Stage 1: Repair – Sustaining Hope and Help

SOURCE NOTES: The material on this subpage was previously published on my Futuristguy’s Field Guides blog, in a section giving Case Studies in Systems Analysis, Practical Solutions, and Accountability. Severity of Problems: Stage 1 – Repair/Sustain. Applying Indicators of Robust Health to Avoid Chronic or Crisis Illness.

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Stage 1 – Repair / Sustaining Hope and Help

Stage 1 Repair is more about issues of ongoing maintenance and upgrades for a system that has not progressed to system-level problems, because the everyday concerns are being addressed regularly. The other Stages represent situations that increasingly lean toward potential crisis or even organizational demise because oversight has lapsed or supposed overseers have intentionally drained the organization of its resources.

Still, Stage 1 does deal with hope, as do all of the Stages. And hope is a crucial issue in organizational survival. In my thinking, hope, prayer, and a sort of prophetic imagination of what the future could look like are all tied together. To me, this is not ethereal mumbo-jumbo. To pray is to exercise a series of practices: placing hope in God, imagining a future different from what seems inevitable, trusting He will somehow providentially provide or intervene, and taking personal and/or group actions congruent with change. This means our follow-up actions are as much a concrete, embodied part of hope as our prayers are a more abstract, unseen part of it. Both sides are necessary, even when we may feel utterly dependent on outside sources and forces for changes.

Here in Stage 1, hope remains strong because issues that would detract from it are identified and dealt with before they can take root and choke out the future potential. So, Stage 1 is more about understanding indicators of health versus illness, intervening when necessary, and taking preventive actions consistently.

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Four Stages of Remediation (c) Brad Sargent.

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SOURCE NOTES: The following material originally appeared in a futuristguy blog series on Recovery from Spiritual Abuse. It references two parts, but I am using only the first part of it as a case study here — “The Whole and the Holes.” I chose this case to show an organization that does many things right. I’ve edited the text slightly.

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Introduction: “Mentor Appreciation Month”

April happens to be a month when I take time to remember and celebrate a number of my key mentors, many of whom have passed on to their reward. These women and men have helped keep me sane (if such is possible?!) amidst the typical rigors and growing pains of maturing spiritually, and amidst the extreme emotional and spiritual pains of surviving toxic leaders and their torturous inflictions of abuse and neglect.

Through most of my twenties, I could not find anyone to mentor me. That deep but unfulfilled desire spurred me to commit myself to work toward providing for others what I could not find myself. And, when God did send “soul friends” to help refine the shape of my destiny, I rejoiced! “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12, New International Version).

And so, I am glad that I can post this entry today, in honor of them and as a fitting wrap up to Part 2 of my series on Recovery from Spiritual Abuse. Its two articles offer glimpses of hope from a healthy “integrative model” church, and from thoughts on the positive impacts of mentoring as a “soul friend.”

In retrospect, I see that my mentors’ greatest impact often came not through helping me deal with the specifics of spiritual abuse, but simply by helping me deal with the generalities of life. They helped me see myself in God’s largest perspective possible, instead of within the confines of “my issues.” How easy it is for those of us who have been spiritually abused to “become” what has happened to us, and wrap ourselves in that false identity as if we deserved it or as if we cannot escape it!

But consider the wise words of Abbe Faria, who has mentored the wrongfully imprisoned Edmond Dantes. As he dies, he whispers to Edmond, “Here now is your final lesson. Do not commit the crime for which you now serve the sentence.” (The Count of Monte Cristo, 2002 film version, scene 13.)

We never deserved abuse. We are more than the abuse we suffered. We can escape its devilish clutches. We still have an identity and destiny apart from the abuse – and we all need people who will help us break the chains of our past and stretch forward into our future. Otherwise, ironically, we inflict spiritual abuse and neglect upon ourselves … and are then more likely to “dementor” others.

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The Whole and the Holes

An Intergenerational, Intercultural Church Genre That Counteracts “Spiritual Osteoporosis”

Long ago I concluded that the main problem in our modern and postmodern fellowships is seldom false teaching. Much more, what we are missing is what traps us. Our church methodologies and structures may seem perfectly sound. But then, like spiritual osteoporosis of the soul, the gaps in our own lives and in our church Bodies go unnoticed until we experience a complete and sudden collapse. The holes that were hidden can cripple or even kill us.

If this assumption is true, and both modern and postmodern genres of being/doing church have inherent deficiencies, then what can we do? What approach fills in the gaps? Where can we find an example of holistic church that fits, especially in the emerging post-postmodern era and beyond?

Let me offer a brief case study in “integrative church planting” (i.e., intergenerational so there is mentoring and passing the church on to the next wave of leaders, and intercultural so that it calls all people groups beyond their native culture to a comprehensive “Kingdom culture”). It’ll take a book to share the details of why this approach counteracts what currently is missing in so many of our churches, but I believe even the short version can illustrate some practical aspects.

