Recovery from Spiritual Abuse Part 2D-Organizational Cultural Dynamics and Governance

Are all “hierarchical” churches automatically toxic? Are all “non-hierarchical” churches automatically healthy? Governance and ministry structures do not guarantee anything in terms of church growth, church health, or church faithfulness. But various paradigms and their related methodological models surely do set us up for particular possibilities and vulnerabilities. In this post, I look at which paradigms inherently lead to monocultural, multicultural, or intercultural models of governance, and analyze some of the many layers in each model.

Surprise! I found out I had more to say about governance! And, providentially, there is lot of blogging about church structures and toxicity and power going on right now. For instance from just the last week or so, see:

I have been working away at the next few posts that I’d planned. However, it seemed an opportune moment to edit together several pieces that I worked on recently, dealing with governance and paradigms. (I apologize that the first section especially is still a bit rough, and there are gaps in describing the different cultural dynamics. But it was the best I could do with the time I had available.) I expect I’ll eventually move on to the twin topics of susceptibility to being abused or to abusing, and respectability and healthy leadership. But it just didn’t seem to be on the Spirit’s timetable today.

So – instead –  my plan for this post is to give a bit of background about paradigms and governance systems, suggest some DIY questions, and then share the majority of a report I put together recently on four different forms of governance. In a future entry, I’ll post an article I wrote on what I see as a model “intercultural” church.

Monocultural, Multicultural, and Intercultural Approaches to Organizational Culture

In the next 25 years, every North American church must face its future: Will its current leaders make clear, intentional decisions to turn over their legacy to next generations of disciples? Will they “grandfather clause” their own paradigm, systems, and methodologies onto that future? Or will they let the next leaders develop it in ways they discern as appropriate to their own times – even if that means radical departures paradigm-wise from past ways, though not from The Way of truth?

In this section, I overview three basic approaches to general organizational culture and how they affect governance: monocultural, multicultural, and intercultural. I began working on this as a comparison/contrast chart as a result of report I submitted on governance. However, this was not a part of that report.

In the report document which follows this section, I develop these concepts of cultural approaches to organization with more details and analysis on their dynamics for governance. My personal and paradigm biases are with the intercultural approach.

Monocultural Governance Models

Assumptions: Unity is more important than diversity. In a toxic monocultural model, unity is actually expressed in its outworking as uniformity: adherence to the perspectives and decisions of authority figures is expected or demanded, and questions or differences are not tolerated.

Leadership Organizing Factor: Exclusive, using distinctive inherent personhood factors or professional expertise of the individuals. Typical factors for acceptance into leadership are: generation (older), gender (men), or profession relevant to maintaining an institution (business, finance, construction, law).

The “Hidden Curriculum”: The message here is that only full-time professional ministry workers are capable of setting the vision, either by chronological maturity, spiritual maturity, academic training, or relevant occupation. When you separate between professionals and parishioners, the paid people eventually are consumed (burned out) because that’s exactly the way the system is set up: only they get to serve, but they don’t necessarily equip others for works of service.

Multicultural Governance Models

Assumptions: Maintaining unity through respecting both individuality and cultural diversity are more important than creating uniformity. In a toxic multicultural model, certain cultures that have traditionally been prominent in leadership can end up dominating.

Leadership Organizing Factor: Inclusive, based on diverse demographics as a group. Typical factors for acceptance into leadership involve the overall composition of the group. It is more likely to be “balanced” in terms of representing the racial backgrounds, generations, cultures, and perhaps genders in the congregation.

The “Hidden Curriculum”: The message here is that almost anyone could serve, and people who represent a specific desired demographic may be included when they do not have the spiritual gifting or spiritual maturity to serve as elders/deacons. The multicultural model also assumes that the most valuable perspective comes from inherent demographics (race, culture, generation, gender) rather than providential perspective based on spiritual gifts, learning styles, and unique life experiences.

Intercultural Governance Models

Assumptions: Integration of diversifications brings harmony without uniformity. In a toxic intercultural model, there could be an overemphasis on “processing,” such that the leadership team gets stuck and does not progress well toward integrating the various perspectives.

Leadership Organizing Factor: Integrative, requiring a comprehensive set of systems perspectives and/or gift clusters. Typical factors for acceptance into leadership involve the overall composition of the group. It must have representatives who bring one or more specific perspectives that are necessary for the “integrative process” to work. These include those who process life primarily through information and research; or through imagination, creativity, and futuristic scenarios of possibilities; or through emotions and relationships; or through devotional reflection/prayer, and interpreting where they see God “showing up” in situations. Some people may function with multiple perspectives (see my article on Interpolators for details).

