Safety as an Embodiment of Covenant: Destructive Behavior
It is easy to assume that safety policies and procedures really just mimic rules and structure. And in the most simplistic of views, they do! But over time, we come to realize that safety policies and procedures are so much more than that. The policies and procedures we put in place allow us to be a better version of ourselves: open and affirming faith communities who hold each other in covenant and love. At the same time, these policies and procedures take the safety of our buildings, our people, and our communities seriously. At their best, our safety policies are an embodiment of our covenant with each other.
Part of our covenant declares that we will “affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” However, problems arise when we equate this principle with accepting disruptive, dangerous, or bullying behavior. You can affirm the inherent worth and dignity of a person without condoning or permitting destructive behavior.
“Healthy churches tend to have low tolerance for inappropriate behavior, while unhealthy churches tolerate all kinds of outrageous things, including words and actions that would not be tolerated anywhere else.” (Susan Nienaber)
There is a whole range of destructive behaviors displayed in congregations, including spreading negativity throughout the congregation, withholding money as a way of pressuring the organization into giving them their way, name-calling, verbal attacks, bullying, and more.
Common Patterns in Congregations
Congregations that tolerate too many inappropriate behaviors often have these system-wide habits:
Excusing those who behave badly. The most common phrase is: “Well, that’s just Chris. He/she has been like that for years.” Just because the behavior has been tolerated in the past doesn’t make it right.
Freezing up when somebody acts out. People may complain later – out in the parking lot, in email, or on the phone with a friend – but they don’t hold one another accountable to any standard of behavior.
Relying too much on the minister or leadership to deal with issues. Ministers should not let themselves become behavior police for the congregation. Not only is this guaranteed to burn the minister out, the risk is that the minister will wind up too far out on a limb all alone. And too often, instead of supporting the minister, some people will try to cut the limb off. (Source: Nienabar, Susan. “Tolerating Bad Behavior in the Church.”)
Congregations that tolerate bad behavior are often not mission-driven but instead are consumer-oriented. They have created a social club where people are not being led and challenged to grow in their spiritual journey.