And so we had so many of them that pointed to this prophet. And in Jeremiah Chapter 17, there's this fascinating piece where it really gives a contrast. It says essentially those who trust in their own abilities, in their own strength, in our words, those who try to grit it out, grit their teeth and just nose down and just grind it out, versus those who reach the end of their abilities and say, "God, I can't do this on my own." Our hope is a hope that is rooted in not our abilities, not in the circumstances, but in what we actually believe about a God who is present even in pain and invites us into the lifelong process of loving and serving independent of circumstance.
And so this Jeremiah 17 became an anchor passage and anchor thought about where is it that we're looking in our own strength and our own abilities, and where is it that we reach the end of our abilities and actually invite God's presence and strength in those moments. So our trust is rooted, not in our ability, but in what we believe about our relationship with a God who is present in pain. And that changes everything in how we serve. And Christa, certainly then there are practical things that we heard and we list a lot of those. But we really started with a big picture, framework, that we heard again and again, about what anchors a lifelong steady hopefulness in the midst of incredible challenges.
That is so great. This is something, I think you all are so spot on with this, because time and time again, in so many situations recently, I feel like I've talked to either leaders with churches or through podcast conversations and even just people at our office of this enduring hope, the idea that you were talking about with Jeremiah of all right, where are we looking? There has to be a point where we throw up our hands and we're like, "All right, I'm out, God, you're in." So I just love that you all are realizing that and able to point others to that as well.
My next question is, and I want to hear from both of you. Chris, maybe you can get us started and then Peter, you can take us away. But personally, some of the things that you two have adapted or embraced, or even recommended for leaders who find themselves disillusioned or cynical in hard times right now.
Well, I think as we began to do our research, one of the things that became really evident, I mean, it was happening in the world around us, but we started the research and interviews for this book before COVID, before the pandemic. So we were already on this path. But something that became really evident quickly for me, at least, and I don't want to speak for Peter, but was just how much I idolized certainty and stability and predictability. And truly, I think I anchored my faith in many ways to being able to navigate in a very predictable and certain world. And so when that became upended in early 2020, it was a very disorienting season for me. And I wasn't able to just solve the problem or fix it, or map a path out of it. I was getting all this input from friends and donors and board members and trying to coalesce often conflicting ideas about how this thing was going to unfold and what the world was going to look like on the other side of it and what HOPE should do, and what I should do.
It was a paralyzing moment for me. And it was paralyzing, I think in many regards, because in retrospect, I realized how much I placed my own confidence, as Peter was talking about, in myself. And really, in myself, in moments of predictability and certainty. So when that was stripped away and I was looking myself in the mirror and realizing I couldn't do anything in this situation. No one knew what to do. That's when the stories, as we're interviewing and listening to leaders from around the world are like, welcome to the party. This is our every day. And look at scripture, look at Jeremiah's life. This is all of human history. Living a life of predictability and certainty and comfort is a very unique exception when we look at the world today and we look at human history and we look at the history of the church.
So that became incredibly encouraging, I think in some ways, of just having that pulled away, that disillusioning moment and recognizing that I was placing my hope in the wrong spots, allowed me then to like really listen and learn from the leaders that we were talking to. And hearing from our friends in Haiti and our friends in Zimbabwe and listening to their stories of this is what we experience every year, and we're experiencing it even now that you've moved on from maybe some of the challenges that you were feeling. New ones are emerging in our context that are just as challenging. It's not a super hopeful thing to say welcome to the party of suffering and unpredictability. But in some ways, for my own faith journey, I think it was exactly what I needed.
Yeah. And I would say one other, one other piece, as Chris mentioned. We started this right before, certainly our work and the places where we serve, we've never experienced more challenges, and even now. We were founded in Ukraine. We still have a number of colleagues there. We work in places around the world that have experienced so many challenges over the last couple years. And then I do think on top of that, there's been this compounding piece that it seems like all of the stories, or at least the majority of the stories that we have been hearing have been about rise and fall of organizations or leaders that lose their way and make a mess of things. And I think if we're not careful, that can make us believe that is the only story right now. And talk about losing hope to just be barrage by bad news and case studies of failure after failure on top of the real challenges we're facing, goodness, that can lead to a huge level of loss of hope and just discouragement and throwing up our hands. What do we do?
And I think what was so helpful about this is we, with intentionality writing this, we said, we are not going to be another voice that is going to be talking about the failures of X, Y, or Z. We're going to be highlighting stories of hope. We're going to be highlighting stories that have not been told about individuals that have been faithfully serving decade after decade. And so you asked about what are the habits or practices that we've taken away. For me, it is anytime I start to feel that weight of discouragement or believing that the only story or the majority story is a story of bad news or a story of some sort of crisis of leadership, I think it's in those moments to say, well, that is a story, but it is not the story. And to actively go and say, who are those individuals that have decades of service and to say, what is it that has sustained your hope?
