Looking for Feedback on Readability of this Article Format

I’d appreciate your feedback on the readability of the format for the article below, my Pyramid of Abuse and Scale of Accountability. I have been plugging away at developing a template to use for PDF print articles from some of my blog posts. I like what I’ve come up with overall, but also know there are some goobers in it and that it would benefit from reader feedback. For instance:

Do you find the format easy to read?

Do the typefaces in the main text feel like they match with one another?

Is there enough spacing between lines, and enough (or too much) white space between sections and around graphics?

Are different levels of subheads easily identified?

Are the colors a help or a distraction?

Those are the kinds of reactions that will help me get my template in better shape.

Once I’ve adjusted the format for better readability, I hope to post a series of printable articles from some of my major blog pieces.

Here is the prototype article. Thanks in advance for taking a look at it and offering your opinions!

Bitter Fruit: Dysfunction and Abuse in the Local Church, by Keith Gordon Ford

Bitter Fruit: Dysfunction and Abuse in the Local Church, by Keith Ford, is set to release in late June of 2021. I wrote the following endorsement quote:

Experiencing a traumatic four-way church split in the 1970s brought on a crisis of faith. Was Christianity false—or was something desperately wrong with that toxic church’s leading, teaching, structuring? There were no books on spiritual abuse recovery until 15 years later. I know now Bitter Fruit by Keith Ford is exactly the kind of solid overview of abuse symptoms, sources, systemic solutions, and health sustainability I needed then, and that the Church needs now! ~ Brad Sargent – author of “futuristguy” blogs and case studies on spiritual abuse.

I recommend Keith’s book as essential reading for abuse survivors, advocates, church leaders, and everyday disciples. Distilled from his extensive ministry experience plus deep reflection on experience of spiritual abuse, Keith Ford provides us a solid theoretical and practical introduction to abuse by individuals and institutions.

He gives a broadband overview of abuse identification, recovery, and prevention issues. I especially appreciate how Keith integrates multidisciplinary insights on symptoms, sources, systemic solutions, and sustainability with the memorable biblical metaphor of abiding in the vine.

Abuse survivor communities have been blessed by a wave of transformative, systems-oriented books the past year. They’ve helped us in our understanding and recovery. Glad to add Bitter Fruit especially to share with our support networks and those ready to understand & stand with us!

A great theological resource and intermediate-level introduction to systemic abuse. Here’s the Amazon Kindle book page, where you can check out a sample, plus review the table of contents and how Keith weaves together key topics and the vine metaphor.

Here’s the Wipf and Stock publisher’s page for Bitter Fruit: Dysfunction and Abuse in the Local Church. Read it, savor it, reflect on what it means to bear sweet fruit instead of bitter … and what to do about toxic/bitter-fruit individuals and institutions.

“Let’s Build a Book!” A Step-by-Step Process that Worked Well for Me

(c) 1995, 2009 Brad Sargent

Someone I follow on Twitter asked, “How do you write a book?” This is a process I’ve added to and adapted over the years for various kinds of non-fiction writing, script projects, case studies, poems, and more. Maybe you’ll find ideas here that will work for your projects.

* * *

Writing a book is overwhelming – if we think about everything all at once. How can we break down the writing process into manageable units that ameliorate our anxieties? (Now, that was a mouthful …)

1. Developing a Working Detail Sheet and “Mission Statement.”

  • Title, subtitle, format, target audience, topics, central idea, take-away value, and unique features. (See the handout on “Focus Questions for Writing Your Book Proposal.”)
  • Write your proposal summary, and mission statement goals in terms of what you’d like your readers to think, feel, and do. Keep material that fits with those goals; set aside material that doesn’t. (But don’t throw it away. It can probably be used elsewhere!)
  • Back-cover copy. Try writing a vivid, two– or three-paragraph overview of your book. Try using a snippet from a dramatic personal story, or a provocative question, as a hook. Don’t worry if it doesn’t come out right at first. You’re working on “tone” here, so this exercise helps set the voice and style when writing your book.

