6 Opal Design Training Course #1 [2012]

Overview of Course #1 – Safe Houses for God’s People

Course #1: Safe Houses for God’s People ~ Confronting Abusive Leaders, Malignant Ministries,

Topics in Course #1

  1. Introduction and My Own Experiences
  2. For survivors of spiritual abuse.
  3. For everyday disciples.
  4. For leadership teams.
  5. For the congregation.
  6. For the larger Christian “eco-system.”
  7. For the Kingdom – salt and light in the world.

Final Integrative Exercise

What Makes This Training Course on “Malignant Ministry” Unique?

  • For Survivors of Spiritual Abuse, and Their Personal Support Network
  • For Organizational Designers and Developers

Overview of Course #1 –

Safe Houses for God’s People

Course #1: Safe Houses for God’s People ~ Confronting Abusive Leaders, Malignant Ministries, and Christian Dystopias.

Spiritual abuse never happens in a vacuum – it happens in a system. In this case, it includes several interwoven subsystems: personal, organizational, and social. The systems of spiritual abuse typically involve abusive leaders, their enablers and excusers, faulty theology, toxic organizational practices, and a sick stance between ministry and host culture.

This Opal Design course addresses how to discern malignant ministries, challenge abusive leaders, support survivors of spiritual abuse, dismantle systems of social control, and (re)build safe and sustainable places of discipleship. It was specifically designed to provide the background necessary to complete a companion course on how to design/develop positive ministries that are safe, holistic, and sustainable. Such enterprises are theologically missional, cultural contextual, personally intercultural, and socially transformational.

In missional ministries like that, survivors of spiritual abuse may find they can fulfill a unique role as “spiritual barometers.” As they move toward maturity, past toxic experiences can continue to sharpen their discernment of indicators that suggest precursors of abuse. This course gives survivors frameworks to investigate and interpret their past and move with greater wisdom and confidence into their future.

Topics in Course #1

1. Introduction and My Own Experiences

The writer of this book, I am myself a survivor of spiritual abuse, and a designer/developer of organizations that are intentionally aimed at being safe, healthy, and sustainable.

  • 01 – Narratives. Why am I writing this book?
  • 02 – Imperatives. What is my overall perspective?
  • 03 – Perspectives. Where do I see things potentially going in the North American Church on the issue of bullying?

2. For survivors of spiritual abuse.

  • 04 – Identifications. Was I victimized, and how do I profile and interpret what happened to me?
  • 05 – Transformations. How do I recover from what happened?
  • 06 – Reactivations. What criteria should I use to choose a safe and healthy church?
  • Movies: Six “Temperatures” of Toxic Leaders (six films).

3. For everyday disciples.

  • 07 – Liberations. What do I do about lead troublemakers and bullies, and those who support them?
  • 08 – Reputations. How do I discern leaders who are trustworthy versus those who are unhealthy and don’t have the right to be followed?
  • 09 – Emancipations. How can I help support spiritual abuse survivors and their network in the recovery process?
  • Movies: Heroes and Villains in Harry Potter (eight films). How Probable Bullies Can Change (one film).

4. For leadership teams.

  • 10 – Implementations. How do I/we watch out for and work toward safe, healthy, and sustainable ministry organizational systems?
  • 11 – Supervisions. How do I/we work toward a supervision system of oversight and accountability for leaders?
  • 12 – Preventions. How do I/we create and sustain a culture of prevention so bullying isn’t tolerated and we don’t enable bullies-in-the-making?
  • Movies: Authoritarian Dystopias (four films). Incremental Change Process from Passive Enabler to Active Resister (six films).

5. For the congregation.

  • 13 – Interceptions. How do we intercept those at risk of becoming bullies or their targets, and strengthen them toward whole spiritual health and maturity?
  • 14 – Interventions. How do we discern leaders who are qualified by spiritual gifts, ministry skill level, and Christlike character and trustworthy to be followed – and those who are unqualified due to immaturity and need to grow, or disqualified due to sin and need to be removed from roles of authority?
  • 15 – Protections. How do we rehabilitate those who are repentant and potentially restore them to appropriate roles of ministry, or protect the Body from those who prove they continue to bring harm to others?
  • Movies: Confrontation and Prevention (seven films). Peacemaking (seven films). Revenge or Redemption (three films).

6. For the larger Christian “eco-system.”

  • 16 – Documentations. How do we investigate claims about spiritually abusive individuals and toxic organizations, and what are legitimate/wise ways to present our documentation?
  • 17 – Differentiations. How do we go underneath any malignant symptoms we find to figure out the sources and whether they can be corrected and if so, how?
  • 18 – Deactivations. How do we go about publicly stopping any promotion of or support for individuals and organizations that have been investigated and verified to cause harm to others?
  • Movies: Systems and Subsystems of Power (one film and two TV mini-series).

