It’s been about two weeks since the news story about Chris Tynes broke and I started rummaging around the internet for background details for how to make sense of what seemed a nonsensical response to a man who asked what seemed to me to be legitimate questions. As it turned out, I sensed a drive to find out more, and try to piece back together the scattered parts of the broken puzzle that I unearthed, like some online archaeologist. But multiple times along the way I’ve asked myself, Why bother?
Indeed. Why bother with Prestonwood? This is not my home church. I don’t even live in Texas. I didn’t even know any of the primary people personally. Is this really any of my business?
And yet I didn’t sense the freedom to be released from my research task. Maybe because what apparently didn’t happen at Prestonwood Baptist Church that should have been done, led to what did happen with now-convicted sexual molester John Langworthy ending up at Morrison Heights Baptist Church and what should not have been done.
So, besides that lack of release from God to go on to other things, there had to be an answer to the “Why bother?” question. And eventually it was clear. In a word: systems.
I’m a systems guy. More than that, I’m a systems guy who’s been called to work toward constructive solutions to sick systems that spew multiple forms of abuse. The more I study various forms of abuse and neglect among God’s people, and the ongoing compliance or chaos among too many of our communities, the more I see that we need multilayered solutions. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work, because systems that create the possibilities of continued abuse come from complex interwoven sources. In my studies on this the past five years, I’ve found that it can be a toxic mix of such elements as:
- Leaders who make mistakes, but don’t rectify them when made aware of them.
- Leaders who prove over time to be UNqualified (due to ongoing spiritual immaturity) or DISqualified (due to undealt-with sin), both of which lead to actions that harm God’s people – and are downright evil.
- Off-base theological doctrines and/or ministry (mal)practices.
- Failure to have any flexibility toward other kinds of cultures, and mistaking our own native paradigm as being the one and only “biblical” perpsective.
- Self-serving organizational strategies and structures that inevitably prove enriching to the elite in-group and depleting to all others.
- An entire consumeristic culture that creates control by authoritarian leaders and its counterpart of passivity among parishioners.
I’ve been in my unfair share of such situations. In fact, my Kingdom assignment as a resource developer seems to land me right in the middle of such situations on a regular basis. [Sighhh.] Definitely not fun, but certainly instructive. There is wisdom that can only come from personally experiencing the traumatic consequences of abusive-toxic-controlling people and systems. So, these aren’t book reports that I write. They are memoirs from case studies in surviving corrosive spiritual systems. Every horrific situation I endure ends up putting new “abuse indicators” onto my spiritual radar. It also motivates me to write cases studies of what others are going through, with the hope that it gives them “insider” kind of help.
Case studies really are amazing learning tools. They tend to give us enough information to demonstrate the integrated ways in which various elements merge together to create spiritual DNA and show what it replicates. In the cases I work on, it’s about what inevitably leads to unhealthy environments for discipleship. I don’t even have to go looking for case studies in how such factors weave together to form some impossible-to-undo Gordonian Knot. They just show up. Too often, actually. And the past year or two has certainly given us in the Western Church some immense and intricate case studies to consider. Penn State. The BBC. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation phone hacking scandal. The class action lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries. The Beaverton Grace Bible Church defamation lawsuit. The lawsuit by Calvary Chapel Visalia pastor Bob Grenier against his stepson and a former church member. And now this.
Look – I am not making Prestonwood Baptist Church or Morrison Heights Baptist Church into a case study in how to do things wrong. There is every indication that they have done this to themselves. Their leaders did things and failed to do things that became online news that is unscrubbable and, seemingly, undeniable. I’m just picking up some shards of the testimony to reflect back on how things got broken. Because if we can figure out how things got shattered in the first place, maybe there is some hope for fixing it now and preventing the next vessel of the Kingdom from breaking in the future.
And so, I’m not just a systems guy but an advocate for prevention of toxicity as more effective than intervention it’s become established. Although I think we’re all called to work at the level of prevention of abuse, I don’t think there are many of us called to this kind of systems resourcing role yet. It’s pretty specific and fairly unusual. But I think we’ll see more men and women called to the research, writing, and resourcing roles in the near future. How else but through equipping and training and advocating and encouraging will we ever address the sticky systems for twisted abuse of leadership authority and biblical truth?
Why bother? For the sake and safety of next generations of those who will be following Jesus – or at least we hope they will. That’s why …
In my forthcoming series of analysis essays, I seek to convey some of what I’ve learned through studying the situations of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Mississippi. I’ll use the lessons from how – in my opinion – they mostly mishandled the situation with sexual predator John Langworthy to illustrate larger system problems and potential solutions for both intervention and eventual prevention.
Please keep in mind that much of this research work is to create a profile from online sources – facts, observations, contentions, allegations, and commentary. This may turn out to be far more about clarifying the questions than finding the answers. If so, until the silence and the apparent hardened position taken by leadership in both churches cracks open, I don’t know that much change is possible for those responsible in their church systems. But I do hope the resources on this site will make a difference for them and for many other churches in the future … and that will make it worthy of “the bother.”
P.S. If you’re wondering who I am, you’ll find a section “About the Author” on Page 01 About.