Lawlessness and Poverty, Freakonomics, and Strategies for Succession

By LeRoy Lawson

The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence
Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros
New York: Oxford University Press, 2014

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
New York: HarperPerennial, 2009

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance
Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
New York: William Morrow, 2011

Think Like a Freak: the Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain
Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
New York: William Morrow, 2014

Next: Pastoral Succession that Works
William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird
Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014

Leader><Shift: One Becomes Less While Another Becomes More
Gary L. Johnson
2013; available at and


What can I tell you about this frustrating book, The Locust Effect? And why is it frustrating? Here’s why: it details the satanic, systematic exploitation of the world’s poor—and the perpetrators almost always get away with it. On these pages you will learn of . . .

05_FMB_JN2• children and adolescents abducted for sex trafficking, and then, when used up, tossed out like trash

• adults trapped in bondage every bit as terrible as American slavery at its worst

• widows stripped of their meager landholdings, their children robbed of a future

• corrupt courts and evil magistrates.

Much of the injustice can be traced to the colonial era, when colonizing powers cared more about protecting their assets than about protecting the innocent. Far from being presumed innocent until proved guilty, those unjustly accused are often locked up indefinitely while they await their day in court—which may come too late or never at all.

Well-meaning people have sacrificed to help the world’s poor, but they have labored in vain, these authors argue, while corrupt judicial systems protect the criminals and condemn their victims.

Prompted by their Christian consciences, Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros set out to do something about this hidden cause—violence paired with injustice—of poverty. The list of injustices is so long:

• when children are afraid to go to school because they could be abducted or raped or sold into slavery on the way

• when there’s no one to call for help when your house has been robbed and everything of value stripped from you

• when the new well that missionaries have dug for you has been confiscated by gangsters

• when the judge is paid off by drug or slum lords

• when . . .

The book contains statistics, lots of them—but the power isn’t in the numbers. And it isn’t in the carefully reasoned and documented argument that our benevolence is in vain where lawlessness runs rampant. No, the power is in the individual stories the authors tell, like this one of a young girl tortured, raped, and tossed out on the road dead—whose rapist gets off scot-free because his family can buy the police and the magistrate and the witnesses and the substitute “criminal.”

This brief introduction isn’t fair to the book. Just let me recommend it to everyone who feels called to do something to end poverty—and who, like me, has not given much thought to the violence that undoes many of our best efforts.

An encouraging note, though. The authors devote a chapter to the stories of several cities, some in America, where such lawlessness was as rampant as in the developing countries they highlight. Their citizens now enjoy relative peace and safety and the rule of law: New York City, Los Angeles, Pennsylvania mining country, Tokyo, and Paris. As the chapter heading promises, “It’s Been Done Before.” It can be done again.

Haugen is founder and president of International Justice Mission, a global human rights agency. Victor Boutros is a federal prosecutor focusing on police misconduct and international human trafficking. Together they’ve written a disturbing, unforgettable book. When I finished reading, I immediately sent a donation to IJM. There will be others.


First came Freakonomics, first published in 2005. Then Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, discovering they’d stumbled into a gold mine, went prospecting again. The result was 2009’s Superfreakonomics, more of the same. Thinking there was yet further wealth to be mined, they brought out Think Like a Freak in 2014. By the time this column is in print, they may have published another freaky volume. I don’t know, though. The third time wasn’t exactly a charm. The gold was losing its glitter.

Still, it isn’t a waste of time to have rut-worn mental habits blocked. It’s a good thing (I’ll switch metaphors) to be forced to “think outside the box.” When you do, you’ll find some of your most cherished knowledge turns out to be untrue. Two of my favorites from the last book—that kids are easier to fool than adults, and that ulcers are caused by spicy food and stress—are dead wrong. The first made me feel better about my irritation at magic shows, where I’m duped every time. The second reminded me of the years when Dad suffered with a stomach ulcer. He blamed his high-pressure job and forced down a bland diet, to no avail. The culprit was gastric bacteria. Who knew?

Freakonomics proposed that the dramatic drop in the 1990s crime rate could be traced to Roe v. Wade—thanks to abortions, many potential criminals (potentially criminal because they would have been born to poor, single, teenaged mothers) were not given birth. This proposition has since been hotly contested. But that hasn’t stopped Levitt and Dubner from further sleuthing

I particularly liked their discovery that having parents read to children (mine did not) does not substantially increase their offspring’s test scores, but having plenty of books in the house did (mine did).

The second book explains why doctors are not very good at washing their hands, why seat belts do as much good as car seats, and why we could perhaps go a long way toward saving the planet if we would eat more kangaroos.

As you can tell, this isn’t exactly textbook economics. What it is, though, is an entertaining way to startle and, if you go too far, bore your friends at your next party.

Strategies for Succession

Finally, here are two practical books that answer a frequent question: Do you have anything to recommend for a church that’s calling a new minister? Yes, here are two suggestions.

William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird have put together Next: Pastoral Succession that Works, a one-stop shop for pastors and search committees (see p. 25). Let me list some of the chapter titles and you’ll see what I mean:

• Top Reasons You and Your Church Should Start Planning for Succession Right Now

• The “Ten Commandments” of Succession Planning

• Deciding When It’s Time to Leave

• Resigning “Young” to Start Another Ministry Chapter

The authors tell stories (some of them rather shocking) about churches that did it wrong (Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral and W. A. Criswell’s First Baptist Church of Dallas) and some that got it right: Phoenix First Assembly of God—Tommy Barnett to his son Luke—and our own Southeast Christian Church in Louisville—Bob Russell to Dave Stone.

Next pretty much covers the issues: planned successions, surprise changes, moral failures, family dynasties, founder’s syndrome, emergencies, retirements, interim ministries, forced farewells. It even deals with the hidden costs of financing a pastoral succession.

The subtitle of the last chapter summarizes the book: “There Is No Success without Succession.”

They’re right, you know.

Shortly after reading Next, I was given a copy of Gary Johnson’s Leader><Shift, published in 2013, a year earlier than Next (see p. 28). I wondered whether Vanderbloemen and Bird had borrowed from Johnson, since several of the illustrations and many of the points were similar. It doesn’t matter. Both books stand on their own merit, and both are good guides for pastoral transitions.

I know Gary Johnson and have followed the amazing growth of his church in Greater Indianapolis with keen interest. He has led his church, The Creek, for more than three decades and has taught his growth principles at home and abroad. He has earned the right to be heard. And now he speaks about one of the most crucial leadership issues of all: when and how to “become less while another becomes more,” how to decrease while assisting your successor to increase.

We don’t talk enough about handing over the reins of leadership to someone younger and more energetic. It’s not easy to admit that the time has come. I have had to do it twice, in a pastorate and a university. Both instances challenged my spiritual and emotional maturity (see p. 14). Could I really decrease while my successors increased? I didn’t want to. Could I retire in a way that would not do damage to the body I loved? I hope I did.

I wish I had read Gary Johnson back then. I’m glad his good counsel is available to others now.

LeRoy Lawson is international consultant with CMF International. His third retirement, as professor of Christian ministries at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, Johnson City, Tennessee, happens this month. He has served as a CHRISTIAN STANDARD contributing editor and on the Publishing Committee. 

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