If I Could Only Have 25 Books in My Ministry Library …

A friend of mine was interested in my take on a recent post by Thom Rainer, What If I Could Only Have 25 books in My Minister’s Library? I compiled my list and short descriptions of reasons for each of my selections before I looked at his list, to see how they compared.

Like Mr. Rainer, my list encompasses a range of topics and issues, and reflects my personal preferences. However, his list was what I suspected it would be: 25 books for a scholarly theologian. I guess that is how he interprets being a “minister” – some who emphasizes academic studies, exegetical research, and preaching/teaching. Certainly, there’s a role for a resource list like his. However, there was very little on his list that was directly about praxeology – practical ministry frameworks and methods – just a few titles on evangelism and church. And while his theological studies may “minister” biblical answers to people, it doesn’t seem to me it does much for the apprehension of people’s personal and social questions first, if at all.

I consider myself a ministry practitioner. I’ve been involved primarily with recovery ministries, social enterprise and church start-ups, and advocacy for survivors of spiritual abuse. So, I’m more interested in making sure I listen carefully and “get it” about actual questions, and then search the Bible for concept frameworks and practical applications as answers. My experience is that answers not matched to questions tend not to connect for people, but can pressure them to conform for wrong reasons. Also, I’ve found in my research on toxic systems and spiritual abuse that if you have supposedly sound theology but have a deficient praxeology, you tend not to be a minister who empowers hope, but end up a malignancy waiting to happen. So, I start with questions to explore, not answers to impose. My list intuitively leaned toward cultural systems and their specific underlying worldview paradigms, where Mr. Rainer’s understandably leaned toward systematic theology and books on specialist disciplines.

That said, maybe my strategy for choosing these books is more important than the final selections. In my opinion, robust ministries call for us to be generalists, conversant in multiple domains and disciplines, so we have raw materials from which to synthesize trustworthy ministries. Continue reading

Set-Ups for Being Picked Off by Authoritarian Leaders – Part 2: Dynamics of Fatherlessness and Susceptibility to Substitutes

Part 2: Fatherlessness and the Longing for Connection and Affirmation

In an earlier post, I mentioned as a key vulnerability point “Fatherlessness that leaves ‘holes in the soul’ and a longing for connection with a father figure — which a charismatic authoritarian man will gladly step in to act as and act out as. I suspect the dynamics here often lead to learned passivity, learned helplessness, learned devaluation of personal worth — and a false elevation of authority systems, masculinity, and patriarchy.”

About three years ago, I commented on the history of various men’s movements when TWW posted an article on the movie *Courageous* and the “Resolution for Men” that was being promoted with it. See: Comment 1 on general background about men’s movements over the past 50 years, Comment 2 on Promise Keepers and Christian publishing during that era, Comment 3 on core issues in gender roles, and Comment 4 on some specific streams in the secular men’s movement of the 1980s and ’90s.

Because I was involved with recovery ministries for men starting back in the mid-1980s, I read many of the secular books dealing with men’s issues. (It would still be 5+ years until Promise Keepers started, and with it, the floodgates of Christian publishing on materials for men opened … with just as much debris in that flood as life rafts.)

Poet and storyteller Robert Bly was one of the more popular writers for men in the 1980s and early ’90s. His book Iron John was a bestseller, but I found his follow-up book on The Sibling Society even more helpful on the historical roots of the mess that men often found themselves in. In it, he addressed issues of fatherlessness and the imprint of generational dynamics left on Boomer men by fathers who came of age during the Depression and World War 2, and who came home as fathers who were typically physically present but emotionally absent.

The key idea in The Sibling Society is that when the older generations are not people that younger generations want to emulate, then the younger ones create connections with their peers as the influential “others” in their life. This action cuts them off from those who could/should call them forth into being adults, which in turn sets them up to extend adolescence and delay maturity. (It can also lead to “Lord of the Flies” type situations where influence by dominant peers leads others into conformity and, ultimately, evil.)

As it turns out, Robert Bly had written the foreword to a revised and updated edition of the monumental research work by Alexander Mitscherlich: Society without the Father: A Contribution to Social Psychology. (If I remember right, this was originally published in the early 1960s in German — my copy is currently hiding in a box somewhere.) Mitscherlich had studied the fallout of the Industrial Revolution, where fathers increasingly abandoned the home, and especially the specific dynamics of what happened in his native Germany after the loss of so many men during two world wars. What had happened to the children of the WW2 years, when a generation of fathers and grandfathers in families — and in society — did not return home? Continue reading

Set-Ups for Being Picked Off by Authoritarian Leaders – Part 1: Susceptibilities to Seduction by Those with No Conscience


There has been an ongoing discussion about Douglas Wilson, about specific situations where there are allegations of abuse of authority, and about his leadership of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, and of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC). Since I lived in Pullman, Washington, and Moscow, Idaho, during the beginnings of what turned into CREC, I have been watching this current situation unfold and reflecting on its roots. For my observations and opinions on the history of ministries in these two towns, see these links on The Wartburg Watch: Comment 1, Comment 2, Comment 3, Comment 4. (There are other comments I made related to certain types of Reformed theology and Reconstructionism. To find them, search the comments section of this post for “brad/futuristguy.”)