2. Brainstorming.

  • Brain dump. For at least 30 minutes, write out everything you can think of that seems to fit with the book you’re writing. Don’t worry about sorting through the ideas – that will come later. Just “download your brain” onto paper so you capture the essence of important thoughts, anecdotes, quotes, resources, etc.
  • Example: I wrote the outline for one book based on brainstorming and writing a pile of notecards, one idea per card, and then sorting them into clusters of related items. I kept the items that didn’t seem relevant during the sort process, and many of them turned up later as relevant.

3. Clustering Concepts and Adding Ideas.

  • Organize your ideas/notes into relevant clusters of related items.
  • Remove items that don’t fit. (But save them!)
  • Revise your project’s “mission statement” if the brainstorming process helps you see that a change is necessary.
  • Use different kinds of dictionaries (synonyms, antonyms, thesaurus, metaphors, clichés) to add ideas and/or cross-pollinate with what you’ve already written.

4. The All-Important First Chapter.

  • “No one has to read a book, so in chapter one we set the hook.”
  • Publishing house editor Al Janssen suggests that in chapter one we need to: “Grab the reader’s attention immediately. Identify with the reader’s felt needs. Establish your credentials as an author – your right to write to them. Clearly identify the benefits/pay-off of reading the entire book. Let people know where you’re going – give them a promise; then keep it!”

5. Do-able Bits.

  • Break things down into manageable units – book into chapters; chapters into major sections; major sections into subsections; odds and ends (bibliography, indexing, study guide questions, etc.).
  • Example: My mentor in editing, Dr. Lalia Phipps Boone, wrote 26 grade school language arts textbooks in her “spare” time by this method. She broke down the project into a bunch of “do-able bits” that would take either 15 minutes or 30 minutes to complete. Then she listed each bit on a separate piece of paper. (For instance, a 15-minute bit might involve writing a list of 30 to 50 possible vocabulary words for a specific lesson. A 30-minute bit might involve writing three or four paragraphs explaining a grammar rule, giving several examples.) In between classes she taught at the university, she’d pull out a piece of paper and finish that bit.

6. First Drafts.

There’s an excellent tip I learned at a writer’s conference years ago. One speaker said that writing is really about rewriting/editing, and that our first draft is ALWAYS bad, no matter how long it took to pump out. So, why not just write that first draft as fast as possible, because it’ll be just as rough from pouring it out in two hours as if you slave over it and start self-editing immediately and it takes us six hours instead. He called the first draft his “Zero Draft” …

7. Fun and/or Provocative Headlines.

  • In your headlines and subheads, try alliteration, rhyming, humor, allusions to classic or pop culture, questions.
  • Our table of contents is important – headlines act as a roadmap for our readers.

8. Color-Coding to Balance Chapter and Paragraph Content.

  • A helpful process is to color code your manuscripts for different kinds of content components. This will let you see if your material is reasonably well balanced for the type of book you are writing and the kinds of readers you expect. (Different readers need different things in order to identify with you as the writer and keep on reading.) For example, use yellow highlight for personal anecdotes, blue for informational content, green for key points or quotes, orange for practical implications or actions, etc. Then lay out the whole manuscript in order on the floor and step back to get the big picture. If you have more than 2 pages in a row of the same color, you’ve lost some of the readers who need the other kinds of features you offer. For instance, you may need a story section about every other page, and a quote or key point bold-faced every second or third page.
  • If you do this process in MS Word with highlighting colors, you can print it out with the “multiple pages” feature so you get the colors more than the text. Try with 4, 6, or 8 pages printed per single sheet of paper and see what color overwhelms the manuscript. Too much story? Too much theoretical information? See, and adjust …
  • This technique can also help with editing paragraphs, and not just pages. Typically, a paragraph should be mostly one color, maybe two – but if there are multiple colors in the paragraph, and each color is not a block of same-color sentences, then it’s very possible that the types or topics are too mixed up to make sense easily to the reader.