So for our family, we had some really challenging seasons with foster care for our family, on top of all of these other global challenges. And talking to someone that had been serving in foster care for decades, had over a hundred children in her home and had stories that made our stories and our pain seem like it can get much worse on that. And to say, what is it that has sustained your hope? What is it that has sustained your service? And so I would say that as a practice, maybe a little silencing, as Chris calls it, the doom scrolling, silence that for a little bit and go find those individuals, sit with them, have coffee with them and ask questions, like, how have you kept your hope over these years? How have you been a counter narrative to what we see? How have you sustained your service?
And those stories need to be told. We need to hear them as the counterpoint to some of the stories that do get more of the headlines. So I think those stories of hope, I think now is a time we need to be reminded of the good news, of stories of faithful service, and to actively seek out those stories that might not get the same level of press.
That's so great. When I first started at Vanderbloemen, our VP of sales at the time sat me down and she said, "All right, Christa, you're going to see a lot of the kingdom through this job. You're going to see churches and nonprofits and education. And they say here, you see how the sausage is made and it's up to you if you still want to eat it or not." And she told me, "You're going to look at these ministries and everyone is sinful. And we're sinful people trying to do good things for the gospel, but there is brokenness and it's a fallen world. And you need to remember, there is so much hope and there is so much beauty in that."
She's like, "Because you can either get really close minded and get cynical and see just the brokenness, or you can see the opportunity that the Lord lets us step into that alongside Him and help serve in this way. And you get an even bigger picture of the gospel." And those were words that I think every time someone starts here, I tell them that. I'm like, "Hey, you're going to see some things." And William always jokes around. He says, "All right, Lord, you got a really interesting taste in your bride." But you also get to see the hope and the beauty and just where the Lord steps in and makes broken things into beautiful masterpieces. And that's just something that I've realized more and more, it's so important. So I love that, that's really great.
I was going to ask, so for the people reading this book or need to read this book, what is the impact that you hope people will step away with and what kind of impact do you think this will make and hope it will?
We've heard from friends who have begun reading the book or finished it. It's obviously just come out. But what we've heard is that they feel like they're [inaudible 00:22:54] by reading about fellow pilgrims on the journey who are struggling with the same stuff that they've struggled with, or are struggling with currently. And there is not a bow on these stories. These are not like just trust God and it'll make everything better and your world will all fall into place in a perfect order, and 10 steps to bulletproof your ministry or whatever. These are very honest stories of people who've struggled and are experiencing incredible hardship and still are. So I think that we hope and what we've heard is that readers feel really encouraged by that, that they're not alone and that this doesn't... Like someone's Instagram feed or their ministry newsletter often isn't the full story of what's going on within their own heart, as a leader, and within their organization.
And I think it can be really easy to go to conferences or gatherings or whatever, and just think, "Well, I don't know why our organization's the only one that's dealing with all these challenges because they seem like they've all got it figured out and got it all together." This isn't that book. It's not a highlight real book. So we hope that those that read it feel like it's a really honest account of the challenge of doing Christian ministry faithfully. And we've often joked that the subtext or the subtitle that didn't get chosen for this book was Christian ministry and Christian leadership is hard. But that's basically what the subtitle is.
That's the truth. That's so great. Peter, do you have anything else to add to that?
No. But just one thing that was fun, we had some friends after the book came out that created a survey, a self assessment tool to say, where are you on this journey, from idealism to disillusionment, to cynicism, to hope on that. And so if anyone wants to enjoy that, it's at TheGiftofDisillusionment.com and it's a real simple survey that I found to be a fun way of just engaging the conversation to say, where are we on this journey? Because we're all on it. And for us, I would say there have been different seasons in my life that I have been so squarely in each of those different categories. But again, the gift of these stories, the gift of these global friendships has been steps towards that true rooted hope that I want to have more and more and more of that in my life.
That is so great. Thank you two so much for sharing and for spending the time to write a book that is honest and true for leaders in this situation. Where can people connect with you and get their own copy of this book?
Yeah. So if you go to TheGiftofDisillusionment.com, you can find links to the book there. Disillusionment is one of the hardest words to spell. So you can go to PeterKGreer.com, and there's a link there, or to Chris-Horst.com. So links to both of our websites to the book and to various book sellers. So you can find the book at those two places if you can't find it elsewhere.
Great, thank you so much. And we will make sure to link all of this in the show notes on our website so everyone can easily find those. Peter and Chris, thank you, thank you, thank you so much for your time and just the effort that you've put into this.
Great to be with you today. Thank you Christa.
You too. You all have a good one.
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