The following comment is one I posted in response to mirele, who talked about the seductive nature of Mr. Wilson’s system. My general thoughts on what makes us susceptible to seduction by those with no conscience are here in Part 1. In Part 2, I focus in on some aspects of “fatherlessness” that makes us particularly vulnerable to authoritarian men with charisma who provide precise answers to our questions and presence to meet our father-longing. Continue reading

Building Blocks in a Certification System for Healthy Leaders and Holistic Organizations – Part 4

Leadership Certification Checkpoints

and System Trustworthiness Checklist

I’ve been having conversations with researchers and writers about spiritual abuse since the mid-2000 decade. Since at least early in the 2010 decade, we’ve increasingly talked about creating some kind of evaluation or certification process that identifies (1) issues of power abuse by leaders and (2) toxic practices in organizations. We see this as necessary because so many training programs and “meta-organizations” – like church denominations, professional networks, and informal associations – don’t always have mechanisms in place for such processes. Resources to fill that need seem a natural byproduct of the Do Good Plus Do No Harm curriculum I’ve been developing. Some of these tools will come into play in it, while others will have to wait for time and teamwork to get them produced. Continue reading

Building Blocks in a Certification System for Healthy Leaders and Holistic Organizations – Part 3

Top 10 Dimensions Our Systems Need to Equip Participants and Counteract Abuse of Power


I served a total of nearly 20 years of my work life at two universities and one seminary. I spent significant amounts of time in roles where I wrote up processes and procedures, edited catalogues and manuals, researched institutional history and governance, planned conferences, transitioned departments to digital systems, and created visual aids that captured school statistics and data. All of this gave me an insider perspective on many aspects of how educational institutions run their business – for better or for worse. That was complemented by my years of collegiate studies and many practitioner trainings on “recovery ministry” topics, learning styles, futurist skills, and start-up theories and skills for social transformation enterprises and church planting.

These experiences uncovered many gaps and excesses in our conventional systems for equipping people for both vocational and volunteer work. Since the mid-1990s, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the problems I’ve observed and experienced, trying to figure out practical ways to upgrade such systems to make them more holistic and more relevant to the changing times in which we find ourselves. I was particularly focused on approaches that promoted volunteer workers as guests in a host culture rather than as dominators, and relied on intercultural teamwork to get things done.

The following list shares my top 10 list of concepts and components to accomplish that task. I designed this list originally for faith-based trainings, because that has been the majority of where I’ve done most of my work. But, I’ve adapted it here for broader audiences who want to do good plus do no harm.

The items that are ideas generally are interwoven throughout this curriculum. Others require larger components to be added in forthcoming modules as time allows. For instance, plans for the larger Opal Design Systems eventually include the following elements:

  • Field Guides (curriculum for social transformation entrepreneurs).
  • Personal Profiles (assessment tools for self-discovery and team building).
  • Organizational Profiles (evaluation tools for identifying overall “health” of an organizational system, plus pinpoint problem areas that need to be addressed).
  • Cultural GPS system (for dealing with cross-cultural communications and culture shock issues).
  • Group simulation games and practice projects (to apply ideas with teamwork in a more monitored “laboratory” setting where it’s safer to make mistakes).
  • Case studies (media, historical, and quadruple bottom line).

Not all of these elements can be presented in the text of a curriculum, because they require a relational context – teamwork, internships, mentoring. But some such elements can at least be simulated, through case studies. Altogether, these create the Opal Design Systems. I will also recommend other well-developed systems that have compatible approaches. These include assessment tools, organizational systems development, project planning and evaluation tools, and systems of indicators for qualitative measurement of project impact. Continue reading

Building Blocks in a Certification System for Healthy Leaders and Holistic Organizations – Part 2

Top 20 Problems I’ve Encountered in Organizations

I have real-world personal stories that go with every one of these situations and the questions embedded them. I’ve clustered them according to which of the three volumes in my curriculum I deal with them. I’ll share relevant vignettes when I detail frameworks I found or figured out to understand what had happened and applications for what to do about it. Continue reading

Building Blocks in a Certification System for Healthy Leaders and Holistic Organizations – Part 1

This blog series was originally focused on introducing the curriculum I’ve been writing for church planters and social transformation entrepreneurs: Do Good Plus Do No Harm. While piecing together the four parts of the series, I realized it had turned into something else. For over a decade, I’ve been dialoguing with survivors of spiritual abuse in church plants, “legacy churches,” and Christian non-profits. One concern that surfaces repeatedly is, “We need a way to identify toxic organizations and certify ones that are truly ‘safe.’ Who could we do that, and how? What would that process look like?”

After almost seven years of working on my curriculum, I keep coming back to the same elements that I believe are building blocks for exactly that kind of certification system. While they may seem “negative,” because they started from actual, soul-damaging situations of abuse of power in religious organizations, I don’t know a better way to arrive at principles and practices for what’s “healthy” and “whole” than from experiencing the opposite: malignant leaders and toxic organizations.

And it seems to me that too many textbooks that are supposed to be about quality leadership and great systems don’t always seem to take into account the realities of how harmful organizations happen, or the destructive aftermath they leave in the lives of those victimized in them. So, how useful are they for developing a certification system that can identify and intervene in sick systems, or even predict and help prevent them? Maybe this curriculum will serve as a base for building a certification system that can. Continue reading