9. Editing.

Writing may be more about re-writing than just getting material down on paper for the first time. Once the editing process gets far enough along, then this tip I learned from my friend Christine Tangvald may prove helpful. Christine writes picture books for children. The word counts per page and in the total book are very stringent for children’s picture books. Once she’s got a good draft done, one of the last stages Christine goes through is to take a highlighter and mark every helping verb in the entire draft: is, was, had, have, been, be, will, may, might, etc. Then she goes through each sentence that has a marked helping verb, and she figures out if that sentence absolutely needs that word in it, or whether the sense can be conveyed by a strong verb without any helping verb. She is usually able to cut a significant number of words from the manuscript that way, plus the remaining text is more direct and uses stronger language. This process isn’t as appropriate for academic, professional, or business writing, where the “indirect voice” is often expected. But it’s worth at least one go-through to remove words that are weak or otherwise just padding, or that are just hedging ourselves from coming across as being too certain.

10. File Organizing – Keep a “Leftovers Drawer.”

Whatever you think you need to “discard” from the current project because it doesn’t fit here means it could fit somewhere else. Keep the leftovers for another project on another day.

Book Review: Posting Peace: Why Social Media Divides Us and What We Can Do About It, by Doug Bursch

I’ve lost track of how many years it’s been since I started following Doug Bursch on Twitter – at least  three, probably more. His threads drew me in because I saw in him an engaging, personable, and consistently positive online presence. I’ve seen Doug interact with consideration, kindness, and good humor toward all, even when confusion and conflict were in the mix. He has given us a trustworthy track record of practicing what he preaches. If that weren’t the case, I wouldn’t be reading or reviewing his book about peacemaking on social media.

Posting Peace: Why Social Media Divides Us and What We Can Do About It is well constructed and vividly written. I see Doug’s heart for pastoral care and spiritual formation in how he conscientiously leads us into the difficult terrain that is social media. He presents us with the core problems, carefully defines relevant terms, and summarizes key communication and media theories. He lays out insightful examples – personal, historical, current, biblical – that illustrate both issues and solutions. I especially appreciated seeing how cross-culturally aware and trauma-informed Doug is, as these are core aspects in productive ministries of reconciliation these days.

Doug’s study questions and practical #PostingPeace exercises with each chapter give us a chance to plum our own motives, face our fears, consider customized ways to embrace and embody the better way of Jesus. Posting Peace also keeps in positive tension the needs and challenges in being kind online and not merely “nice” – yet not avoiding conflict, because that often unlocks the way for people to change.

I came away with a strong sense of both the why-for’s and how-to’s of becoming a constructive ambassador of Christ and His Kingdom in the often divisive minefield of social media. The reading experience gave me a clearer picture and concrete ways for how I can do better online in bridging between polarized camps and creating space for those who are opposed. This is a balanced guidebook, full of wisdom for such a time as this, and I highly recommend it!

Disclosure: I received a digital ARC/Advanced Reader Copy and a print book as part of Doug’s launch team.

Posting Peace is available as of today–April 20th. You’ll find links and resources at the InterVarsity webpage.

The InterVarsity Press publisher’s webpage.

Downloadable excerpt of Chapter 1.

Posting Peace Study Guide PDF. Be sure to download the study guide. It’s really well done, dividing the book into 6 sessions of 2 chapters each. “Talking points” summarize each chapter. There are also notes on the practical experiments/experiences to do on social media, and discussion guides.

Doug Bursch’s @fairlyspiritual Twitter handle and #PostingPeace hashtag.

Forthcoming Review: Posting Peace, by Doug Bursch

I am on Doug Bursch’s launch team for his book, Posting Peace: Why Social Media Divides Us and What We Can Do About It. The release date is Tuesday, April 20th. I will post a full review later, but for now will note that I am finding Doug has an easy-to-read style on tough-to-consider topics about what it means to be peacemakers in a polarizing era. Doug’s writing is clear, insightful, and marbled with humor–just like his tweets on his “Fairly Spiritual” Twitter account.