Actually, I can’t even recall how I met Pastor Bill. It was one of those relational introductions so common these days – friends telling each other about finding “our kind of church” and inviting you to come meet their cool church planter/pastor. “He’s just who he is, and he let’s everybody else be real, too!”

Bill is one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever met, but you’d only know that because it can’t be hidden. He’s also one of the most humble leaders-by-example I’ve ever met, and that can’t be faked. Bill’s innovative, narrative-based sermons bring the Bible to life like nothing I’ve ever heard! He spins the stories together so well that you feel you’re walking right beside Jesus and The Twelve, surveying the scenes they saw, smelling the salts in the seas, tasting hot fish fillets straight from the fire.

Jesus comes alive to us through those sermons, and Bill models how to become like Jesus to one another. For instance, we all know we’re welcomed to drop by Bill and Laura’s place just about anytime, and it’s not just anyone who can make 20-somethings through 50-somethings feel comfortable, accepted, and equals. But they do. And they constantly disciple people naturally, in the course of pastoral care, small groups, and one-to-one conversations.

There’s such excitement among our little multigenerational band of men and women! We’ve felt like the misfits of both the world and the Church. But, ahhh, finally … here’s a place of our own! Where we meet in small groups to slog our way through Scriptures to real understandings and relevant applications. Where we’re covenanted together as each other’s priority relationships, and we experience intimacy that seems so elusive elsewhere. Where we help each other discover and use our spiritual gifts for the good of the church and the surrounding community. And none of that simply-send-“problem”-people-away-to-get-fixed mentality. With Bill’s leadership, we’ve developed a willingness to walk through life’s muck with one another, even when people do go for counseling if needed. There’s a spiritual support system beyond anything the recovery movement could offer.

Our church plant isn’t based on some external, abstract vision that we aspire to because of some pie-in-the-sky charismatic leader. Instead, this small Southern Baptist congregation is the natural expression of who we are and what we ourselves already hold inside as an organic, concrete version of seeking wholeness and holiness.

And what does our theology look like? I guess it really is the ultimate “blended” system. Overall, the theology and “style” seem to integrate the best from each major church tradition, without the excesses of each that bring toxicity. And that’s what prevents gaps, or fills them in. We have the biblical grounding supplied by theological conservatism. Reverence for God and a sense of His transcendence from the liturgical traditions. His imminence as expressed in the intentional connectivity of the radical Anabaptists, house-church movement, and other faith communities. The sense of mystery and reflection among the Orthodox branches. Broader range of freedom in expression of motion and emotions in worship from the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. Creativity and cultural relevancy of the missional church emphasis.

Does that sound to you like what we’ve been searching for the past few years to reach the emerging cultures?! It works, but it takes hard work to integrate consistently toward a comprehensive theology, axiology [values], and praxology [practice]. But we seem to have all the hallmarks of a countercultural church that is contextualized for contemporary postmodern cultures and beyond. Clarity, creativity, community, complexity, and comprehensivity – what more could you ask for …?

… well, maybe just that this little body of believers would have survived a few more decades. But Pastor Bill and “Church of the Covenant” were too far ahead of their time, and it was not financially sustainable, though it demonstrated other kinds of sustainability. The years of this, my first church planting experience, were 1979-1980, and we didn’t even know at the time we were in a vanguard “(post-)postmodern” church plant experiment.

In one way, I fibbed by tweaking the verb tenses above, as if this church existed in the here-and-now. But in another way it does, because I carry the seeds of intergenerational, intercultural church planting in my soul. I believe it represents an integrative, organic approach that will not only survive into the post-post-postmodern era, but perhaps even dominate contextualized churches in that period and multiply heartily. But first, we must move beyond mere reaction to the institutional church genres of the modernistic, monocultural past. We must move beyond the incremental changes and pragmatic experimentations of the multicultural, postmodernistic present. We must venture and adventure into the futuristic realm of intercultural, holistic paradigms.

When we’re ready for the hard theoretical, theological, and methodological work called forth by the task of filling in our gaps, I pray the remembrance of this pioneering church plant will guide us.

© 2003 Brad Sargent. The above article originally appeared in a newsletter for church planters. It is presented here with almost no editing.

Epilogue 2008. I lost track of Bill and Laura over 15 years ago, after the church folded and they relocated so Bill could work pursue doctoral studies. A few years back, I finally found them during one of my periodic internet searches for them and reconnected.

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Reference Links

1. Stage 1: Repair – Sustaining Hope and Help.

2. Stage 2: Renovate – Hope is on the Line.

3. Stage 3. Reclaim – Hope in Definite Jeopardy.

4. Stage 4. Raze – When Hope Fades or Fails.

5. Introduction to Contrasting Case Studies in Doing Organizational Repairs Wisely or Poorly.

6. Contrasting Cases: Independent versus Internal Investigation.

7. Contrasting Cases: Genuine Apologies Versus Deflections.

8. Contrasting Cases: Transparency Versus Secrecy.

9. Contrasting Cases: System-Wide Repairs Versus No Substantive Repairs.

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