May Day in Our Hometown, in the 1950s and ’60s

The old riddle goes, “If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?”

The answer, of course, is: *Pilgrims!*

But where I grew up, May Day – May 1st – was when we delivered small baskets of flowers to neighbors who were older like the Neckstads and Mrs. Salmon and Mrs. Perry, our teachers from school and Sunday School, and family friends like the McCartneys and Vances and Olsens.

The delivery ritual took a while to complete, as we walked to the houses of anyone who lived close enough and Mom drove us to the homes of others. We’d usually ring the doorbell and wait til someone answered so we could deliver the posies in person and tell them, “Happy May Day!” Occasionally we’d want our gift to be secret, so we’d do “thunder and lightning” – ring the doorbell and then run hide somewhere close where we could watch for when the recipients opened their door and saw the miniature flower basket on their stoop.

Sometimes we’d labor the whole week before to make “flowers” and baskets ourselves. Our craft table would be strewn with construction paper and pipe cleaners and Crayolas, scissors and tape and glue. Maybe the “basket” would actually be a sort of easy-to-make cone, for a cornucopia of construction paper flowers. Or it might be a more elaborate holder, woven from long strips of craft paper.

Sometimes we’d put a real live potted pansy or marigold in a basket we’d made, or curl a cone and fill it with a tied-up bunch of snipped-off violets or posies. Of course, getting real flowers meant a field trip to The Greenhouse …

It was only a few blocks away from us, at the end of the wide gravel road in front of our house. If the weather was nice enough, Mom would walk with all three of us kids the four blocks down at the end of our street. There at The Greenhouse, we’d each get to choose a small potted plant or two to give as May Day gifts.

And, oh! What a wondrous but mysterious place The Greenhouse was to me as a pre-schooler! It just felt magical, before I even had words to describe how and why. Now I know it was because it was a completely different world apart from all I was used to.

The quality of light was different, filtered through steamed-up windows and frosted glass everywhere. And there was cool, misty air from tubes and spray bottles and water drippers. Big old wooden tables stood in really long rows, with all kinds of shelves and cans and bags and pots and hoses underneath – where I could easily see them, short little kid that I was back then. Forests of greenery with splashes of bright colors topped the tables and there were even some plants underneath them. And we breathed in the most amazing fragrance – a mixture of dark shredded bark and sharp stemmy “green,” humid dirt but that’s not really mud, floral and citrus and bubblegum sweet. The entire place was a marvel: so much to look over, sniff at, dig into!

Over the years, different families operated The Greenhouse. But they all seemed to be people who were kind to us kids, and patient in helping us pick out our plants for May Day or other occasions. After all, they offered so many choices – so many colors that only these greenhouse flowers seemed to have with bright yellows and oranges, blues and purples from light to deep, brick reds, magentas and maroons. How to choose when you have more flower colors than crayons?

But the greenhouse owners and workers never seemed to be in a rush with us. It makes sense to me now. If you love plants and flowers, how can you not love people and their families?

And all this worked together to make May Day flowers after April showers one of the most special events of the year …

[Photos: Flowers in our side garden, May 1, 2023. This post is an expanded version of an article I wrote in 2018.]


Two Book Reviews Forthcoming: *The Scandal of Leadership* and *Metanoia*

BOOK REVIEWS FORTHCOMING. Just a notice for now that I am at work on reading and reviewing two books: The Scandal of Leadership by JR Woodward and Metanoia by Alan Hirsch and Rob Kelly, Jr.

I wanted to read these in part because I’ve been following Alan and JR for years, and knew their books would represent mature reflections on decades of praxis in missional ministry. This is the theological stream I’ve most identified with since the early 2000s, especially for its emphasis on incarnational-contextual church planting.

Also, both books are highly relevant to my own work, since I’ve been research writing for 15+ years on spiritual abuse and authoritarianism in ministry, and for even longer on paradigms and paradigm shifts.

This week sees the launch of both books — be sure to check them out. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to eventually sharing my thoughts on their work. Here are links to the books and other relevant sites.

Both of these insightful volumes are available already, links in comments below.

The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church, by JR Woodward (100 Movements Publishing; ISBN 9781955142243).

JR Woodward’s website.

JR on Twitter.

JR on Facebook.