Pre-order now to get it early on after it releases. You’ll find links and resources at the InterVarsity webpage.

The InterVarsity Press publisher’s webpage.

Downloadable excerpt of Chapter 1.

Posting Peace Study Guide PDF.

Doug Bursch’s @fairlyspiritual Twitter handle and #PostingPeace hashtag.

Easter Weekend and the Role of Music as Solace in the Wake of Trauma

In the darkest days of my dealing with destructive impacts of spiritual abuse, music provided a key source of emotional relief and release, and bittersweet beauty. Extended works have the most appeal and the selections changed with situations.

After my first (and one of the worst) situation of abuse, it was Handel’s Messiah. I listened to it so much that I wore out three sets of cassette tapes–which tells you how long ago that was!

Twenty years later, when I was waking up every night in cold sweats, on the verge of screaming from nightmares about church and the abusive pastor, Les Misérables was the go-to source of solace. Some days I listened to “Bring Him Home” repeatedly, tears soaking into tissues. Friends had given me the CDs a few years earlier and thought I might enjoy it. Little did they know how crucial their gift would be to my sanity …

A few years later, it was the entire Lord of the Rings extended movie trilogy (which I watched at least weekly for years) and its massive soundtrack of 11+ hours of music. Soundtracks provide the emotional cues for one’s journey through the movie, and this one is definitely epic!

I’ve watched the trilogy all in one day a few times, but usually it takes a few days to get through it. So I feel a kinship in real time with Frodo and the Fellowship as they trudge through their journeys.

But that’s what enduring and recovering from spiritual abuse was like–a massive, epic struggle where sometimes all you can do is hang in there and hope that someone left a guidewire for you to grab on to, to get out of that almost endless cave of near despair.

Last night I finished a cycle of listening to The Lord of the Rings Complete Recordings. It took a few days. But it felt like finishing was an appropriate way to mark Good Friday, and now to have Silent Saturday for reflection before Resurrection Sunday.

I’m thankful I’m not in the same place I was when LOTR was my go-to way … to focus what little energy I had in the midst of physical exhaustion from spent spiritual reserves.

These movies and music will long be a deep dive into “the ABCs of resilience and recovery” for me–Arts, Beauty, and Creativity that resource and restore my spirit.


And on this Easter weekend, may you find for the first time or in a renewed way something of beauty that lifts you up …

Forthcoming Review: The Starfish and The Spirit

I have preordered this new book from co-authors Lance Ford, Rob Wegner, and Alan Hirsch and will be reviewing it soon. I believe this will prove to be an important book for helping us shift our thinking about organic and organizational systems — and especially variations on decentralized systems and movements.

I’ve joined the Starfish Learning Stream and have appreciated their webinars on Exponential. Check out info on the book, podcast, and learning community at the book website. Other links:

The Zondervan publisher’s webpage.

The Starfish and The Spirit Facebook page.

Facebook hashtag [ #thestarfishandthespirit ].

The authors overviewed the book content in webinar episode #1. Their guest for episode #2 was the always insightful Linda Bergquist. She was the professor for the cohort of missionaries and church planters I was in for my Theological Field Education in seminary.

Consider preordering this book and becoming part of the online learning community. It will be worth your investment to be more equipped for church and movement that is more holistic, organic, and collaborative!

The book launches March 30th, and there is currently a Launch Week Raffle for The Starfish and the Spirit for several levels of prizes that include signed copies of the book and a one-hour consultation with Lance and Rob via Zoom. The deadline for raffle entries is this Friday. Here is the link to the entry raffle page.

I’m looking forward to reading, reflecting on, and reviewing The Starfish and The Spirit! I’m getting to know Rob and the important ministry work he’s been doing with teams, church planting, networks, and movements. I’ve followed Alan and Lance for over a decade for their missional and leadership work, and reviewed some of their other books:

UnLeader: Reimagining Leadership … and Why We Must, by Lance Ford (Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2012).