The “Hidden Curriculum”: The message here is that involvement in governance is strength-based. It requires participants to have one or more of the required perspectives and/or relevant gifting that make “integrative processing” work, and at least a reasonable threshold of spiritual maturity as required of elders/deacons. Leadership comes to a consensus based on the different perspectives shared. The intercultural model also assumes that all learners are leaders through practicing spiritual disciplines and developing the use of their spiritual gifts; therefore, mentoring for learner/leaders is part of the sustainability systems. So, younger generation leaders-in-training will likely be included in many aspects of communal processing and discernment of directions and goals, but they are included not because of their age, but because they are qualified as “perspective apprentices.”

Do-It-Yourself Section on Organizational Cultures and Governance

Before you jump right into reading my Governance Models Report, you may want to consider the following questions:

  • Which of the three organizational culture approaches is most prominent in your current church – or the last church you participated in, if you are not currently associated with a church/fellowship?
  • What do you like and not like about each of the three approaches?
  • What do you think could be toxic features of each model, beyond what I already suggested? What about assumptions or advantages beyond what I listed?
  • The multicultural and intercultural approaches to church or ministry structure are far more rare than various monocultural ones are. Have you ever been in a multicultural or intercultural situation before for long enough to see how it did (or didn’t) work? What are your impressions of the approach used, and its results?
  • Which of the three most resonates with you overall – monocultural, multicultural, or intercultural? And why?
  • Do you think each of these three organizational culture approaches could have a related “hierarchical”/pyramid leadership structure? Or is that more natural/indigenous to only one or two of them?
  • What about “non-hierarchical”/flat leadership structures? Which organizational cultures might those be more natural/indigenous to?
  • Given what you’ve read so far, what could you foresee as the approaches most likely and least likely to appeal to younger generations and cultures at the emerging edges of North American or global society? And why?

Governance Models Report: Introduction

In February of this year, I was asked by a pastor whose church I know a lot about to help brainstorm options for transitioning their governance model. (It currently has a modified version of monocultural Model #2 as described below, but without clear accountability.) Because they probably intend to keep a structure that includes a paid staff and some kind of Board, I came up with four basic ways of structuring the combination of paid staff and volunteer Board for the functions of determining vision/mission and accountability. Two of these models were based on the Traditional and Pragmatic Paradigms as described in Robert Webber’s book, The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World. (If you follow this blog, you’ll know I consider this a “must read” book.) Two models were based on a more Holistic Paradigm, what Webber calls the Younger Evangelical Paradigm. Each of the four approaches to governance embodies into the structures a number of core values from specific paradigms.

I know there are other approaches to governance possible, and perhaps I can address those another time. But I do believe the Holistic-based models are relevant, even if your structures for gathering do not include paid staff or a Board.

Also, to make my biases known: I have been in the “Holistic Tribe” for a very long time. And it’s no secret that this is where I believe all churches and ministries in transition must eventually go, if they want to outlast the very limited shelf life remaining for the Traditional and Pragmatic Paradigms. Even so, I’ve tried to present and critique the other views as fairly as I can. The following is essentially the full report I produced, with minor editing and a few additional paragraphs drawn from earlier reports. These additions appear in square brackets.

Traditional/Pragmatic Paradigm Governance Models: Monocultural

Model #1. Complete separation of vision/mission developers (staff) from accountability keepers (Board), with a ministry focus.

Model #2. Partial separation of vision/mission developers (staff) from accountability keepers (Board), with a ministry focus.

In both of these models, the paid staff would develop the vision/mission for ministry, presumably under the leadership of a senior pastor or interim. Both integrate around implementing ministry programs, activities, and goals.

In both of these models, the Accountability Board would be responsible to evaluate periodically the progress of pastor and staff toward their approved ministry goals. Members on the Accountability Board could be chosen either for their secular professional expertise (e.g., experience in law, accounting, information systems, construction, other relevant vocations), or for demographics that represent diversity in the community (race, age, gender).

In Model #1, no paid staff would be on the Accountability Board – the separation between the two functions and groups would be full. In Model #2, some paid staff would be or could be on the Accountability Board.

Holistic Paradigm Governance Models: Multicultural and Intercultural

Model #3. Integration of vision/mission development and accountability in one team, with an intentional multicultural focus.