The Scandal of Leadership on Amazon.

Metanoia: How God Radically Transforms People, Churches, and Organizations From the Inside Out, by Alan Hirsch and Rob Kelly, Jr. (100 Movements Publishing; ISBN 9781955142373).

Alan’s website.

Alan on Twitter.

Rob on Twitter.

Alan on Facebook.

Rob on Facebook.

Metanoia official website.

Metanoia on Amazon.


Six Kinds of Control Cultures: Compliance, Chaos, Charisma, Competition, Conspiracy Theory, Long-Con

Nearly 50 years ago, my college-era friend Linda O. observed that “Manipulators and martyrs go together in matched pairs.” That’s stuck with me, and the only adjustment I might make to that quip is the idea that manipulators and martyrs are “magnetic pairs.” This plays off a quote on power dynamics from Frank Herbert:  “Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that those of us who’ve been victimized by abuse have distinct vulnerabilities that set us up to be picked off by vampiric people who seek to drain us for their own self benefit. Don’t think that “susceptibilities” only mean sins or brokenness–authoritarian leaders know how to use our best intentions, ideals, and values against us for their pyramid-building purposes.

This post looks at some of those pyramid of abuse systems and what can make us susceptible to the wiles of malignant people who seek to dominate those systems and transmogrify us into cogs for their machines.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Continue reading

What’s in a Game? Developing Simulations and Gamified Trainings for Abuse Survivors, Advocates, and Activists

What’s in a Game?

Developing Simulations and Gamified Trainings

for Abuse Survivors, Advocates, and Activists

I can still recall leadership lessons I learned in gamified trainings 50 years ago! … This has convinced me of the value in whole-person learning through games/simulations–activating mind, imagination, actions, and relational connections.

The past few months, I have been immersing myself in the storylines for a whole range of games—RPGs (role-playing games), LARPS (live action role-playing), ARGs (alternate reality games), CCGs (collectible card games), board games. I’ve also been exploring theories of learning through “ fun,” approaches to game structures and mechanics, and distinctives of competitive games (one winner and the rest lose) versus collaborative games (we all either win or lose together).

This is in preparation to develop a set of training exercises to go with my first two Field Guides, which focus on how to identify and deal with malignant individuals and institutions. The eventual set of games will likely have a mix of mechanics drawn from role-playing simulations and board games, and use accessories like cards, maps, and play mats. Also, I plan to use dice plus option charts to generate characters, select a learning stream, and randomize the “plot” situations.

While I find all those intricate details of how-to’s and what-next’s intriguing, to me as a futurist, the storyline is the most crucial. The way I was trained in strategic foresight/futuring, developing stories is the third of three core skills. Continue reading

My 20th Blogging Anniversary

Celebrating My 20th Blogiversary

Today marks 20 years since I began blogging. My friends Shannon, Jess, and Andrew figured prominently in my decision to get posting — for which I am glad.

And yes, I know today is April Fools’ Day. I purposely picked this to launch my first blog in 2003. It serves as a balancing reminder not to take myself too seriously, even if I’m writing about intensely serious topics.

In the early years (2003-2007), I wrote mostly about day-to-day experiences, reflections on the meaning and significance of theological concepts, and topics of interest like movies, other media, accessibility, church planting, ministry in “postmodernity,” and alt.cultures/subcultures.

In the autumn of 2007, I attended a missional conference. Talking with fellow survivors of spiritual abuse catalyzed my thinking about core issues in sick ministry systems. From there, my focus shifted to writing and analyzing my own experiences of malignant leaders and toxic organizations. I also began tracking specific individuals and institutions that proved abusive, and developed extended case studies along the way. This eventually led to my outlining and writing a series of field guides to train people involved with church planting, ministry, and social entrepreneuring how to identify and deal with toxicity, while developing practices that promote health and sustainability.

Along the way, I also launched a series of fansites for some of my favorite movies and media–Max Headroom, The Hunger Games, Dune, The Lord of the Rings, and more. These have been more a pastime than a main focus, and I do it because find it fun! I’m nearly done editing my next media fansite, this one on James Gurney’s historic explorer fantasy, Dinotopia.

