What Makes a Ministry “Safe”?

Introducing Four Core Questions

of “Safe” versus “Sick” Systems

OVERVIEW: I have long held the opinion that it is not enough to critique what is wrong with something, if you are not interested in figuring out what is right with it and extending that, or doing something to help fix and then keep improving what is deficient. Much of my research and writing for the past seven years on futuristguy has been about evaluating problems and moving toward solutions. This article on what makes a ministry or system “safe” versus “sick” introduces four core questions to guide our thinking. Detailed versions of the questions and contrasting responses are part of a forthcoming curriculum for social transformation agents, “Do Good, Plus Do No Harm.”

1. Are we treating people with humanization and hospitality, or objectification and hostility?

  • Humanization places objective value on people simply for their existence, regardless of what they may or may not be able to do for the institution. Objectification values people for what they can do for those in power or for the part they play in keeping the organizational machine going.
  • Hospitality welcomes people in and lifts them up. Hostility keeps people out or holds them down.
  • A good indicator of humanization and hospitality is how we divide people into categories or classes, and treated some differently based on those factors (e.g., age, race, marital status).

2. Are our leaders qualified, unqualified, or disqualified from service in a responsible public role of authority, influence, and decision-making?

  • Leaders are qualified by reason of mature personal character and consistent moral/ethical behavior.
  • Individuals who seek leadership are unqualified if they are personally immature, and/or are under-skilled for the specific requirements of the role sought.
  • Individuals who seek leadership are disqualified by reason of bad personal character and harmful/evil behavior (i.e., immoral/unethical).
  • A good project for figuring out what constitutes role-model-worthy maturity is to create “must-have” and “can’t-have” lists of character qualities and behaviors for leaders, based on Galatians 5:19-26 (the desires of the flesh versus the fruit of the Spirit), and leader profiling in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5.

3. Are our organizations structured to dominate and control, or develop and give freedom?

  • With domination, the resources flow from people-as-pawns to their exploiters. With development, the resources flow from and among participants.
  • Control conditions people into functioning outside the demands of their personal conscience and the dreams of their personal direction, and puts the responsibility for directives of “good” versus “harm” on external/organizational sources and forces. Freedom releases people to function responsibly according to their personal conscience and direction, within communal norms of “good” without inflicting “harm.”
  • Very different kinds of organizational structures can still be used to dominate and control its members. For instance, control can be through compliance (like the former Soviet Union), chaos (like the Maoist Cultural Revolution), or charisma (Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple). Authoritarian leaders can control centralized, hierarchical organizations or can co-opt decentralized, “flat structure” networks. And it does not matter whether the scale of the dominated enterprise is small, medium, or large.

4. Are our collaborative social involvements designed for sojourners or colonizers?

  • Sojourners travel together as interdependent people of equal value who serve one another for the benefit of all. Colonizers take over with some people being more important/valuable, and make the rest subservient to those few.
  • Sojourners share, listen, and teach. Colonizers take, tell, and indoctrinate.
  • Either set of dynamics seem to be able to drive any scale of collaborative enterprises from the small and local (projects), or medium and regional (partnerships) to large and global (politics).

Summary

A “safe/healthy” space is one where people are treated with humanity, welcomed with hospitality, leaders are role models for their character and behavior, the organization serves to help people develop and find their wings, as the group travels the road of life together to the benefit of both individuals and the group as a whole. A safe space nurtures hope, helpfulness, and human flourishing.

An “unsafe/toxic” space is one where people are viewed with contempt and treated as cogs in the machine that benefit the few, where those in control consistently harm others, where the organization diminishes the personhood of the many to benefit the power-prestige-greed of the few, and it imposes its limited views and unlimited desire for control wherever possible. An unsafe space inflicts despair, learned helplessness, and abuse.

Capstone 2-6: A Lawsuit Against Mars Hill Church Could be a Just Cause Because …

Introducing My Post

This post presents my case for a civil suit against Mars Hill as a biblically reasonable move to halt the corporate shut-down and (hopefully) bring about justice for those treated unrighteously, give relief for abuse survivors, and reinfuse integrity into a Christian witness in the public square.