5Q Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ, by Alan Hirsch (2017; published by 5Q).

REVIEW: *What Comes Next? Shaping the Future in an Ever-Changing World. A Guide for Christian Leaders* Nicholas Skytland & Alicia Llewellyn

In What Comes Next?, Nick Skytland and Ali Llewellyn provide us accessible concept frameworks that make the elements of strategic foresight (“futuring”) meaningful and manageable. I find that motivating! Church, ministry, and agency leaders don’t need (or want) yet another book that is too simplistic–cool, but not practical; or too complicated–erudite, but inscrutable. Because navigating current chaos and future uncertainty is too strategic to our congregations and organizations for us to miss the mark on this.

As futurists, Ali and Nick have years of experience applying their professional expertise to help leaders work with relevant principles and practices. They aren’t here to TELL us what our future holds and what to do. Instead, they provide a roadmap that SHOWS us how to figure out what is POSSIBLE and then apply foresight principles in our own context for what is PREFERABLE. I see this as inspiring hope, and hope is an active verb.

While they acknowledge our mixed feelings about things to come and how emotions can hold us back, they help us hearken back to when we were all futurists as children. They use relatable examples of how play, imagination, curiosity, and exploration set the course for things to come. They implant and feed the seed that we can be active shapers of the future instead of passive clay that takes the imprint of whatever may happen. Yes, we really can impact the way things go! But how?

Nick and Ali detail Four Forces that form this main framework in understanding and applying What Comes Next?–purpose, people, place, and technology. This is not just a set of factors, but a system of forces. A system implies more interconnections and interactions among the members, not just a bunch of independent pieces thrown into a set list. So, various intersections among these Four Forces bring out important questions that help us find clarity in our current times, so we can then navigate our own local situations.

And, as they emphasize, “Clarity precedes strategy. ” So, their equipping process facilitates better discussing, discerning, and deciding. Leaders will (1) learn about navigating uncertainty, (2) apply curiosity and creativity to have more “successful failures,” and ultimately, (3) use these experiences for a more positive trajectory in ministry endeavors.

I appreciate how they’ve made this book engaging for people like myself who process information better in pictures more than words. And in fact, they provide elements that connect with a diverse range of ways people learn: theory and story, principles and practices, statements and questions. But then, that makes sense, if we’re to lead a flock or a team, we need a field guide to conducting and compositing a theologically sound “spiritual MRI” on trends and issues that directly affect us, so we can navigate our way forward with hope and confidence, even in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty.

What Comes Next? is definitely is a five-star field guide to equip us as explorers and shapers of our group’s most preferable future!

Note: I received an advance readers copy of this book as part of the launch team.

For more details about the book, see The Futures Framework website.

And be sure to check out the podcast series–several episodes have already been posted and the series will run from January through March 2021.

Continue reading

Two Must-Read Articles on Ravi Zacharias and RZIM, and a Reference Post

The past week, I have been compiling article links and analysis for “Ravi Zacharias and RZIM 2020 Research and Resource Post: Timeline, Links to Articles/Analysis, Nonprofit Reference.” The light for a change of discernment has been dawning for many associates of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), mostly since RZIM released an intermediate report confirming Mr. Zacharias had been sexually abusive to multiple women in spas that he had owned. The horizon is changing, and that compilation may help those who are in the process of understanding and reinterpreting what actually happened–despite earlier denials and deflections about the reported abuses. Continue reading

Redeeming Power / Diane Langberg–The Book I Waited 45 Years for it to be Written!

Redeeming Power by trauma psychologist Diane Langberg is the best book I’ve seen that introduces, equips, and challenges Christian leaders to deal with systemic abuse and historic oppression. Buy it, savor it, share it!

I have survived multiple situations of spiritual abuse by people in positions of power in churches, ministries, and non-profits—starting from my early 20s in the mid-1970s, and going into my 50s in the mid-2000s. I’ve invested much time over the last 15 years processing those destructive experiences and writing about what helped me understand and heal from them, and that supports other survivors. Continue reading