If I had to suggest what I think is the importance or impact of my blogging, I guess it’s mostly been in the realm of analyzing systems that are abusive/toxic versus safe/healthy. In the 15 years this has been my focus, I’ve posted case studies that cover a wide range of theological streams, answered key FAQs for abuse survivors, and written extensively describing and analyzing survivor communities. And I believe my book reviews and book study notes have proved valuable. Of course, my readers may have other thoughts on what has been impactful for them …

And what about the future? Once I complete the Field Guide series, I’m not sure what paths I’ll take. Maybe go back to some of the topics I’ve found most engaging and enjoyable over the years–subcultural analysis, better systems for assessing potential leaders, quadruple bottom line ministry (people, planet, profits, personal + social transformation). And I’m sure there will be surprises along the way. After all, wouldn’t that make sense for someone who started blogging on April Fools’ Day?

How the ABCs of Recovery and Resilience—and The Lord of the Rings—Saved My Sanity After Spiritual Abuse

I have long intended to write more about what I’ve come to call “the ABCs of recovery and resiliency”—Arts, Beauty, Creativity. In my studies of forms of abuse since 2007, I’ve frequently noticed these ABCs showing up in profiles of survivors of abuse, and in people involved in resistance against evil. Even in the most extreme situations of control and violence, forms of media emerge as a source of comfort, solidarity, inspiration.

I will have much more to say about some of the case studies I’ve come across. But, on this first day of 2023, I have an initial story of my own interactions with the ABCs to share … and how The Lord of the Rings saved my sanity after severe spiritual abuse 20 years ago.

The Fellowship of the Ring was released in theatres in December 2001. It may surprise you that, at that time, I had not yet read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy! As a novice immersing into Middle-earth, I remember the movie being hard for me to follow. So many characters and places and plot points, and the names Sauron/Saruman being so similar—and which was who again?

It was daunting. I asked a lot of questions of friends who knew their Tolkien well. Still, the journey of Frodo and the Fellowship inspired me to read The Lord of the Rings while awaiting The Two Towers, Peter Jackson’s next installment in December 2002. There was something deep here which tugged at my spirit, broadened my perspective, opened my emotions. Although I’d wished I’d read LOTR sooner than age 46, I was glad I finally had!

It turns out, I moved from Marin County, California, to Austin, Texas, in the autumn of 2003. This was to join a group of friends two decades younger than me who wanted to experience living in community. Among them were Shannon and Jessica, who’d been prime movers of my starting to blog, and Nathan and Amy, Erika, Laura, Stacy, and TK. We’d all been at the milestone WabiSabi event earlier that year, exploring authentic ways to connect with people like us who could be described as “cultural postmoderns.”

I was thankful to be there—not just to be in community, but to recuperate. I had recently exited from the founding team of a church plant that had turned worse than sour. It had proved downright toxic! I’ll have much more to say about that some other time. But, for now, I’ll just say the stress of that entire two-plus year situation depleted my already broken health even further. Right after the move, I could hardly walk more than a few hundred yards without being totally tuckered out. Sleep and rest often added up to more than 12 hours a day. I was a wreck!

But the time in Austin was healing—for body, soul, and spirit. LOTR played a memorable role in that, both then and later. In December 2003, our entire household went on opening night to see the finale of the trilogy: The Return of the King. We were excited for the event, as themes from LOTR had been a regular topic of conversation. (TK even went dressed as Arwen, in a spectacular burgundy and gold costume she’d made just the day before.) And we were not disappointed. Our whole row whooped and hollered and clapped at the film’s conclusion!

I didn’t know at the time, but The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy would become a strong source of solace and encouragement for me when I returned to California in the autumn of 2004. I was still dealing with the crushing impact of spiritual abuses experienced in that church plant, and, unfortunately, ended up in another church ministry that turned out likewise to be manipulative and malignant. How could I cope with serial spiritual abuse situations?

Something subliminal from deep in my previous experiences of abuse drew me then to LOTR for recovery and resilience, just as other forms of media had before. For instance, I had worn out several sets of Handel’s The Messiah on cassette tapes after a devastating church split in the 1970s. A cross made of nails from the Coventry cathedral destroyed in World War 2 had been a point for reflection after another disastrous ministry experience. And I had cycled through the Broadway soundtrack of Les Misérables over and over during that horrific church plant.

