A Brief Timeline for Young Leaders Network and Terra Nova Project, for Understanding Ron Wheeler’s Open Letter to Mark Driscoll

In the ongoing efforts to call Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church to account for past and present behaviors, his former colleague and protégé Ron Wheeler posted the following open letter: I. Am. Not. Anonymous. In it, Mr. Wheeler details his early history with Mr. Driscoll and then says:

Soon I began traveling the nation with you, speaking at various conferences, seminars and events. It was such an honor. We became involved on the ground-floor of this new movement that was shaping the landscape of evangelical Christianity. We were on the board of Young Leader network together. We were on the Terra Nova project together. We were working with some pretty amazing people. These were the early days when there was talk of the postmodern era, and the Emergent church started “emerging” and New Calvinism had yet to emerge as a thing. It was heady stuff. It was also dangerous, as some of it started wandering far from historical orthodox Christian belief and practice. [Emphasis added.]

But then I listened as you slandered and maligned the men and women we worked with behind their backs -who though we didn’t agree with some of them theologically- were wonderful people, and never deserved to be spoken of, or treated the way you did. People who I know would have considered you a friend and have no idea how you really felt about them. I have personally tried to go back and apologize to people who were “kicked to the curb”, along the way, and yes, I do feel I was complicit to your actions; guilty by way of association and being silent.

For that, I could not be more sorry.

I believe this section of the open letter holds some significance, but would be hard to interpret. That’s because the history of Young Leaders Network (sponsored by Leadership Network) and its subsequent transition into the Terra Nova Project aren’t generally known. The purposes of this post are:

  1. To offer some background on the timeline of these Generation X-oriented networks.
  2. To overview some of the relevant terminology for ministry during that early part of the modern-to-postmodern transition.
  3. To suggest how that era relates to various “streams” in contemporary Christianity that came out of that period and have been coming into fruition over a decade later.

In a later post, I may summarize the ongoing controversies about Mr. Driscoll and Mars Hill Church, from my perspective as a research writer with backgrounds in studies of spiritual abuse, organizational dynamics, recovery ministry, and social transformation. But for the moment, I’ll focus on this material about Young Leaders Network and Terra Nova Project, so that section of Mr. Wheeler’s open letter has more context. Continue reading

Thoughts on Redemption in the Wake of Abuse: Agents of Damage versus Agents of Healing

“Good or Evil?” © Scott Maxwell / Fotolia #6928112.

“Good or Evil?” © Scott Maxwell / Fotolia #6928112.

[This post is part of the #IStandWithSGMVictims campaign on Twitter, and the #IStandWithSGMVictims campaign on Facebook.]

I suspect that acquiring a deep understanding of how relational dynamics works in the real world is something that takes us all a lifetime – as does our applications of those healing skills to bring Kingdom transformation on earth as it is in heaven. My journey with Jesus on that pathway to peace has unfolded in unexpected ways. But the longer I go with Him, the more spiritual sense it all makes. Here are some snapshots from my journey in learning about victimization and recovery and how it involves Agents of Damage and paradoxical parallel Agents of Healing. Continue reading

Thoughts on Abuse, Position, Power – and Restitution

If you’ve followed my blogging at futuristguy here on WordPress, you’ll know I’ve been doing research writing on systems and dynamics of spiritual abuse and recovery for 7 years, tracking various aspects of the Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) situation for a minimum of 3 years, and first blogged something about the SGM system in 2012. Spiritual abuse survivors and others who follow what happened at the SGM association of churches and civil lawsuits from it knew that a related criminal trial was scheduled for this May. The results of the first trial came in Thursday, find Nathaniel Morales guilty on all counts. A second trial for Mr. Morales begins next week.

I find in the civil suit against SGM and related criminal cases a complex situation with many kinds of victims, perpetrators, and enablers – each category of which could use some specific messages at this time. I felt compelled to do what I could to address key issues as constructively as possible. This post is a compilation of writings posted so far. My hope is that they provide some insight into how the human systems of real people intersect the organizational systems of SGM and Covenant Life Church (CLC) in ways that caused damage – and, potentially, could bring recovery for individuals who’ve survived abuse, restitution by those who were “agents of damage,” rehabilitation of the extended SGM system (if that is even warranted, and where it is even possible) to bring health, transparency, and accountability, and restoration of  a besmirched testimony of the Church before a watching world.

