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30 August 2016

Leading for safer culture

By Justin Humphreys, executive director (Safeguarding), CCPAS

This article is the first of a new series that explores how we can achieve safer churches. This one will examine the role of leadership in setting a safer safeguarding culture. I work with a wide variety of individuals and organisations and I often find myself repeating the same mantra “good policies, procedures and training can only be as effective in safeguarding as the prevailing culture allows them to be”. We live in a society where everything can be downloaded with the click of a button, instantaneously. Over the years, I have seen that this philosophy sometimes creep into the safeguarding world, so the existence of a policy or the attendance at training is regarded as all that is needed to keep people safe. I would say that this is only the beginning, except it isn't.

I was reminded recently, while attending the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) at Willow Creek Church in Chicago, that culture is all important. The culture in any organisation is driven by the vision for what you want to achieve and how you decide to achieve it. Jossy Chacko, founder and president of Empart Inc., suggested that our Christian values should be integral to our vision and that, through this, we should be able to see something of God’s heart. If our vision is God-centred, then the culture we create should be representative of God’s heart, too. On countless occasions when speaking with, training and advising leaders from across the Church spectrum I have found myself saying that we must get back to understanding our biblical mandate to safeguard the vulnerable - rather than falling into the tick-box trap, being content with a bureaucratic approach in order to satisfy the requirements of the state. In other words, the culture that we seek to set and should permeate all we do has to recognise that the disadvantaged, disconnected, disaffected, hurting, abused and vulnerable need to be seen writ large in what we do. This may seem hard to achieve on one level, but obvious and simple on another. As a guide, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of passages throughout scripture

that speak of injustice, oppression, exploitation and ultimately the need for protection from such things. If nothing else, this should tell us just how passionate our God is regarding such matters; this is clearly seen, for example, in His instructions to Moses to take care of the widow and the orphan (Exodus 22:22) or in the harsh words of Jesus when explaining the consequences of harming the little ones (Matthew 18:6).

Leaders play a pivotal role in setting and maintaining culture, as we know. Many leadership gurus remind us of this, using all manner of theories and anecdotes to make precisely the same point. As John C. Maxwell, author, coach and leadership expert, says: good things rise or fall on the strength of the leadership shown. So what does this mean for leaders across the Church and what does it mean when thinking about whether our churches are truly safe places? Fundamentally, we have to genuinely care about those who are less able to protect themselves and not assume that we necessarily understand what vulnerability means and how it is manifest in everyone. Sadly, for some leaders, this may mean that we have to challenge ourselves about where our loyalties lie and whether we are putting organisational or institutional needs before those of individuals. A genuine desire to understand vulnerability will be a good place to start building a safer culture. We must also remember that abuse or harmful events can occur both intentionally and unintentionally. The focus needs to be on how events are experienced by the recipient. If we understand this, we will be better able to see what is needed to educate and inform, equip and inspire, empower and influence those we seek to lead towards creating safer places.

Again, reflecting on the huge amount of learning from the GLS, I was struck by the simplicity of John C. Maxwell’s message. After the many books he has written and seminars he has led, the key message to leaders about leading and maintaining healthy cultures was about valuing people - as plain and simple as that. Being intentional about looking to the needs of others and being purposeful about doing something to make a positive difference to their experience creates a model that embodies true selflessness and servanthood for the individual and greater good. 

In applying these principles to leadership, the following articles in this series will explore what CCPAS has learned about some of the practicalities for creating safer places - all of which rely on the foundation of good leadership and the maintenance of safe and healthy cultures.

For more about CCPAS go to www.ccpas.co.uk or call 0845 120 4550.

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