All of these somehow touched memories and opened emotions that had been harmed by abuse. I couldn’t predict what type of media would do this, but came to trust that something would serve to unlock my longing for arts, beauty, and creativity.

Anyway, I started watching the entire LOTR trilogy on DVD repeatedly. At first, the shorter theatrical version satisfied my longing for the ABCs. But, oh! The extended edition with almost 11 and a half hours of following the Fellowship! That became my main go-to free-time selection for the next five years.

I’m certain I’ve watched the trilogy at least 250 times in 20 years, and there was a time when I could quote every line. But “enduring” the epic most often felt like slogging through Middle-earth in real time. I didn’t always enjoy the experience—but if the Fellowship could endure such suffering and still overcome various impacts of evil, then perhaps there was hope for me, too.

What else drew me in?

  • The creativity and complexity of Tolkien’s story.
  • The loyalty, bravery, and resiliency of characters.
  • The operatic quality of the emotions-opening score.
  • The brilliant artisanship shown in creation of multiple cultures.
  • The beautiful depictions of nature and showing the importance of earth-care stewardship.
  • The decisive-moment perfection of photography that captured the poignancy and peril of the fight by the free peoples of Middle-earth to overcome evil.
  • The evocative truths of “eucatastrophe”—that an unexpected, providential turn of events can lead to positive outcomes when it appears all is doom and destruction.
  • The echo of biblical realities that evil will eventually be unmade and its consequences undone, often by God working through weak and marginalized people to overcome the privileged and proud.

It has been months since I last watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy. These days, I generally only watch a few hours (one of six discs) at a sitting. And I have been watching it this New Year’s weekend. It reminds me of a poem I wrote in 2003 after my first completion of The Lord of the Rings: “I Want to be Like Gandalf …” I’ve just updated it slightly to post here in celebration of 2023’s 20-year anniversary of the movie trilogy. I hope you enjoy it … and that, this year, you find the unique ABCs of recovery and resiliency that inspire and equip you toward deeper healing, higher aspirations, and enduring fellowship.

I Want to be Like Gandalf @ Brad Sargent 2023

Book Review: *Celebrities for Jesus* by Katelyn Beaty

A vital resource for diagnosing toxic evangelical celebs and their harmful ministry platforms.

As a futurist, I’m attuned to how generational dynamics play into transformation for individuals, institutions, and populations. My work includes scanning cultural horizons for emerging troubles and trends, patterns and possibilities, that affect preferable ways forward. The roots of over-relying on celebrities in evangelicalism go back 150 years. Such deep-seated paradigm flaws will take several generations minimum to fix.

We’ve seen the seeds of breaking through this stagnancy in the growing abuse survivor and deconstruction movements. Will we undertake the challenge to change our reliance on those “known for well-knownness”? Celebrities for Jesus is a first-rate field guide to equip us for discerning our best pathway ahead.

In recent years, we’ve seen a steady release of excellent books on identifying and dealing with aspects of systemic abuse in Christian settings. These new resources significantly advance our understanding of abuse as survivors, those who support and counsel them, and leaders who seek to create constructive ministry spaces. Celebrities for Jesus by Katelyn Beaty is the best yet for spotlighting the distinctive problems of toxic celebrities in evangelical Christianity.

In it, she defines celebrity as “social power without proximity.” Celebrities for Jesus examines the dynamics feeding into misuse of power in evangelical circles. Beaty—formerly a Christianity Today managing editor and now a book acquisitions editor—gives us a 150-year history of how evangelicals, media, and celebrityship became a thing so that now, “Celebrity is a feature, not a bug, of the contemporary evangelical movement.” She offers memorable concept frameworks for understanding the inner workings of celebrity power, platforms, and personas; and how these make avoiding accountability far too easy for them.

She also considers the fandom side of these issues, unveiling what’s underneath questions like:

  • How do those we fawn over turn us into pawns?
  • Why do we grant influence over ourselves to people we don’t/can’t personally know—even if we feel we know them because of the image they project?
  • Do Cool People Christians really make our beliefs more culturally relevant and Jesus more personally attractive?
  • What happens to Christianity’s image if they fail and fall?