This post is part of the #IStandWithSGMVictims campaign on Twitter, and #IStandWithSGMVictims campaign on Facebook. Continue reading

Creating and Sustaining a Safer Blogging Environment

I was part of a team effort with Julie Anne Smith to write a recent post on Spiritual Sounding Board, A Warning to Commenters: Be Aware of Potential Blog Owner/Moderator Intrusiveness. This post created a significant amount of heat about spiritual abuse survivor blogs. But the controversy also potentially brought forth an important amount of light about the dynamics of survivor blog owners and commenters on them.

I spent time over the past few days trying to process it all into something clear and constructive. That’s because I found it disturbing that a huge number of assumptions were being floated in all directions. For instance, some blog owners assume it is automatically okay to use a commenter’s email to follow up with them, while others found that a horrifying intrusion through misuse of unpublished information. And some commenters assume the comment system requires them to use their real name, while others chided them for such childish ignorance.

To me, this culture clash and condescension was unnecessary. All it takes to start creating better understanding is being clear and transparent about our blog policies and practices. Then people can know exactly what we do, can grapple to comprehend why (if they want to), and post questions or challenges if they desire. But we have a deep problem if we think we are above writing out our otherwise-invisible assumptions by posting our actual concrete practices.

So, I did the best I could to summarize information that I think will contribute to a more civil and safer blogging environment – especially for those of us who come from backgrounds of spiritual abuse and are often more sensitized to anything that smacks of secrecy and/or bullying. Here are practical suggestions for commenters and for blog owners/moderators, followed by the example of revised commenting policies that I posted on my own futuristguy blog earlier today. Continue reading

Review of *UnLeader* by Lance Ford

Hear ye, hear ye … I have just posted my first-ever book review on Amazon!

It is for UnLeader: Reimagining Leadership … and Why We Must, by Lance Ford (Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2012). I received a review copy in September 2012 and read it then — and have peeked at it (and the stack of notes I wrote!) off and on ever since. I was planning to post a review last year, but other circumstances took over for a while and many things disappeared into that vortex.

However, what the time-lag added to the writing of my review was the reality that for 16 months, UnLeader keeps coming back to mind as really something extraordinary. I hope what I’ve posted will give a fresh and helpful perspective on grasping the value of what Lance Ford has produced, and the gift it is to the Kingdom. I also hope you will buy a copy, read it, and be changed by the  powerful and empowering message that Lance Ford offers!

And here is that review … Continue reading

Invitation to Participate in a New Research Study on Spiritual Abuse

Dr. Barb Orlowski is looking for spiritual abuse survivors to complete a survey…

Six years ago, a friend blogged about Barb Orlowski looking for survivors of spiritual abuse to fill out a survey about their experiences and recovery. This was for Barb’s doctoral project. I participated – it changed my life!

Back then, the landscape of the survivor community was way less developed, and there was far less research available. Dr. Orlowski’s ground-breaking work deservedly got published in the book Spiritual Abuse Recovery: Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness (Wipf & Stock, 2010). All the while, she’s continued working behind the scenes to minister to survivors, get them connected, and provide new resources. Her compassionate investment in this marginalized community has made an incredibly positive impact for the Kingdom!

And now Dr. Orlowski is looking for spiritual abuse survivors for a new study. It uses a similar set of questions to her 2008 survey, but she is also looking to research how widespread spiritual abuse is. If you are a survivor and didn’t participate in her original study, please consider helping her with this one. I know from experience that it provides an invaluable opportunity to reflect carefully on what happened to us, and synthesize that with intuitive hunches about issues like:

  • What made me susceptible to spiritual abuse?
  • How do toxic leaders capture followers and then keep them under control?
  • What process did I undergo to bring healing from those wounds by religious wolves?

I believe you’d find taking this survey helpful to you, too, if this is the right time for you to think through the destructive impact of abuse, and how reconstruction has been happening in your personal life. The invitation letter with details from Dr. Orlowski is below. Continue reading

What Do “Safe” Versus “Abusive” Environments for Personal and Social Transformation Include?

Someone working on a research project recently asked me for my definition or description of “spiritual abuse” and how I would “measure” the levels of abuse and recovery that a person experienced. I’ll get to that task eventually, as it is part of my own research work on metrics of transformation.

But, to answer my researcher friend, I realized that first I needed to figure out the contours of what makes a system conducive to either constructive growth or to harm. A quickee checklist of abusive actions would be meaningless for measuring the degree of destructive impact from spiritual abuse. At the least, a workable checklist needs a reasoned and relatively comprehensive theory behind it. If we’ve developed a clear context for said checklist, that makes it possible to interpret the abusive actions, not just observe their presence. And my intuitive hunch is that a systems approach will also make measurement more possible for the overall negative impact or positive recovery from abuse.