7. For the Kingdom – salt and light in the world.

  • 19 – Evaluations. How do we challenge unsafe/authoritarian individuals, organizations, cults, and cultures in Church and society, and counteract the dystopia, decadence, and/or decay they cause?
  • 20 – Contextualizations. How do we collaborate with other individuals and groups in ways that bring constructive social transformation without demanding to control all outcomes?
  • 21 – Emancipations. How do we instill around us a culture of spiritual freedom and liberty for individuals and people groups – regardless of the spiritual gaps and excesses of our host cultures?
  • Movies: Forms of Social Control: Chaos or Compliance (four films, one TV mini-series). Contextualizations (four films). Legalism, License, and Liberty (one film).

Final Integrative Exercise

The final exercise tests the understanding and application of organizational design/development frameworks and skills that are relevant to tracking the starting points and progress of transformation for both individuals and social groups. It also tests teamwork abilities to translate between verbal and visual information input sources, and to create descriptive materials that are clear and contextualized for various audiences. Hopefully this provides a fun and challenging way to bond as a team while putting to use conceptual frameworks and practical skills in cultural interpretation, contextualization discernment, and social transformation. If organizational designers/developers cannot do this well in the safe “laboratory setting” of analyzing a film, however will they do this in an actual locale with the people they meet there?

Use a teamwork format to identify and interpret all the framework concepts you can in the assigned movie. The purpose of this exercise is to reinforce the conceptual frameworks in the interwoven system formed by three sources of abuse: individuals/leaders, organizations, and societies/cultures. The specific frameworks to explore include:

  • Bullies, their enablers, and their excusers – and their abusive tactics.
  • Survivors, their advocates, and their support people – and their challenging tactics.
  • Institutionalized bullying in various organizations, businesses, and domains (media, schools, legal, political, etc.) and how the specific infrastructures in each harm people.
  • Institutionalized forms bullying in society (sexism, generational, racism, social class, other issues and/or identities). Who are the privileged groups and who are the marginalized groups? How did that happen and why?
  • Religious/Christian morals, ethics, and various stances toward culture, and how they either support some form of bullying or challenge it.

Create a “press kit” that presents the following items. The purpose of this exercise is to assess analysis, synthesis, and interpretation skills by identifying core themes in the film, key turning points for individuals and/or cultural groups in the unfolding chronological plotline, key elements of conflict that reappear in the storyline, agents of damage and destruction, agents of challenge and change, “narrative misdirection,” and ability to translate concepts to images and vice versa.

  • A set of 10 to 15 images that capture the essence of the core conflict, turning points, and resolution in the overall plotline. Each image needs to have a descriptive caption.
  • Press notes consisting of articles on: overall plot summary (chronological), plot themes, main characters and the overall role each plays, analysis of what changes come about and how, and overall spiritual and cultural significance of the film.
  • A set of four to seven proposed slogans/tag-lines that promote the essence of the film, and a related set of posters with images and tag-lines. Include slogans “slanted” for different kinds of audiences, e.g., different identity features (age, gender, generation, race, culture; bully, survivor).

Create a trading card set that includes the following subseries. The purpose of this exercise is to assess skills in tracking narrative elements, such as snapshots of character, cultural conflicts and their sources, trajectories of change for individuals and social groups, providential interaction, etc.

  • “Character cards” with a selected representative image and a one-paragraph summary profile.
  • “Storyline cards” that track the chronological development of the plot, with at least three cards that capture the action for each chapter on the film DVD.
  • “Behind the scenes” cards that suggest providential influences in how the story unfolds and the challenging of evil.

What Makes This Training Course

on “Malignant Ministry” Unique?

For Survivors of Spiritual Abuse, and Their Personal Support Network

Recovery resources typically examine tactics of toxic leaders, their faulty doctrines, and their self-serving organizational strategies. Course #1 looks at these issues, but takes a broader systems approach to explore the micro- to macro-pictures of the dynamics of damage from spiritual abuse. It looks at the interconnecting roles of abusive leaders, their networks of enablers and excusers, authoritarian organizational strategies and structures, and dystopian cultures of social control – whether “Christian” or secular. For survivors and their supporters who feel driven to understand what happened and what to do about it, this course offers systems insights you might not find elsewhere.

For Organizational Designers and Developers

Course #1 forces ministry designers and developers to take a sobering look at the harm that actually happens with people, organizations, cultures, and mission when ministries build on “spiritual DNA” that is bad. This explores the destructive impact of visionary planning gone wrong deeper than any resource for ministry catalysts and leaders I am aware of. If that prepares your heart and mind for realistic and protective planning practices in Course #2 (Opal Design for Robust Ministries), then it has done its job well. And that is because organizational designers and developers who are naïve about dynamics of spiritual abusers unwittingly provide the opening that parasitic, self-serving power-mongers are looking for to hijack the resources of others.

So, Course #2 should not be undertaken until Course #1 is completed. No one can design and lead a constructive and productive ministry that embodies true freedom in Christ unless they have at least some idea of how things can go terribly, horribly wrong. If they try to create a utopia without any wisdom of how it can turn into a dystopia, then they aren’t planting a healthy organization – they’re just running a trial-and-error experiment on people’s lives. While that may seem a harsh conclusion, the experiences of too many people who’ve been harmed speak otherwise. Enthusiasm plus ignorance creates an even higher-risk Kingdom venture.

~ July 2012


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  1. Pingback: Opal Design Curriculum Update « futuristguy

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