Beaty’s research is meticulous; her writing style, accessible and personable. She masterfully interweaves details from abuse survivors and academic experts, news reports and personality profiles, and both secular and Christian pop culture. She includes insights from trauma psychologists, sociologists, historians, counselors, denominational leaders, and more—plus illuminates her astute analysis with theological principles and practices for discerning toxic situations and developing safer/healthier ones.

Her descriptions and diagnostics are relevant to all theological/cultural rivers in Christianity. But, she maintains her promised focus by illustrating issues across multiple streams that feed into the river of evangelicalism. I was especially impressed with how Beaty navigates the unfortunately wide range of abusive evangelical celebrities. She selects an insightful set of negative examples that are not just among the most prominent (and widely destructive) in recent years, but that typically have yielded years to decades of documentation exposing specific tools and tactics each used in their particular forms of misconduct and in silencing their victims.

I also deeply appreciate the new perspectives I learned from her chapter on persona. These include dynamics of (self-)deception and how the inner workings of “character splitting” and “parasocial relationship” set celebrities up for isolation and adulation.

As Beaty herself has stated, the emphasis in Celebrities for Jesus is on problem diagnosis. However, she does use the last two chapters to explore practical solutions. In them she shows the value of everyday discipleship, serving with humility, laboring in obscurity. She touches upon these themes in earlier chapters, making her concluding section a hope-filled springboard for applying all that she has shared.

Full disclosure: I received a digital Advanced Reader Copy of Celebrities for Jesus for being on Katelyn Beaty’s book launch team.

*   *   *   *   *

Some potent quotes from Celebrities for Jesus.

*Celebrities for Jesus* by Katelyn Beaty, Available for Preorder!

Celebrities for Jesus, by Katelyn Beaty

I’ve been following Katelyn Beaty on Twitter for a while now, and that’s where I found out about her forthcoming book, Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits are Hurting the Church. It will be published in August by Brazos Press.

This hits many topics that I’m interested in. I applied to be on Katelyn’s launch team and am grateful to have been accepted! Over the last 50 years, I’ve survived five severe situations of spiritual abuse in churches, ministries, and Christian non-profits–several of which were connected with celebrity preachers. The first (late 1970s) was at a time when there would not be books on identifying and recovering from spiritual abuse for another 15 years. So, resources for survivors has long been a priority.

I’ve also been developed case studies of malignant leaders and their toxic systems for the last 15 years, and am highly concerned about how UNqualified and DISqualified individuals keep getting platformed–especially in church planting systems.

So much toxicity that needs to be brought under Kingdom klieg lights and aired out to prevent future abuses–insofar as possible! From her insightful presence on Twitter, I felt Katelyn’s book would make a significant and timely contribution to practical resources about safe versus sick leaders and platforms.

I’ll be reviewing Celebrities for Jesus soon, and want to encourage you to preorder a copy. You’ll receive a link to download Chapters 1 and Chapter 2 within one business day of filling out the preorder form.

Also, consider following Katelyn on social media for more insights on these relevant topics.

Here are more info and links.

Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits are Hurting the Church

Preorder link:

Publisher’s page link:

Table of Contents:

Part 1: Big Things for God
1. Social Power without Proximity
2. The First Evangelical Celebrities
3. Megachurch, Megapastors
Part 2: Three Temptations
4. Abusing Power
5. Chasing Platforms
6. Creating Persona
Part 3: The Way Up Is Down
7. Seeking Brand Ambassadors
8. The Obscure Messiah and Ordinary Faithfulness

Katelyn Beaty

Publisher’s profile page link:

Katelyn’s website:




Hashtags to Watch For



A “Welcome Home” Hug (1989)

A “Welcome Home” Hug

© 1989 Brad Sargent

First published in Time Out! A Men’s Devotional (Evergreen Publications).

… God Himself will be with them and shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.  Death shall be no longer, nor mourning, nor crying, nor any further pain, because the former things have passed away.  Revelation 21:3-4, Revised Berkeley Version

I knew little more about Dave than two crucial facts, told to me by Charlie, a mutual friend: Dave’s wife of several years drowned in a river-rafting accident 10 weeks earlier, and Dave committed his life to Christ that same day.

I dialed nervously. The phone at the other end started ringing. I can’t believe I’m doing this, Lord! If he’s not there by six rings, I’m hanging u–


“Hi.  Is this Dave?”


