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Safe Church Teams: Leading With

An underlying principle of the way that safe church teams work is that the team works “with” rather than doing work “for”, or doing work “to” those that we serve. This is foundational to the way that we work together at every level of the church, as a congregation, classis and denomination. This article will highlight this practice of leading with, and how it’s the most effective way to create a greater level of abuse awareness, a shared commitment to prevention and set up a necessary culture to respond to abuse with justice and compassion.

A Bit of Background:

Leading with is a foundational principle of a social science called Restorative Practices, which is an outgrowth of Restorative Justice. Synod 2005 of the Christian Reformed Church adopted the following recommendation: “That synod call our churches to preach and teach restorative justice as a biblical perspective;” and further “that synod urge congregations, schools, denominational offices, other Christian institutions, and homes to employ restorative justice practices” (Acts of Synod 2005, pp. 761-762).

Restorative justice practices have developed substantially since 2005. The International Institute of Restorative Practices (IIRP) notes that “human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.” The chart below compares leadership with, as opposed to leadership to or for, that Safe Church strives to model and follow. 

We believe this restorative principle of leading with was also an important posture that Jesus carried out while on the earth with his followers. “Immanuel,” means “God with us” and is a name for Jesus that was prophesied by Isaiah (Matthew 1:26). Instead of an authoritarian God commanding allegiance and obedience, our God has come to be with us, leading us like a shepherd with his sheep, leading us to green pastures, quiet waters, and paths of righteousness. Jesus’ leadership was one of high support and high expectations. Jesus practiced and taught leadership with. . . and continues to be with us through the Holy Spirit.

This principle of leadership with, as articulated by advancing practices of Restorative Justice, and with Jesus as our exemplar, can be carried out in everyday life, and specifically in the context of safe church ministry. The following shows what leadership with may look like when applied to carry out the mission of abuse awareness, prevention,and response, ensuring all followers of Jesus have a safe place to practice ministry with the Body of Christ.

So What Does the Principle of Leadership With Look Like?

1. Leading With Vulnerability:

In a society that idealizes strength, independence, and stability, people can fear even the word vulnerability, let alone how a leadership posture could be influenced by it.  And yet, being vulnerable with each other, being known and loved in community, is our calling as the church. It requires taking risks, learning to trust each other, and loving all as God’s beloved people. Leading alongside with vulnerability is the most effective way for creating lasting and holistic change in people's lives and communities. Leading with vulnerability may not be the quickest way to get things done, however, it creates a far more healthy system in which each person is valued, and sets a foundation for a culture of trust that in turn leads to longevity and sustainability. Vulnerability → Trust → Healthy relationships → Culture of Support → Long Term Ministry. This kind of vulnerable leadership, in tandem with a strong shared mission with clear commitments and limits, results in a dynamic team that can create catalytic movement that lasts.

For Further Consideration:

  • Tell your story and find ways to communicate who you are, where you have come from, and why you care so much about abuse issues.
  • Share your leadership strengths and weaknesses and how the strengths of others may complement yours. Share your top five “strengths” according to StrengthsFinders, or share your Enneagram number, then consider inviting others to share theirs.
  • Conduct your meetings in circles (even with groups of 20 or more). Consider also starting your meetings with a check-in question for each person to answer. Here is a Word Doc on “Sample Prompting Circle Questions”, which is from the San Francisco Unified School District, you can see more resources from them here.

2. Leading With Contextually:

Each neighborhood, town, city, state, or province is different. As leaders in abuse prevention and response we need to carefully listen to the contexts we are trying to lead with. What has happened in this region in the past? Who has already championed abuse issues? Where are the assets within a community to ensure protections for people who may be vulnerable to abuse? How can our work be shared among leaders who are already on mission for the gospel?

For Further Consideration:

  • Reach out to classis leaders to ask how safe church ministry has functioned in the past and how you can best partner going forward.
  • Speak to your pastor about ways safe spaces (ie. support groups) can be created for people who have survived abuse.
  • Consider creating a quick survey (consider google forms to do so) to send to local church leadership to ask what they need, what their priorities are, or what resources would be most helpful to them.
  • Identify local organizations already working in this area and what resources they may be able to offer the church.
  • Connect with your local domestic violence shelter, ask about their perspective of ways churches should handle Domestic Violence. Ask them what they wish faith leaders knew about abuse.

3. Leading With a Committed Core:

Safe Church teams in congregations and classes are best supported by a well defined and committed core that lead, support and collaborate together. One person cannot do it all. Jesus did not send people out alone, but in pairs, nor did he practice ministry alone. We need each other’s support and encouragement. A healthy safe church team creates clear expectations for each person and supports one another to carry out the mission of abuse awareness, prevention and response.

For Further Consideration:

  • Find a variety of perspectives and representation to create a “core” of the Safe Church Team. Each person brings a unique view to abuse issues, formed by their professional background, church involvement to their gender, and how they have been affected by abuse. Be intentional about speaking with a variety of people and value each person’s unique perspective. When extending an invitation to serve, clearly name why they are needed as a core member of the safe church team.
  • For a Classis Safe Church Team, consider finding representation from a classis leader, a pastor in the region, deacons or elders, and representation from new church plants or minority churches.
  • For a Safe Church Team in a congregation, consider finding representation from a staff member (if your church has staff), and at least one council member (It may be a necessary that a council member is also a member of the safe church team/committee - however it may not be advisable for them to be the chair or lead the safe church team).
  • Ask those on your core team to commit to a term, and define well what is expected of them. Be specific about the number of core team meetings per year, perhaps some of these are face to face meetings and others are via video conference calls. Also, make sure to agree together on the specifics of educational or collaborative meetings with a wider audience.

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