I have studied Mars Hill Church intensively off and on for months now. I’ve concluded the organizational and spiritual situation there is dire. So, when it comes to writing capstone articles based on my research into Mars Hill Church, this is one of several posts that I’ve felt the most “fear and trembling” about. Their paradigm is excruciatingly complicated and the meltdown extremely messy. And so, I really have felt the weight of responsibility to consider various angles carefully when evaluating whether a civil suit against Mars Hill is warranted. I have concluded that it is. Continue reading

Capstone 2-5: Trends, Turning Points, and Tipping Points in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (2014) – Part 2: New Observations, Analysis, Interpretations

It’s been nearly two years since I last posted an article about emerging trends. Overall, it looks like some of the trends I noted before are seeing further development and perhaps differentiation as far as subgroups who are affected. For instance, de-churched Christians are starting to be divided into post-Christendom “nones” (who do not profess a particular religious or denominational affiliation, but consider themselves “spiritual”), and post-Church “dones” (who have given up on enduring church services where everything has been same-old, same-old for decades).

Other trends seem to have become more intensified. They definitely look to be moving toward longer-term influence in driving change. So, they’ve moved up a notch to turning points or perhaps even tipping points. Here is some of what I believe I’m seeing emerge from the fog of observation and gradually into more clarity of interpretation. Continue reading

Capstone 2-4: Trends, Turning Points, and Tipping Points in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (2014) – Part 1: Setting the Stage

Futurists, Scenarios, and Spiritual Abuse Survivors

All the futurists I know do a lot of general research and reflection on culture and change. But at some point the information needs to be narrowed down to help specifics client or group figure out how they want to navigate the issues that are most relevant to them. One of the ways futurists do that is through scenarios. Scenarios take into account the information gathered on trends, and related analysis, and put them into a realistic story form that seeks to capture the emotional impact people will feel in struggling to cope with unavoidable changes. Rather than dictating answers to the client’s questions of “So what?” (meaning) and “Now what?” (resolve to act), the futurist facilitates a process for the client to discern and decide his/her/their own answers to them. The scenario doesn’t have to be about distress and disaster to be effective. Various kinds of conflict can be effective sparks for discussing where the client is at in the midst of these changes, and what is plausible in moving on from there. “Success” can create change just as much as conflict can. Continue reading

Capstone 2-3: “Decisive Moments” and Trajectories of Transformation

Dans les champs de l’observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits prepares.

(“In the fields of observation, chance favors the prepared mind.”)

~ Louis Pasteur ~ Lecture at University of Lille ~ December 7, 1854

Intuition and Intention, Perception and Preparation

The idea of intuition fueled by preparation is nothing new. What Pasteur commented on 160 years ago related to science was reiterated 60 years ago in the arts by photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. The thing that Cartier-Bresson was known for was clicking his camera at the exact right second to capture “the decisive moment” – something that showed the essence of the subject’s identity, or perhaps a turning point in someone’s decision-making process – but in a way that helps the viewer intuitively sense what is likely next. His influential book, Images à la Sauvette, images “on the run,” was published in 1952. Providentially, his “photos on the fly” book is about to be republished in French and English editions this December, making it available again for the first time in 60-plus years. Check out some of Cartier-Bresson’s iconic photos and see what you think about what he saw when he thought … and what clicks. I have reflected over the years about this idea of a decisive moment, and wondered how it applies to skills of strategic foresight – futurism. Continue reading

Capstone 2-2: Restitution

Thought #2 ~ For Current and Recent Mars Hill Leaders:

“If you do not show genuine pastoral care now for parishioners harmed in your past, why should anyone think you will do anything different or better in the future?”

From the number of personal stories, articles, and comments posted in social media, it seems obvious that Mars Hill Church has produced a lot of “walking wounded.” Some remain inside the system. Others have gone out or been forced out. While disciples must discern and decide for themselves where, when, and how they will move forward, what do we do if we see they have been hurt in a situation – or will be harmed if they enter it or stay in it? And what will you do if you were part of the system that harmed them? Continue reading

Capstone 2-1: Consequences

Thought #1 ~ For Current and Recent Mars Hill Leaders:

“You may only think a new race is beginning. Finish the old one well, or its consequences will continue to follow you.”

It doesn’t seem that either the Mars Hill theology or its organizational system take kindly to the idea of “mutual submission” of leaders to others, especially to subordinates and members. Are leaders above questions, above challenges, above scrutiny? Or will they take time and effort to listen to the voices of concern, and resolve what is as yet unresolved?
Continue reading