“Well, Dave, you don’t know me, but my name’s Brad …”

Now, I’m as fidgety about dealing with death as the next person, but somehow I knew God wanted me to reach out to Dave. So, I phoned and invited him over for coffee. Not until his third visit did Dave share the traumatic details of Nan’s drowning. Numbed, all I could do was listen, something Dave later told me few others had been willing to do.

God continued to tie our lives together through many conversations, shared meals, hymn sings, garnet digs, helping each other pack and move.  All this time I watched and listened and prayed for healing for Dave.

Gradually, God replaced grief with wholeness. Two years after Nan’s death, Dave stopped wearing his wedding band. Two more years and he finally showed me photographs of her. Nearly two years later, Dave was dating Kerri, a wonderful woman from his home fellowship group. Dave phoned me a few months later – asking if I would be best man at their wedding!

On December 31st we stood side by side in our tuxedos. Because of our history as friends, the entire ceremony triggered deep emotions for me.  Holding back the tears proved difficult. Finally the wedding party recessed down the aisle. I looked Dave in the eyes, smiled despite the lump in my throat, and hugged him while our tears flowed freely. That hug was my way of telling him, “You’ve been restored, Dave!  Welcome home, buddy!”

Jesus watches and listens and prays for us as we go through various sufferings. What a comfort – we can tell the Great Physician all the things no one else cares to hear and He dispenses the healing balm we need. And I envision when the time comes to pass into His presence, He will reach out, clasp us close to Himself, and gently whisper, “My child, you’ve passed the test!  Welcome home!”

Thank You, Lord Jesus, You remain with me through my trials on earth and are there in person to welcome me home to heaven.  Help me remember that suffering is temporary, but joy is eternal.  Amen.

Conducting a Pastoral Search: Questions and Preparation for the Team

In a tweet posted July 29, 2021, Lori K asked for crowdsourcing on resources for pastoral searches. This blog post shares several threads I tweeted in response. I have removed tweet numbers and edited and expanded the threads slightly to improve clarity.

What are some good resources out there that church leadership should read before beginning a pastor search? Helpful info on things to watch out for, red flags to look for, good questions to ask..ect.


Issues Related to Abuse and Trauma-Informed Ministry

Here are some thoughts and questions from my perspective of involvement with church planting and social enterprises and church planter candidate assessor, plus my work as a spiritual abuse survivor-advocate-resource developer.

I appreciate the composite of figuring out “healthy” plus weeding out “toxic.” [See Part 2 for my reasoning for why I start with “unhealthy.”]

I would ask potential pastoral candidates to define “spiritual abuse” and detail their approach to how they would intervene when malignant leaders or congregants are abusing others.

Then, detail their approach for how they would disciple a congregation to prevent abuse in its many forms.

Define “healthy” for Christian individuals and institutions, and detail their approach for developing sustainably healthy ministries and congregational life in the long run.

I’d have the above issues on a preliminary questionnaire, which means a pastoral search/pulpit committee must know their perspective beforehand.

For candidates who make the cut to an in-person interview, I’d suggest a series of follow-up questions on trauma-awareness. The decision-makers need to see viable candidates’ body language plus facial expressions and hear their tone of voice as they respond to these questions—because these questions might shock or surprise a candidate (though they shouldn’t).

Define “clergy sexual misconduct.”

Summarize the laws and legal requirements in our state regarding:

  • clergy and counselor sexual misconduct
  • mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse
  • sex and “consent”

What sources do you use for researching current information on these issues?

I’d have a block of questions to probe interviewees’ experiences with associations and actions that abuse survivors-advocates-bloggers have identified as warning signs. “Tell us your thoughts about …”

  • use of non-disclosure agreements/NDAs
  • church discipline
  • church membership covenants/contracts
  • your “ideal” for leadership structures in the congregation * #MeToo movement and Christian parallels
  • what are boundary lines between legitimate pastoral care and influence, versus “overlording”
  • how leaders must handle allegations of abuse (any form) and what should instigate an independent investigations
  • what should a genuinely “independent investigation” into personal and institutional responsibility for reported abuses look like
  • what constitutes genuinely “biblical” counseling and pastoral care, contrasted with forms that abuse survivors have identified as (re-)traumatizing
  • interpersonal and institutional “reconciliation” that avoids flaws that abuse survivors have noted regarding Christian arbitration, conciliation, mediation

If interviewers/committee members don’t have answers themselves to these issues, are they ready to discern how knowledgeable and equipped candidates are to deal with spiritual toxicity in the congregation?

