Can I Edit *Safe Houses for God’s People* in a Month?

In one way, I have been working toward this month for 21 years, since I started a curriculum on cultural studies in 1991. In another way, it’s been over 3 years, since I did the first draft of the curriculum in 2009-2010. The experiences of surviving five different (but all devastating) malignant ministries go back 5, 10, 20, 25, and 35 years. If nothing else, this month is a milestone for transitioning from the process of “processing” the past to completion of something redemptive and constructive for the future. Perhaps the manuscript will ready for review by July. That would be amazing, and I pray it gets done by then. Watch the progress as I post update reports periodically … and would definitely appreciate your prayers for a productive month!

June 11 – Days #5-11. Just because I didn’t post for a week, that doesn’t mean I was being a slacker! I kept working on the book last week, but also had a few meetings. The issues discussed continued to show me the relevance of what I’m doing to help individuals recover after being trounced by “malignant ministers” and to help groups design/develop ministries that are safe, healthy, and sustainable. Sometimes part of the writing process is keeping stoked that what you’re writing about makes a difference. So, those meetings were not wasteful diversions, they were building blocks.

Meanwhile, I worked specifically on finishing a key media studies piece. Here is the problem I was attempting to address: It is too easy to stereotype ALL spiritually abusive leaders as military types, barking out commands, forcing compliance on people as if church were the army during wartime. But not all ministries that inflict psychological and spiritual agony on its followers are run like a communist dictatorship or a boot camp. Some are run by sincere but unfocused people who create self-serving chaos. Other leaders are utterly indecisive, so they control by inaction more than action. Others are erratic – sometimes calm and seemingly kind, other times yelling and cruel – so they rule by unpredictability.

So, just as there are different systems that can be abusive, there are different kinds of leaders who fit within those systems. How do we create a memorable framework for understanding that variety – one that helps us compare and contrast different leadership types? One key reason why this is important is that some survivors of abuse dive into deep analysis of what happened as a way to process events and to confirm that they are not crazy … it really did happen. But the stereotype of a harsh and calculating leader isn’t always what they’ve experienced, and yet they were still traumatized. How did that happen? What made them susceptible to this kind of perpetrator? What sorts of tactics did this particular kind of toxic leader use – even if it was NOT what other survivors of abuse experienced?

After the idea of different *temperatures* of leaders struck me, then the issue was to find films with main characters who represented different degrees of personas hot, cold, and in between. So – if you were creating a learning community exercise to sort through the range of abusive leaders, and how they act and react, what would you do? How would you SHOW the differences via movies, not just TELL readers the concepts about them? How could you make this learning exercise more interactive than just watching a movie and discussing it? How could you expand the exercise to make it accessible to people whose learning styles:

  • Require them to get the big picture before they can process the details?
  • Have a rich array of details to analyze and categorize?
  • Need to hear something, see something, or move/do some activity in order to learn best?
  • Could benefit from relating the concepts with music, art, puzzles, personal reflection, group discussions?

Bonus points if you can figure out ways to make this particular exercise fit into a series of active learning experiences that lead to the “final exam” of a full simulation game on preventing a malignant ministry from taking root while planting a church.

Not as quick and easy as it may at first appear, eh? But that’s what I did last week. A bit more work to finish the section of chapters for survivors, then on to the responsibilities of every disciple to identity people at risk of becoming toxic leaders, discerning who deserves a good or bad reputation, and how to help survivors recover. An interesting week ahead …

June 4 – Days #3 and #4. Edit-the-book-in-a-month Day #3 was Sunday, a day of rest, so I didn’t post, but I was still reflecting on things. And blog and email comments from the week got me thinking about two important themes for survivors of spiritual abuse. The first was a blog comment. It made me think about how we who survivors can serve (even in our relative brokenness) as “spiritual barometers” on the climate of safety and health in churches and ministries. As we “process” our experiences in malignant ministries, often our discernment improves – and with it, we have a better ability to give gut-level and/or analytical readings about warning signs of toxicity. Ironic … though others may see us ONLY as broken (and indeed, we have been deeply wounded), we still have something constructive to contribute toward Kingdom growth for those willing to receive a redemptive gift that emerges from our pain.

Speaking of woundedness, the other thing that got me thinking was a friend’s email. She wrote in response to my recent blog mini-series on thought control. She was musing about why spiritual abuse cuts us so deeply. It’s a violation of core personhood, because abusers not only try to prevent us from thinking our own thoughts, but they presented themselves as trustworthy. But it turns out they aren’t safe or serving others. They attempt to negate our being and diminish our impact, to amplify their own.

In light of those reflections, this should be an interesting week! It’s now early on in Day #4, and in the providential flow of things, it looks like the marching orders for the next few days are to focus in on the section about survivors. Intriguing. That means my excursion into Star Trek: First Contact and “The Picard Dossier” in the video game on the Borg will come up in a few days as one of the film and game studies for that section. The Borg may think resistance is futile, and assimilation into the Borganization is inevitable – but, in Christ we shall no longer succumb; we shall overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony! Stay tuned …

June 2nd – Day #2. Can I really do this … edit the book in a month? So today I worked on turning all 21 topics into key questions. For instance, the section focusing on survivors of spiritual abuse has three key questions:

• Was I victimized–how do I profile and interpret what happened to me?
• How do I recover from what happened?
• What criteria should I use to choose a safe and healthy church?

Pretty straight forward. But then, I finished selecting a set of illustrations for all 7 sections, 21 topics, and 7 media studies. Really engaging despite it taking hours! How do you capture the concepts and emotions of one particular issue in one great piece of artwork? Very challenging, and kind of requires involving your whole person: mind, imagination, emotions, aesthetics, will.

So, try this. Here are three possibilities to capture the “emotional espresso” of *The Hunger Games* – all from the same illustrator – Scott Maxwell – whose work I’ve used before on futuristguy. If you only had these three to choose from, which would you pick, and why? (Ignore the titles and just consider the images.) What resonates with you …? Which do you think I picked, and why? Go to the home page, then search for these three numbers (listed in no particular order):

Tomorrow, perhaps selecting original poetry to go with key topics on surviving spiritual abuse … (This is a multimedia format, after all.)

June 1st – Day #1. Spent the day doing final “split” on the outline for book #1 … what do survivors of spiritual abuse need in order to best process their experiences and move on the road to recovery and taking their place in the Body of Christ again … and what do organizational designers and developers need in order to best facilitate catalyzing ministries, churches, enterprises, and movements that are safe, healthy, and sustainable? A very productive day. Tomorrow? Surely I’ll know after I’ve had my morning coffee. There are 21 topics in Safe Houses for God’s People, so maybe it will be pulling out the 21 evaluation checklists that answer the core question in each topic … stay tuned …

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2 thoughts on “Can I Edit *Safe Houses for God’s People* in a Month?

  1. Brad,
    Your book will be an important contribution to this arena of ministry. You are uniquely capable of addressing both the systemic and the recovery aspects. I want you to know that I am cheering you on as you enter this last lap of the project.

    • Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou Linda!

      If there is one thing I’ve learned through the years of enduring abusive ministry leaders and the toxic organizations that they create, it’s that redemptive edges always hide in the midst of the rubble left from the worst of experiences … we just must discern them and do something constructive with the possibilities. This is an opportunity to do that, even though I think it’s harder to edit down three times too many words in a month than to do NaNoWriMo and create ’em all in a month.

      Anyway, I could not have survived the past few extremely difficult years without you and the other Missional Tribe Instigators and Virtual Abberians, and I am so grateful for your encouragement!

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