Model #4. Integration of vision/mission development and accountability in one team, with an intentional intercultural focus.

In both of these models, the paid staff and volunteer leaders from the congregation work together on developing and implementing both ministry functions: vision/mission and accountability. However, the focal point is not just doing ministry itself, but also ensuring that all structures lead toward a larger goal of being a Body that is either multicultural or intercultural.

In both of these models, members on the team/Board would be chosen for individual perspective contributions, in line with either a multicultural or intercultural big-picture integration focus.

In Model #3, multicultural perspectives might be social justice, gender equality, community advocacy, breaking cycles of poverty, non-English-language-based ministries, etc. This model falls within the Holistic Paradigm because it tends to address human systems. It could be more conducive to an “external focus” church. (However, I do not see external focus being the same as missional, but that is much too large of an issue to cover here.)

Model #4 involves continual interaction among a set of four perspectives that are learning-style-based and/or spiritual-gift-based, probably at least one person who covers each perspective. (Intercultural integration does not work unless all four perspectives are present.) These four perspectives that must come together and create a comprehensive faith and practice are:

  • Research. Information processing styles of fact-gathering, information analysis, conceptual frameworks, task description and procedures. Spiritual gifts of teaching, knowledge, administration.
  • Entrepreneurship. Information processing styles of ideation, imagination, big-picture thinking, synthesis, catalyze new enterprises. Spiritual gifts/roles of apostleship, prophet, faith.
  • Pastoral. Information processing styles of emotional understanding, communal focus, social justice, relational connections. Spiritual gifts/roles of evangelist, pastor, hospitality, encouragement, giving, exhortation, mercy, miracles, healing.
  • Interpretive. Information processing styles of reflection, introspection, paradoxical thinking, searching for where God providentially shows up in our circumstances. Spiritual gifts of discernment, wisdom, words of knowledge, prophecy, intercessory prayer, exhortation, leadership.

[What does a biblically integrative culture look like? The short answer is, “A group of disciples who continue moving in responsible obedience toward God’s ideal design.” To give it more description, I would suggest that in a biblically integrative culture, its members grow in both appreciating and applying a comprehensive range of specific scriptural values, and that this requires a lot of “paradigm work” – expanding our ways of processing information to embrace all four information processing modes, and drawing in theologically rich understandings of values, beliefs, and behaviors that inherently spring from each of the four modes.

  • From the Research Perspective: an inherent drive toward truthfulness, moral clarity, skepticism (critical thinking), and universal principles.
  • From the Entrepreneurship Perspective: creativity, wisdom, aesthetics, freedom, and appreciating diversity.
  • From the Pastoral Perspective: community, relationships, social ethics, justice, emotional honesty, vulnerability, redemption, and reconciliation.
  • From the Interpretive Perspective: reflection, interpretation, intercession, symbolism, context, and redemptive analogies.]

Some people have significant levels of all four perspectives. Though such “interpolators” are quite rare, they are very holistic in their paradigm and values. They are also systems-oriented in their views on processes, procedures, and infrastructures. They can cover multiple perspectives when serving on the team/Board. Most churches have very few interpolator learners/leaders. (For descriptions of who interpolators are and their roles in social transformation, see my blog entry on Interpolators. For a representative intercultural model, see my blog entry on the Training Trail Values and Vision, two-thirds the way down that post). Still, they can be identified, and must be cultivated.

Observations, Analysis, Opinions

[Please keep in mind that these opinions and recommendations were made to a leader in a Boomer-oriented, Pragmatic Paradigm church that was considering a transition in governance to be more viable in the future.]

If you decide to keep the function of vision/mission development with the paid staff, and keep that separated from accountability, then the cleanest system for segmented functions is Model #1 – which means that NO staff members (including the pastor) can be on the Accountability Board.

The Board has the responsibility to hold the pastor and staff accountable to the goals, firing them if necessary. Therefore, ethically, anyone who can be fired by the Board cannot serve on the Board, regardless of what the constitution and bylaws legally allow; it is a dual relationship that can create unnecessary conflict on the Board and/or in the Body. In my opinion, even an ex-officio capacity on the Board for pastor or staff does not resolve the internal inconsistency.

Either option of Model #1 or Model #2 keeps you in the same overall modernist-friendly Traditional and Pragmatic PARADIGMS it has functioned within since its beginning, although it might bring some change to the specific METHODOLOGICAL MODEL used within those same paradigms.

