October 29, 2020

a shout-out to the meddling kids: the Age of the Unmasking

It feels like the end of a Scooby Doo episode. An unmasking of sorts.

Later this afternoon, Perth Australia time, a report will be released by the remaining elders of The Crowded House network in Sheffield UK.

The report, commissioned by those elders, and carried out by the national safeguarding review organisation in the UK, Thirtyone:eight, runs to 90 pages and contains material gleaned from interviews with 80 people.

Thirtyone:eight takes its name from Proverbs 31:8, better known as the “good wife who can find” chapter in Proverbs, but which of you knew the chapter also contained these words?:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.

And here you were thinking it was all “more precious than rubies” and rising up to call her blessed.

I was interviewed by thirtyone:eight for more than two hours, as were many of the people who aligned with me late last year, and earlier this year, to call out the behaviour of the leader of The Crowded House, who had also been in charge of the Acts29 church planting network, globally.

I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of the report before it is released (there’s time enough for that when it comes out), but suffice to say, despite claims that those who were instrumental in pushing this process forward were simply meddling, or should have done Matthew 18 privately (25 years of that with no results by many people), the meddling kids were right to do what they did.

Sure we were pesky, and sure we occasionally ran ahead of ourselves, but I would do it all again if I had to. I would do it all again even given the emotional toll and the personal fear of being so exposed.

Having led the process that began life as a final “hail Mary” blog post calling out the ongoing problem (my wife was sure we would be sued and we would lose our house!) it all got bigger than I intended.

Many ex-TCH-ers wished to sign that blog post statement, but were fearful of the consequences, hence the decision by Christianity Today, and its excellent features editor, Kate Shellnutt, to see if this was a story worth running. And when she did, it took some of the heat from us.

CT did an excellent, thorough, and watertight job of fact checking everything before anything went to print. Everything.

Which is just as well, for at the very time the story was about to be published, Acts29 took the step of sacking that leader for the very same reasons we were agitating about.

The only reason, in the end, that Acts29 admitted that it was for the same reasons was that our story dropped the very day that Acts29 announced Steve Timmis was leaving, which meant they had some explaining to do.

To this day my biggest concern is that the church planting network with a history of a bully leader in Mark Driscoll, was happy to let Steve Timmis go without giving a word of warning to anyone else that there might be a problem. It felt like it was all about the brand protection and nothing about flock protection.

It took the meddling kids to say “Can we put a stop to this merry-go-round?”

And the proof that the meddling kids got it right is the tsunami of other people who ended up contacting Thirtyone:eight with exactly the same stories, often people I don’t even know and have never heard of.

Not all meddling kids are right to meddle all of the time. Sometimes good people are accused of things that are either not true, or are simply one-off poor relationship/management decisions. Sometimes meddling is just meddling.

But not always. Indeed less times than you might think.

I gotta say, the last few years in evangelicalism around the West has been the era of the great unmasking. It feels like “Big Eva” has a problem around its leadership style, and as the stats show (thanks to the likes of authors Wade Mullens and Chuck de Groat, and journalists such as Kate Shellnutt and Julie Roys), churches attract an inordinate amount of leaders high up the narcissistic scale.

And in this era of “we need someone to get stuff done cos the church is in a tight spot”, that’s often a recipe for disaster. Disaster first and foremost for those who fall under the wheels of the narcissistic leader, because organisations refuse to listen to the bleating of the sheep for way too long. But in the end, long term disaster for the organisations that end up leaking people, finances and reputation.

This has been the era of a great unmasking. And it’s been hard to witness. But let me tell you it’s been harder to experience before the unmasking is done. It’s been dismaying to be part of that long line of people who watch as someone stands on a platform and preaches the opposite to how they behave.

Of course, and this applies to so many areas of life, if you are looking for full justice in this age you will never see it. That’s not how it works.

That’s because justice in this age is a shadow of true justice, the great unmasking of the last day, a day in which even my heart is going to be unmasked. Not simply my actions revealed, but my motives unmasked. Even my motives for doing what I did last year will be weighed in the balances of The Great UnMasker.

And that should sober us. It should drive us to repentance, and ensure that we never become the thing that we try to unmask. Because that is completely possible. Never discount that.

Thanks to all the hard work Thirtyone:eight.

And thanks to the remaining elders and congregation of The Crowded House (some of whom were dear friends of ours back in the day) who bravely voted, under no compulsion, to set up the review process, and who have decided that the final report should now be released today.

And last of all thanks to the other meddling kids who, at great emotional cost to themselves (though no more emotional than what they had been through), decided that unmasking something that was wrong for the sake others in the future, was a difficult, but right decision.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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