Stage 3. Reclaim – Hope in Definite Jeopardy

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 3 – Reclaim/Salvage.

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Stage 3 – Reclaim / Hope in Definite Jeopardy

The shift from Stage 2 Renovate to Stage 3 Reclaim involves the organizational equivalent of decisive moments in medical situations. It is like the Emergency Room with severe trauma of unexpected onset, or the Intensive Care Unit where the outcome of critical system failure problems could either lead to a miraculous turnaround with significant time for recuperation, or, more likely, a terminal condition where demise clearly is inevitable.

Here, hope is definitely in significant jeopardy. To expect a positive future requires very substantial work to revitalize systems and foster robust recuperation – but if that fails, perhaps hope shifts to grief and preparing for the equivalent of a funeral for the organization, because hope is lost.

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Four Stages of Remediation (c) Brad Sargent.

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System Solutions Case #4

Generational Dynamics: A Spin-Off Reeled In

The “emerging ministry movement” of the mid-1990s through early 2000s provided a pool of younger generation ministry activists along with older generation mentors and those who never fit in til now. This pool eventually sifted out into multiple streams, according to the overall paradigms and cultures of the people in each. Also during that period, many established churches were recognizing the need to pass the baton of leadership on to next generations, and begin transferring on their legacy. It was a time of many experiments that included:

  • Younger generation entrepreneurs starting up an independent church plant or social transformation endeavor that was not directly tied to a pre-existing church.
  • An established church acting loosely as a partner by hosting with space and/or sponsoring with finances to foster a next generation ministry or church.
  • An established church starting its own parallel church-within-a-church next generation style service. This may have been as minimal as offering an “alternative service for postmoderns” to a full-out partnership to incubate a sibling church with its own systems, strategies, and staff.

For a few years during that heady and creative period, I was in an established church that launched a parallel, postmodern-friendly church-within-a-church. While there was some overlap with some singles, couples, and families participating in both the established and the emerging church groups, most of the church-within-a-church were 20/30-somethings. For month after month, the people in this alternative service worked together to establish an intentional “culture of participation” – shared leadership, open brainstorming to crowd-source ideas for how we wanted to do things, everybody helping with general activities along with each contributing more in their particular areas of giftings. That approach went counter to the “consumer culture” that dominated the established church – come, sit, and listen to the paid staff; get involved in pre-processed programs where you can fit into a prescribed role; give to help pay the professionals who provide everything else for you.

As you might imagine, the alternative service moved beyond an activity to becoming a community. When you relate that deeply, and work together to create common ground for the common good, something happens. The group of regular participants looked ever more like an organic church. It really seemed ready to spin off and become an independent entity, but still a sibling interdependent with the church that started it. One of the younger-generation staff members of the established church, who was also very relational and a capable pastor, was already the acknowledged overseer of the would-be spin-off.

However, that was the moment when the senior pastor of the established church stepped in, declared that this was merely meant to be another worship service offered by his church, and that it could not become its own thing. In other words, he “reclaimed” it as full under the authority of his leadership. The would-be next-generation church was reeled back in to being just another service – for a short while. But clearly, the hope was gone, the participants felt defeated and deflated, and the vision died altogether, as did the alternative service. Within a month, it was dead, and many who had been part when it was alive and vibrant now gradually filtered out of that church entirely. The arc of this story took place over less than three years, the denouement barely a month.

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System Solutions Case #5

Healing After Clergy Sexual Misconduct: An Explosion in Reverse

Start-ups always seem to involve precarious periods, even volatile. But some things will bust them up perhaps quicker than anything else, betrayal of trust being one of them. An acquaintance told me the story of the church she went to. It started as a church plant and seemed to be going and growing well, both quantitatively and qualitatively. It was well over 150 people, and they were participating and connecting, and sensed this group was going somewhere important and doing something unique.

Then it turned out that several prominent leaders were involved in marital infidelity. The situation was such that some congregation members felt they needed to forgive, let the people recover, and move on. Others felt that was minimizing the severity of what had happened. This difference of approaches got all mixed in with other personal and organizational issues, and it ended up that people were arguing and gossiping and back-biting all the time. It became so bad that the entire fabric of their community completely ripped apart and no one would talk with each other anymore. What had once appeared to be thriving was basically destroyed by the layers of betrayal.

However, there was one “little old lady,” then in her late 60s or early 70s, who reached out to each person who had been in the church. She made no demands or suggestions, only offered to be a listening ear if the other person wanted someone to talk with and process what had happened. Gradually, individuals began healing through the quiet but persistent ministry of this woman. And as that happened, slowly some re-initiated contact with other individuals from the exploded church whom they’d previously cut ties with. And as that happened, eventually some smaller groups formed or reconnected. And that ultimately resulted in a group of about 50 to 60 people who were willing to try to become a community and congregation again.

But what kind of pastor or leader or church planter would ever want to come into a situation with a history like that? In fact, they found a relatively seasoned pastor who was willing. However, when he came to explore that possibility with this reconnected group, he brought conditions with him. If they wanted him to be their pastor, then for the first year, there would be no ministries, no programs, no outreach. He told them gently but clearly that they were still dealing with grief and betrayal and wounding that all went deep. So, for the first year, he would lead them in worship together, and teach through series of Bible passages and stories about healing, and forgiveness, and reconciliation. And then, at the end of a year, they’d re-evaluate and see what needed to happen next. But he believe that if the toxic mix of damages were submerged underneath ministry activity, something as bad or worse would eventually resurface.

The group agreed, and they did what that wise pastor suggested, and became what the little old lady had hoped in her heart would come to pass. So that whole process took several years for the group that had been split asunder to be moved from the doorway of death to be resuscitated, rejoined, and recommitted, and then at least that first whole year to explore the meanings and purposes of recovery, reclamation, and restoration.

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System Solutions Case #6

Changes in the Aftermath of Child Sexual Abuse: A Study in “Concrete Transparency”

Money, sex, and power – the triplet temptations, especially for those in positions of authority who have the means to hide them. There was a church that once had a great legacy of sharing the good news of Jesus, and serving in the community. But somewhere along the line, some leaders left the path of righteousness, and all kinds of darkness flooded in. By the time several years of horrible revelations ended, the list included adultery, theft, infidelity with staff and counselees, sexual assaults of teens and children at the church building, and child abuse. The battered and traumatized body of believers who survived all that brought on board a pastor willing to work with them long term to help right the wrongs, heal the wounded, reach the community, and train up new generations of leaders. That way, a redemptive legacy could be redeveloped and passed on.

The pastor and his wife were part of what became a team that included both women and men, and people of different generations and cultures. One of the first things to happen to “clean house” was highly symbolic but also very practical. The nursery, children’s ministry rooms, and all the main offices had the wood walls removed and replaced with floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Rooms that shouldn’t have locks, had them removed. This meant full transparency now for rooms where assaults and abuse had occurred then. Solid doors for all staff offices and conference rooms were replaced with ones that had large windows in the upper half. These lined a hallway where other staff and visitors might walk past at any random moment, and so the possibility of hiding was lessened.

Those kinds of concrete actions made a spiritual difference. The content of ministry changed to, to match this new direction and openness. Practical sermons, healing seminars, mentoring meetings, listening sessions, neighborhood study-and-mission groups, community access, leadership development. In a slow investment process that took over 10 years, the sins and evil of this church’s past had been addressed as best as possible. Also put in place were a new course reset toward a vibrant and missional future – with enough strategy and structures to provide for organizational needs – along with enough local connections and relationships to keep things organic, indigenous, and flexible. A church on the edge of destruction had been reclaimed before it was too late.

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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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