Both Models #1 and #2 focus on ministry activity and measurable outcomes, which are hallmarks of the Pragmatic paradigm. Both maintain a high degree of continuity with the paradigm of what is probably the majority of your current members and attenders. However, despite the flexibility that may be in your constitution and bylaws, neither of these models moves the church nearer to a trajectory path in the Holistic paradigm which represents the dominant processing mode of the future. It maintains an orbit around the past.

I tried, but could not come up with something that combines the Pragmatic models and Holistic models. It really did not work.

Here is why: People from Traditional and Pragmatic paradigms want structures that are authoritative, professional, clearly divided, and clean. They see Holistic approaches as too emotional, amateurish, interwoven, and messy for their tastes.

People from Holistic paradigms want structures that are authentic, peer-oriented, relationally inclusive, and personal. They see Traditional and Pragmatic approaches as controlling, exclusive, divisive, and distant.

Because of their personal paradigm and values, Holistic people will not find any natural inclination to stay where they cannot participate. It is their nature to serve, but they expect to be treated as peers in learning and working together. If everything is being controlled on their behalf, why should they stay? In their eyes, they are being kept children.

Expect the Holistics to leave – unless a clear supernatural leading of the Spirit keeps them there for specific purposes. And even then, that cannot be counted on for the long term.

There is a deep and wide divide between the Traditional/Pragmatic and the Holistic paradigms. Some of their values and goals may overlap, but their strategies, structures, and methodologies do not. Also, their trajectory paths for the common goals of personal and social transformation simply do not intersect. They might be sort of parallel for a while. However, they represent vastly different (and irreconcilable) basic choices about strategies and infrastructures. That means a clear leap in one direction or the other is necessary eventually.

If there is some incremental way to make this change, I simply cannot see what it is. Perhaps I’ve been too far into Holistic approaches for too long. But it seems to me that when organizations try to keep both paradigms intact, sooner or later one has to become dominant, or there will be constant friction. These paradigms are meant for such different cultural worlds, that if you attempt to impose yours in the wrong world creates as much chaos as Jack Skellington producing Christmas in a Halloweenish sort-of-a-kind-of-a way.

[I believe this is why we do not hear of successful or sustained “church-within-a-church” experiments. In these sincere attempts to reach out people of younger generations or more organic approaches to life, the older generation/paradigm leaders of the sponsoring church typically “own” the new ministry and do not truly empower or fully release those called to lead the new work. Thus, the Holistic Paradigm leaders/planters are rarely allowed real freedom to lead, govern, and structure according to what would be indigenous to their constituencies. Instead, they must follow at least one or more culturally antithetical forms (e.g., teaching, meeting, structuring, or reporting) as required by the Traditional/Pragmatic leaders from the mother church.]

In the world as it is emerging, the paradigms underlying Models #1 and #2 (monocultural) are TERMINAL, and therefore the models themselves have an automatic “cultural expiration date.”

The Traditional and Pragmatic Paradigms are already in the “cultural hospice ward.” Hook-ups to IVs of dwindling resources and mostly older generations of people will keep them going for a while longer, but the handwriting is on the wall. In another 25 years – if not before – people of Traditional and Pragmatic paradigms will no longer be in charge. (Does anyone really even dispute this anymore? So, the real question is, How long before churches, ministries, and agencies expend their energies on transitioning to a Holistic Paradigm?)

In the world as it is emerging, Model #3 (multicultural) is, at best, LIMINAL.

This means that additional transitions will be necessary in the near future to keep it sustained. This is because traditional inherent demographics are quickly losing their ability as predictable indicators of actual culture or perspective. [We can no longer look at a person’s race, generation, gender, country of origin, current zip code, and accurately predict much of anything.] Instead, virtual culture and chosen values are taking precedence over what used to be predictors of someone’s worldview and lifestyle.

In the world as it is emerging, Model #4 (intercultural) is THE MOST VIABLE for the long term.

Its intercultural approach and infrastructures that integrate multiple perspectives already resonate well with the relatively small numbers of older generation interpolators and with the growing number of younger generation practitioners of the Holistic Paradigm.

In my understanding of cultural transitions, the multicultural Model #3 is NOT a logical/sequential precursor to the intercultural Model #4.

The multiculturalism of Model #3 focuses on openness to all and the maintenance of cultural diversity. The interculturalism of Model #4 requires moving far beyond diversity. In it, we must actively integrate into ourselves whatever biblical aspects of culture people from other groups have, and help each other remove whatever personal and cultural aspects are anti-biblical.

