Don’t End in a Dark Cloud
This has been another bad season for church leaders. Some 300 priests in Pennsylvania were identified as having sexually abused over a 1000 children. Do an internet search for Bill Hybels or Willow Creek Church and you’ll read about the allegations of sexual misconduct and sin tied to the abuse of power and more. It is a very sad story of how a man who did so much for the church and the kingdom over the years, ended his ministry in a dark cloud. When the first news of the allegations appeared, Hybels denied them and only admitted to misjudgment. Frankly, when I first heard what he did, I called it “stupid”. From his own admission and from the allegations, he apparently invited women alone into his hotel rooms; had dinners one on one with women; traveled with women without their husbands; and more. Of course more is alleged to have happened that goes beyond just stupidity to outright sin, but just what he admitted to was more than dumb.
The World HAS Changed
We live in a #MeToo world. I’m actually grateful for this movement. For too long, too many men (including priests and pastors) have used and abused women and children. The core message of #MeToo is that we need to insure honor, respect and protection for all. The heart of #MeToo is that all people, especially women and children, must be listened to when they are violated or feel that they have been. But honor, respect and protection must have policies and processes that create a culture and systems that actually makes those values real and lived out. The failure at the Willow Creek Church was that the leaders at every level didn’t listen to and truly investigate the allegations.
Don’t Be Stupid
So I titled this blog – Don’t Be Stupid. I’m not just being blunt, that idea comes from Ecclesiastes 10:1-3 (NIV). It says:
As dead flies give perfume a bad smell,
so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
The heart of the wise inclines to the right,
but the heart of the fool to the left.
Even as fools walk along the road,
they lack sense
and show everyone how stupid they are.
It only takes a “little folly” to ruin years of ministry and service, and damage our organizations. When we lack wisdom and common sense, we’ll only show others how “stupid” we are. Don’t be stupid! What does that mean? We’ve created policies and procedures at Pantano Christian Church to protect both ourselves and others. We keep reviewing them to make sure they protect all parties. Let me just introduce you to what we do and why.
First, as a leader (in church or in the business or the non-profit world), you must protect yourself. There are two levels to this. The most basic level is to protect yourself from sexual temptation. This requires more in depth attention, so I’ll address this in another blog. Then, you have to protect yourself from unnecessary allegations. You can’t stop anyone from making an allegation at any time for any reason. But there are some things you can do to limit the reasons for someone to assume the worst and if an allegation is made, to protect yourself.
Here’s what I (we) do. I will not meet (meals, meetings, counseling) with or travel with a person of the opposite sex alone. I will meet with a woman as long as other people are present or I’ll meet in a setting where I can have a private conversation, but only in my office or space where there are open windows and other people in the immediate office area. I won’t allow myself to be in church bathroom if it is only me and another boy. If I find myself in that situation, I walk out. In counseling with the opposite sex I won’t share any of my own experiences or past struggles with sexual matters. I’m a hugger, but I’m very careful in how I hug a woman and only in a public place. I won’t put myself in a situation where someone can make an allegation and I (or the church) have no way to defend myself. That’s the world we live in! Don’t be stupid and protect yourself!
Yes, some of these “rules” make travel, meetings and greetings more difficult. I’ve even been criticized for following these principles. But these policies allow for me and others to have private conversations with the opposite sex – just not in a compromising context. And should an allegation come, I’ve at least attempted to protect myself. Too few churches, organizations and businesses have these policies. You can see our policies in the Resource section of the Leading Edge website.
Protect Your Staff and Volunteers
Second, you have to create an environment that protects your staff from any form of abuse or harassment. Abuse or harassment of any kind will not be tolerated at our church. It must be a safe place for all. We will do all we can not allow physical, sexual, emotional or spiritual abuse to exist and persist.
We have a clear policy on this. We have every staff member read and sign that they have read and agree to the policy. Every year in an all staff meeting I review this policy and remind everyone that we find any kind of abuse or harassment unacceptable. Further, I tell the staff that if they ever experience this they must first confront the person doing the harassment or abuse unless they truly fear physical harm. They have the right to express that they are uncomfortable in any situation. If the employee feels they have not been heard or the issue isn’t responded to well enough, or there is retaliation, they have the right to go to the next level of leadership all the way to the church board if needed. In fact, I beg them to take it to the appropriate next level. I want my staff to be responsive. Finally, we are just beginning to set up a group who will be able to receive and process any allegation against a staff person or key volunteer leader.
I shared these ideas and more at a lunch during the last Global Leadership Summit that we hosted at Pantano in August. You can watch the video here. Don’t be stupid! Protect yourself, your staff and your volunteer leaders as well as your whole congregation.