EMQ » April–June 2022 » Volume 58 Issue 2
By Brent Lindquist and Larrie Gardner
Most organizations have a Member Care Toolbox, that is, they have programs, services, and resources designed to help their people thrive emotionally, interpersonally, and spiritually. That is good news. However, even organizations who have well-equipped toolboxes are coming under more scrutiny and falling prey to legal activities by members who feel they have not been treated well or fairly.
Legal complaints or pushbacks have become a sobering topic for missions. Many good attempts to provide care, or honest mistakes (or sadly, maybe even dumb ones), could have legal consequences. To prepare well, we believe that organizations should add maintenance to their member care toolbox. Regular maintenance should be performed on the ways they provide member care and the resources they utilize for member care.
Here are five questions to guide your review of what you are doing and what you might want to adjust or change.
1. Is your statement of faith clear, visible, and apparent throughout your policies and procedures?
Many later problems can be avoided by good beginnings. Good beginnings start with building your policies and procedures around your statement of faith. Explicit scripture references in your statement of faith, references in your policies (and of course acted upon) will help to ensure that your organization is basing its practices on scriptural principles. This has the dual purpose of keeping the biblical principles in mind regarding decision making, etc., as well as protecting you from some legal challenges.
2. Is your chain of command and duty to inform understood at the outset? (Or, to whom does member care report, and what are the limits of confidentiality?)
One of the unintended outcomes related to the establishment of member care departments, is that they are often treated as autonomous entities responsible only to themselves. Some member care workers value the freedom of being confidential, therefore not accountable, and may make disastrous mistakes. This is a mischaracterization of roles and responsibilities, especially in the requirements of HR and legal issues.
The confusion around accountability can be apparent in the provision of member care services such as counseling by members of the organization assigned specifically to the counseling task. Are these internal staff aware of the limitations this puts on what must be communicated to those in authority for appropriate management and decision making? Even staff who have a counseling license may be surprised at what they can and can’t promise. And in the US, each state may handle this differently. Finally, there may be regulatory issues to consider in other countries.
Therefore, both the missionary needing care, and the staff member providing care need to understand the reporting issues before any care is provided. A further problem compounding all of this is that if an investigation is required (as in the case of an abuse issue) starting counseling without understanding what an investigation requires could compromise future investigations and decisions. Obviously, a duty to inform is a complex matter and policies should be developed with legal insight and involvement.
3. Are you providing programs, services, and resources equitably?
Each individual and family will have different needs, so it is probably reasonable to assume that care, and even training, is not provided equitably. It is important to look at what the organization seeks to provide and well as organizational intent. For example, a leader or specialist may qualify for special training or experiences. But general opportunities like broad based seminars or conferences may allow for organizations to choose other staff to receive those benefits.
An additional part of this question could be “Are you getting the most organizational bang for your training buck?” By this we mean that we see far too many people going to seminars and then the new training gets siloed and is not disseminated throughout the organization. This may not be the fault of your staff who attend seminars. We believe that the entities doing these trainings should include strategies in their training to help accomplish this.
4. Are restoration, education, and sanction (up to termination) processes clear?
When someone needs care or education, is there a path that they can see to being returned to service? Telling someone that if they go to counseling, they can go back to the field is unwise. There is nothing in that promise requiring the member to learn and grow. Likewise, an educational experience without review and demonstration of growth is not effective.
Sanctioning occurs when the member’s behavior is such that termination is a clear possibility. Once again, can you point to your policies where it says that violations have consequences, and what those consequences might be?
5. Can members/families leave well?
For whatever reason a departure is necessary – sin, failure to thrive, conflict – can the organization consider steps which will help the person feel valued as they leave? Shame and rejection may make a potential legal action more likely. An exit strategy with review and some funds for focused counseling may be a great help for a member in determining their next steps.
These five questions may open a can of worms in terms of finding solutions! We hope not. We trust they will point you towards seeing if your tools are coherent, explicit, encouraging and point people towards effectiveness in life and ministry.
If you would like to explore these issues further, Theresa Sidebotham and her organization, Telios Law (telioslaw.com), provide resources, articles, and training which help organizations to strategically think about these complex legal and HR issues.
Brent Lindquist (email@example.com) is a pastor/missionary with Jaron Ministries, International and the president emeritus of the Link Care Center. He leads a number of cohorts in the areas of spirituality assessment and other member care issues. He and his wife, Colleen, have been married for 47 years, and have two married adult children and five grandchildren.
Laura Mae (“Larrie”) Gardner (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a pioneer in member care and authored Healthy, Resilient and Effective in Cross-Cultural Ministry as well as hundreds of articles and chapters in books. She serves on boards, consults with mission organizations, and teaches seminars and workshops around the world. Larrie and her late husband, Dick, served more than 60 years with SIL and Wycliffe. She lives in Tucson, Arizona and has two sons, two daughters-in-law and eight-plus grandchildren.
EMQ, Volume 58, Issue 2. Copyright © 2022 by Missio Nexus. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from Missio Nexus. Email: EMQ@MissioNexus.org.