So, I would suggest, being multicultural requires far less work than doing what it takes to become increasingly intercultural. That is why I say that multiculturalism is not an easy transitional step between traditionalist Models #1 or #2, and intercultural Model #4. Multiculturalism is pretty much its own goal, with a trajectory path that does not necessarily connect directly with an intercultural trajectory. (Granted, neither Model #3 or #4 is easy to live out. For case studies on multicultural churches, some with members many different international countries of origin, see People of the Dream: Multiracial Congregations in the United States by Michael O. Emerson with Rodney M. Woo.)

Regardless of the model, long-term sustainability is only possible if every staff person and every Board member mentors at least one next-generation leader.

[Mentoring as a key to “lifelong learner/leader development” is a critical element for sustainability, but it is a significantly systems-oriented issue. Perhaps I’ll be able to post material on mentoring systems sometime. In the meantime, let me just mention that this kind of development does not come from pulpit teaching. It comes from in-person work with skill-based mentors, life-maturity-based mentors, supervised ministry opportunities and internships, 360-feedback from leaders and peers in ministry or work groups, engaging with spiritual directors, etc. This integrates mentoring as a discipleship/spiritual formation systems approach that goes across all other opportunities to learn, worship, serve, fellowship, serve in the community, etc. It is not a stand-alone program.]

Governance Models Report: Conclusion

So, there you have it. Intriguingly, it seems a decision about possibly transitioning your governance model is an opportunity to revisit the kind and degree of deeper paradigm transition you could set in motion for this upcoming transition period and beyond. Ultimately, transformation is about paradigms first, and methodological models flow in consistent ways from these deeper springs of ways to process life, values, theologies, and strategies.

If you do decide to go in the direction of the intercultural Model #4, I could possibly suggest people who represent the four different perspectives and have the spiritual maturity required for roles on such a team/Board. (But I only recommend people with their permission, which would require disclosing the specific of your plan, so I must have your permission in order to seek theirs). I could also outline multiple ways of connecting singles, couples, and families for mutual mentoring as part of a larger, sustainable, “continual leadership development” process for a more sustainable future.

Back to Part 1 – Five Personal Lessons …

Back to Part 2A – Five Criteria to Choose a Healthy Fellowship …

Back to Part 2B – Five Criteria (Continued) …

Back to Part 2C – Five Criteria (Concluded) …

Back to Interlude – What Issues Would We Most Like To Explore?

Forward to Part 2E – Mentoring and Moving Toward Hope

7 thoughts on “Recovery from Spiritual Abuse Part 2D-Organizational Cultural Dynamics and Governance

  1. Great way to take the conversation, Brad. I appreciate having this written down in this manner.

    …I confess that I have thought about getting Webber’s book (and many others, too), but just haven’t gotten around to it yet. YIKES! Mercy, please, for the abbess….

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  3. Hi,
    I am still healing so I rarely comment on anyone’s post. I had speaking up “beaten out of me”. Thank you to the whole community of you that have been writing, it has been healing just to listen. I think there is a huge need for a real book.My soul was raped in a Methodist Church by a leader who needs to control everyone and everything. I have met other women in the UM churches that are led to leadership, but are physically, spiritually, verbally put in their places by the sr. pastors. Spiritual abuse crosses all boundaries it appears. Members get initiated into the doctrine that we all need to be clones and that there should never be any differences/ discontent/questioning in a Christ loving community. They are falsely taught what love means.Thus justifying the abuse to those who are not like us.

  4. I’ll have to come back and digest more of this later. I would describe my current church as in transition from a monocultural to a multicultural or intercultural model. Precisely where it will end up is not entirely clear, its a work in progress. But this is good food for thought.

    I am personally inclined towards a more multicultural approach, with space for intercultural. What I mean is, are not intercultures just immature monocultures when you look at them from a broader perspective? If you take two cultures and create a hybrid, often the result is not a collapse of two into one but a flowering of two into three!

    In my own church their are many Anglo aussies and many Tamil migrants, but there are also a number of us that are eastern influenced Anglos. We represent an interculture in the midst of multicultural diversity, and we are very much in the minority. Hmmm.

    I take your warnings for the multicultural and intercultural approaches seriously. I can see evidence of both, the processing work required for the intercultural approach is too daunting for most, and yes, quota filling is something we are wrestling with in the broader church.

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