I may later suggest questions on the more constructive side of building healthy church. But these issues and questions about abuse and toxicity come mostly from the compilation I posted on some history plus core concerns of abuse survivors/advocates over the last 15 years that I’ve been part of it. The constructive side questions come more from church planting/assessing experiences.


Reasons Why I Put Understanding of Abuse/Toxicity Issues Before Plans for Growth/Health

Great list! I’ve thought asking to define (several things) great weeding out tool. Everything here should comprise a required seminary class

I’ve been developing an intermediate introduction that could be used at the college and seminary level. It starts with how to identify and deal with malignant people and toxic systems–then goes into how to build collaborative organizations and partnerships, using systems that are

  • safer
  • suitable for the people involved
  • culturally sensitive
  • match the scale of resources already in the context/neighborhood
  • can survive trends that no one can control (like generational shifts)
  • are holistically sustainable.

For some background on these six elements of stewardship, see section Essentials #9 – Six “S” Indicators of “Success” in Field Guide “Essentials.”

I start with the so-called “negative” for good reason. In working with church planters and social entrepreneurs over the last two decades, my sense is that they’re so focused on getting their start-up off the ground that they are especially vulnerable to it being hijacked by people with toxic agendas. So, if you can’t discern toxicity yet, it is not a great idea to do a start-up, or to attempt transitioning an existing church, ministry, or non-profit.

Similar reasoning goes into my questions aimed at figuring out where pastoral candidates currently are in knowledge, experiences, and wisdom on personal and systemic abuse dynamics. Do those first. If candidates are deficient in understanding about systemic abuse and toxicity, are they adequately prepared to facilitate congregational leadership for “health”? Or would this job situation just become a place for them to experiment with implementing whatever good *theories* they have about how church/organization should ideally run? Getting someone as a congregational facilitator/leader who is merely a theoretician about abuse is a setup for potential (probable?) disaster.

Here’s the overview of that series of Field Guides, the thinking behind it, and probable components. I’m not writing it for a Christian-only context. This forces me to use common-ground language and metaphors that work across communities.


Temperament Indicators are Insufficient for Detect Character-Deficient Candidates

Another Lori, whose tweets are set for limited viewing so I am not linking to her tweet here, commented on the thread with questions for candidates and prep-work for pastoral search team members—which apply to church planter candidate assessments as well. She noted reading @chuckdegroat‘s When Narcissism Comes to Church, and seeing “a need for new systems that start with prevention.”

My response brought up the need for a rigorous psychological evaluation of candidates for pastoral and church planter roles.

Thanks, Lori–many see the need for a new paradigm in church leader/planter assessment. Deep discussions of this came up during launch of @chuckdegroat‘s #WhenNarcissismComesToChurch, including need for psychological evaluation, conducted by a trained professional. A mere Myers-Briggs temperament will not tell you what you need to know about probable narcissism or other character issues that are disqualifications of the candidate from roles of influence and ministry.

The following link goes to a compilation of my study notes on Chuck DeGroat’s excellent book, When Narcissism Comes to Church. That page includes discussion on leader qualification assessment criteria.

Search for “Ridley” and you’ll find links to other posts that discuss or detail Dr. Charles Ridley’s assessment systems for church planter candidates, using experience-/behavior-based evaluation criteria, and more that would be helpful to pastoral search teams. His research work on what constitutes a most probably “successful” planter is based on more of a conventional business model of ministry, where the candidate is more of a vision caster who motivates and influences followers. I would suggest his criteria need to be turned inside out to accommodate the more current embodiment-based model of ministry, where the candidate is more of a vision carrier who role-models and informs/equips those he/she collaborates with. (Eventually, when time/energy allows, I plan on editing and posting an extended essay I wrote 20 years ago on what I see as this necessity for a completely revised paradigm of assessment, based on research using radically different assumptions about what constitutes “success” in ministry leadership.)