So, I started by mentally cataloging what I have concluded a “safe” and “healthy” environment looks like – and then how the elements in that system get corrupted through “abuse” and “power-lust.” I also ran all of that through the grid of the book I’m writing about how to measure the qualitative impact of personal and social efforts for transformation. (We too often look at only the quantitative elements, like dollars and hours spent and the number of people at our activities. But those really only indicate our investment in the opportunity to possibly make changes – not the changes themselves.)

This all meant my approach to what’s “healthy” needed to include frameworks I use, like paradigm systems and quadruple bottom line thinking for achieving goals for the common good. (The definitions of these frameworks come in earlier parts of the book, but I’ll at least sketch them out here.) So, what follows is the overview of safe versus abusive systems that came out of that process. It’s still rough and needs more work, but it’s getting there.

Continue reading

Thoughts on the Missional Movement ~ Part Nine

The Fragmentation of Evangelicalism
and the Precipitation of the Missional Movement

Part Nine: How These Frameworks Play Out in Our Overall Attitudes, Styles of Interaction, and Community Connections

Review and Preview

In Parts Seven and Eight, we looked at two key issues in how the organizations we create either enhance or hinder discipleship.

  • Access to Discipleship Systems – Is our entry/intake system radically inclusive, temporarily tolerant, or radically exclusive?
  • Discipleship Activities – Is our discipleship system grounded in license, liberty, or legalism?

Another way to consider these concerns is how they work (or don’t) to keep people in the game, so to speak. Have we established an open system, a “centered set” that enhances cooperation around what the Holy Spirit is doing in someone’s life, to keep people engaged and cooperating with God’s principles and His providence? Or have we created a closed system, a “bound set” that creates a competitive environment to shut out and shun those who don’t measure up to “God’s standards” (a term we often use to hide our own idolatrous ideals)?

In Part Nine, we’ll look at some details of how these open or closed systems affect individuals, relationships for peers or partner organizations, and community dynamics – again, using images to illustrate the concepts. Continue reading

Thoughts on the Missional Movement ~ Part Eight

The Fragmentation of Evangelicalism
and the Precipitation of the Missional Movement

Part Eight: The Big Picture of Features and Frameworks in Our Discipleship Systems – Approaches to Discipleship Activities

Review/Preview

In Part Seven, we considered what it looks like to be a congregation that either welcomes, conditionally accepts, or rejects specific kinds of individuals or groups who do (or might) want to follow Jesus Christ as His disciple. That was about access to discipleship. In Part Eight, we’ll look at these approaches’ potential companion parts in discipleship activities and their focuses. Continue reading

Thoughts on the Missional Movement ~ Part Seven

The Fragmentation of Evangelicalism
and the Precipitation of the Missional Movement

Part Seven: The Big Picture of Features and Frameworks in Our Discipleship Systems – Approaches to Discipleship Access

Review …

So far in this series, we’ve looked at how cultural fragmentation and re-formation plays out in the “missional” movement:

  • Underlying information processing modes (i.e.,epistemology) hide at the deepest DNA level of a paradigm system – but affect everything else in the system, both the seen and unseen.
  • That paradigm system is all inclusive of values (axiology), theology, strategies and structures for organizing ourselves, culture, behaviors/lifestyles, and modes of collaboration.
  • Based on some key paradigm differences, the generic “emerging” movement separated into six distinct streams.
  • Some of these streams are more likely to resonate with the missional paradigm and find a sort of magnetic attraction to it, and some not so much because they’ll find missional features more or less repulsive to their paradigm. Still, individuals within those streams might gravitate toward being missional.
  • Significant differences in paradigms often make it difficult for people or partner organizations to function together – constant culture clash on goals and means are indicators of potentially irreconcilable differences.
  • The systems of legalism versus license versus liberty are irreconcilable. Only liberty brings true freedom and healing; legalism and license bring bondage and wounds.
  • Three central features of being missional are: (1) Contextual – making truth accessible in the current culture’s language, without compromising the truthful nature of the content. (2), Incarnational – living out our faith so people can see what Christianity and Christ-like character looks like. (3) Sojourning – seeing ourselves as guests in our host culture, not controllers of it, because the Church is not a theocratic nation like Israel.

These aren’t just tasty little theoretical hors d’oeuvres for some nice theological snackathon. All of these elements have weighty implications. They affect how we go about our everyday lives as individual disciples, ministry teams, and communities of Christians. And to some of those key impacts we now turn. Continue reading