I want to foster gentle, loving and gracious Redemption Groups. Over the years, I’ve heard many amazing stories of people enjoying life-changing experiences of God’s love in these groups. During this past year, I’ve also heard troubling stories from people who’d been part of the community of Mars Hill Church (recently dissolved). Some of their painful experiences involved Redemption Groups and themes that I would summarize as domineering, arrogance, and sin-hunting. It broke my heart to hear how some people had been harmed in the very groups where they should have experienced love and grace. I was a pastor at Mars Hill with responsibilities in the area of Redemption Groups, so this hits especially close to home for me.
While Mars Hill was only one of the churches running Redemption Groups, it was the first and perhaps most influential in helping to start up the ministry at other churches. So while this negative feedback was limited in scope to Mars Hill, it seemed wise to consider how far-reaching the problems might be, possibly impacting other churches in the network.
So in early November 2014, I invited churches in the Redemption Group Network to “fast” from running groups during the Winter quarter of 2015 to give attention to these concerns, to reflect, repent where necessary, and to commit ourselves to changes that would preserve and increase the fruitfulness of this ministry.
To culminate this season of “fasting” I convened a Redemption Group Leadership Summit which took place in Seattle March 2–4, 2015. Joining me there were about sixteen men and women: pastors and wives who have been site leaders running Redemption Groups at churches around the country, and some veteran leaders from the Seattle area.
In preparation for those meetings, I invited several people who’d reported negative experiences with Redemption Groups at Mars Hill to provide written feedback that I would share anonymously with the others at the Summit to better inform our discussion. I also facilitated a roundtable discussion on the evening of March 3rd with about ten former Mars Hill Redemption Group Leaders from the Seattle area. I invited them to speak of their negative experiences, and ask any questions. The rest of the Summit leaders were present as observers to learn from the discussion.
The brutal honesty was sobering. For several months prior and culminating in these recent meetings, I had been asking: How can we ensure that these groups are gentle, gracious and loving and prevent such harm in the future?
Where this question led was to re-imagining the way that the whole Redemption Group Network is structured, how new churches join the network, and how individual group leaders are trained, assessed, supervised and maintain their qualification to lead groups.
One significant part of this effort is that we want to clarify what values (think: personal character traits in leaders) are essential to healthy Redemption Group ministry and then see to it that leaders are developed according to those values. While each church in the network is responsible for the care and training of its own leaders, I intend to further equip them by developing some additional training and assessment tools.
At the Summit we began to clarify what values we thought were already held, or that we want to promote, as core convictions among the leadership across the Redemption Group Network. Though we do not always live up to our own values, and we want to be gentle and gracious with one another as we grow in them, we also want to make clear what Redemption Groups and their leaders are to be like, and what they are not to be like. We want to hold one another accountable to this for the sake of our own spiritual health as ministry leaders, and for the health and safety of group participants.
To that end, I’ve begun collecting survey responses from people across the Network. Here are a few of the values that have so far been identified as most important to us:
- Gentleness: patience and humility; self-controlled strength; can be firm without being harsh; not rash, hasty, or pushy; respectful of the other’s dignity.
- Grace: extending God’s one-way steadfast love; accepting and blessing others, especially in times of need and vulnerability.
- Christ-centered ministry: ideas, guidance, consolation, teaching, and correction are grounded in Christ and lead to deeper relationship with him as taught in Scripture.
- Empathy: compassionate presence with others amidst their experiences of sin and (especially) suffering.
UPDATE: We have concluded this survey. You can see a listing and description of our values here.
We’ve also continued refining the way we communicate these values and have updated these web pages from time to time along the way to reflect that. However, in an effort to communicate more concisely, our current list doesn’t have Empathy as its own value. The spirit of it, however, is hopefully more clearly present in what mean mean by the value of Grace. See the Values page to read more.
I’ve heard many stories where values like these have been exhibited by leaders and groups all over the network, resulting in fruitful ministry. By contrast, the harmful experiences people have had almost always involve contrary traits, like harshness or sin-hunting.
My goal is to foster the kind of ministry culture that promotes qualities like these as a normal part of the experience of being a participant or a leader. This would include the way we train and care for one another in leadership. I have some plans for this, but I’m not even saying that my ideas are the best ones. In fact, there are great things happening all over the network, and I hope to get us sharing more of the best practices so that we all grow together.
One noteworthy current initiative: I’m working to empower group participants to provide feedback in terms of these values about their experiences with groups and group leaders. I expect this to prevent patterns of harm in groups, but so much more, I expect it to provide valuable guidance for the growth of leaders. After all, these personal qualities are—in one way or another—fruits of the Spirit, the chief of which is love. We are exhorted in Scripture to promote in one another this growth in grace and Spirit-filled living. I pray that Redemption Groups will always be environments that flourish with such Spirit-empowered one-anothering.
In addition to clarifying essential character-oriented values, we also have begun clarifying essential structures and processes. While each church in the network is ultimately responsible for its own diligence in these matters, I’m asking each church that continues to run Redemption Groups to ensure that the following are in place:
- Participant feedback: provide a safe way for group participants to give feedback about their experiences, especially if they need to report problems they perceive in a group. I’ve also created a feedback form on our website at redemptiongroups.com/feedback.
- Awareness-raising and training about power dynamics and gentleness: I’ve made some training materials available and asked leaders to work through them before continuing to lead groups.
- Supervision: adequate supervision for all groups.
- Referrals: have counselor referrals on hand and encourage group participants to seek the help they need outside of group when appropriate.
- Informed consent: make sure their informed consent is clear about the non-professional, ministry-oriented help that is being offered by these groups and make sure that group leaders know to represent themselves accordingly.
These thoughts are only a beginning, intended to show the general direction that we’re heading. More to come.
May you know your Redeemer’s love,
Redemption Group Network