Periodically, I receive invitations to participate in innovative collaborative writing or blogging events, such as the Missional SynchroBlog 2008, or the Easter-to-Pentecost 2009 series on Dream Awakener. I try to say yes to such opportunities whenever possible.
About a month ago, Dr. Margaret Jones contacted me about the possibility of my futuristguy blog hosting her for a stop on her “Virtual Book Tour.” This was the first time I’d heard about this kind of very creative online “crawl” to different blogs to promote dialogue on different topics. (A very cool idea, indeed!) While intrigued with the process, I was even more taken with her topic: recovery from spiritual abuse. Dr. Jones offered several ways she could address this important topic – by responding to blog host and reader questions, supplying a guest post, and/or providing a copy of her book for the host to review.
I’ve learned by my MANY irresponsible mistakes not to “lay hands suddenly” on people and give them my endorsement “just to be nice” – or – “because they deserve a chance.” We are called upon to discern, and so I did. I took several hours to look through Amazon reviews for her book, Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapegoating and Misconduct in Churches, published by Pluck Press. By the way, this is the definition of pluck as posted on the publishing website:
Pluck (noun) showing courage and determination in spite of possible loss or injury.
In Not of My Making, Dr. Jones shares her personal story of being abused and bullied as a child, how this made her susceptible to experiences of abuse as an adult, and how she survived and constructively processed spiritually abusive “ministry.” Her career includes work as a licensed psychologist and life coach. As I prayed and evaluated all that I’d read, I concluded that she’s earned the personal credentials to say something, holds a perspective worth hearing, and that a large percentage of my readers would appreciate hearing from her. (See the ADDENDUM below for some notes about the readership here.) And so, I agreed to provide her with a platform.
I proposed that she consider a response to something like the following questions. Please drop in on Monday, May 4th, to see what she has to say. And please don’t expect her to answer all my questions, or to address one or more as specifically worded here. I was just very interested to hear whatever she’d like to say on the overall subject area, and gave her the freedom to do just that!
- Suppose you were given freedom to establish the curriculum for a course on preventing spiritually abusive leaders, and that every seminary, leadership training program, and discipleship program required the course. What would you do? What topics and evaluation tools would you make mandatory, what resources would you require, what practical assignments, etc.?
- In a seminary or training program setting or church staff in-service trainings, how would you help participants explore whether they have abusive tendencies? Are there additional suggestions you have for supervisors to spot potential problems in those they oversee? What would you recommend as a course of action for training programs and churches in intercepting any students, interns, or staff who appear to be at risk for becoming bully-leaders?
- What reparative steps would you recommend for students or staff members who have a history of manipulating or controlling others in relationships, and/or perpetrating legalism or other forms of spiritual abuse in church/ministry settings?
- For a church in conflict due to an apparently abusive leader, what guidelines would you suggest for discerning whether the situation is resolvable with the leader staying in place, or not?
- When someone has been removed from leadership for reasons of abusive behaviors, how can we know – from a counseling perspective – if/when he or she is capable of restoration to leadership roles? What might be indicators that he/she is not ready to resume a public leadership role, or not the same leadership role as previously held? Are there times when putting a former perpetrator of abuse back into the same role is too much of a temptation for him/her, and unsafe for those being led? What alternatives could you recommend in such situations?
These are some of the tough questions I’ve been asking lately about intervention, interception, and prevention of spiritually abusive leadership. They are based on my having worked at a seminary in administrative assistant roles for over 10 years and observing both the training process and the resulting next generations of purported leaders. I have also survived several church splits and numerous unqualified and disqualified leaders myself. And I am also concerned in light of recent reports about attempts to restore Todd Bentley to apparently the same role of public leadership as he held in the Lakeland Outpouring – far less than a year after the burnout and fallout there.
I’m glad Dr. Jones’ book is available as a tool for healing and health … and I look forward to your coming back on May 4th to find out what she has to say about topics related to intervention, interception, and prevention of spiritually abusive leadership.
P.S. See Dr. Jones’ Blog Tour post for a summary of her Virtual Tour to date, and her thoughts on the different stops she’s had thus far. On that post, you’ll also find a complete schedule, plus links both to previous and forthcoming stops on the Tour.
ADDENDUM: I estimate that roughly 40% of the people who find my blog do so through searches using terms related to recovery from spiritual abuse. And there’s something like 80,000 words already in the posts on my “Recovery from Spiritual Abuse” category, and over 20 posts in the “Toxicity versus Sustainability” category. I can see from blog stats at times that readers seem to be gradually working their way through such series.
Another 10-20% find futuristguy through searches on specific situations of questionable or potentially abusive leadership and/or theological systems, like the Lakeland Outpouring or the Seven Mountains movement. And so, although it was not my intent, as this blog has unfolded, spiritual health versus toxicity has become a primary focus. In fact, it turns out that the Top Searches statistics on this blog as of today are categorized as:
- Power addiction.
- Identify national and local situation/issues that require a paradigm shifting to mentoring leadership.
- Summarize spiritual abuse.
- Seven Mountains of cultural influence.
- Divine dominoes.