Addressing Concerns Raised Specifically In Letter from Concerned Congregants
On Wednesday, September 22nd, the elders, deacons, staff, and several others in our church were sent a letter from some concerned congregants. We have responded to each person who signed the letter and our elders are reaching out to every individual on that list to hear more about their concerns.
We are committed to being as transparent as we can during this process. We are being advised by LFM and by Grace in how to address the concerns raised and we request your patience as we work through all of this.
On Wednesday, September 29, the elders and deacons composed a response with the following responses to address the concerns raised specifically in the letter to the best of our ability. We hope this will add clarity and transparency where possible.
If you have questions about these concerns, please contact one of our elders. We want to hear from you and we want to be able to address any questions that you may have to the best of our ability.
We are aware of the issues with our current structure and governance model and how it has led to many misunderstandings and confusion. We shared this concern with the membership in a letter and in-person following our Sunday worship gathering back in April. We followed up with a plan to address the issues in June at the Annual Business Meeting.
The current but flawed governance model which was proposed by the Elders and voted on by the congregation has led to some of the problems we are facing today, including many mentioned in your letter to us. Leighton Ford Ministries (LFM) is experienced in these matters and we have asked them to study our situation and help us design a better structure that will provide a proper level of oversight and lead to a healthier church. This process takes time. There are many details and unforeseen complications we missed before, and we don’t want to repeat those mistakes.
The initial reactions from our consultants are consistent with this point that concerned members of our congregation brought forward. While studying our church, LFM described our structure as challenging to understand and having issues that seem to be a product of ad-hoc fixes over the years. The Elders and Deacons whole-heartedly agree, and we are committed to building a new governance structure that better serves our unique and growing church based upon the recommendations we anticipate receiving from LFM. These types of governance changes will likely require significant bylaw changes, an action we do not take lightly and another reason this will take time. We will not rush such changes and we want to make sure all of our members understand the proposed structure before voting. We will also keep you informed throughout the process and will use various media and formats to do that, including videos and in-person meetings.
Ongoing Dysfunctional Nature
LFM has been studying our staff culture, transitions, policies, and inner workings to understand the root causes of any ongoing issues. They will report any issue they find and make recommendations on how to improve. We request your patience for our office culture to have time to continue healing and for LFM to have time to complete their assessment.
Working with Consultants
We have no intention of limiting the consultants’ work. A team of people from the Bible Church, which includes both women and men, elders, deacons, staff, and members are actively providing anything requested. We have shared all of our governance and policy documents and shared the full report from the investigation regarding our former Executive Pastor that concluded in April.
GRACE’s first step will be to conduct a cultural assessment that includes a church-wide survey and interviews with individuals of their choosing. They have made it clear to us they will not reopen a previous investigation, as GRACE does not re-investigate matters that have already been investigated by another third-party organization. LFM, GRACE, and the Elders and Deacons have the same goal: to help CHBC become a safer and healthier church for all involved. This process is not about retribution or assigning blame about the past but helping us to understand our current situation, limitations, and issues so we can develop a plan to reach that goal and better share the Gospel.
Timeline for Consulting Process and Governance Changes
LFM’s study of our church culture and structure has been underway since June and they are almost finished with the Discovery Phase. This phase has included: a staff-wide survey, a review of our current governance documentation and policies as well as the report from the investigation into our former Executive Pastor, and multiple focus groups and individual interviews with the congregation and staff.
Kevin Ford of LFM will present their findings and work through next steps the weekend of October 29-31. We plan to invite current members and regular attenders to an informational and working session on Saturday, October 30 from 1pm-4pm led by LFM. They will provide an Executive Summary from their Discovery Phase at that meeting.
After we understand what needs to be addressed, we will work through the recommendations and determine next steps and a timeline. Our hope is to have any governance and structure changes presented to the church so they can be voted on at the Annual Meeting in June 2022, but we need to understand the recommendations before we commit to a date.
GRACE has just gotten started with their assessment. As mentioned above, they will be conducting a church-wide survey which will be distributed soon. We have provided the report from the investigation into our former Executive Pastor and they have all of our governance documents. We also provided transcripts and notes from meetings. They are unable to give us a timeline, but they know of our hope for any needed changes to be incorporated by next June.
GRACE also plans to provide an Executive Summary directly to the church.
Employee Oversight Questions
We care for our staff and want them to have a healthy, enjoyable workplace. That requires effective accountability and oversight at every level. Though many of these things may change or be updated after the consultant process, here is our current CHBC Employee Handbook and reporting structure. These documents include some changes put in place since the Annual Meeting to address some of the concerns and we are continually working towards a better process for employee feedback and performance reviews.
Though we are unable to publicly discuss the termination that was addressed in your letter, we assure you the Elders and Deacons have spent time considering and discussing the manner in which the termination occurred. The Elders are reaching out separately to the former employee the letter mentioned to hear the individual's concerns and will determine whether any next steps are needed.
There are many reasons why an employer would voluntarily choose to extend a severance agreement to an employee, even when their termination is warranted. This type of agreement seeks to reinforce protections for our church family from a former employee sharing personal confidential information such as someone’s giving history, the results of background checks, or any private information arising from pastoral or counseling meetings. This type of agreement also seeks to protect the employee and the organization from sharing inappropriate information or relaying any falsehoods or misunderstandings.
These agreements are not intended to limit a former employee from speaking with our consultants. In addition, employees are afforded ample time to review the terms of the severance offer and are encouraged to seek their own independent counsel to assist with the review if so desired. We believe this provides transparency and an opportunity to seek clarity, if and when needed.
This termination and the agreement were given in alignment with our policy and with the best intentions in mind. That being said, the Deacon Board will be reviewing the policies in conjunction with the review and recommendations of LFM.
Transparency & Communications
We recognize it can be challenging with our current structure to understand who makes what decisions. Part of this problem is outlined above, and we aim to better communicate and educate our church body on these structures and how best to navigate them.
Until we work through our new structure, we encourage you to reach out to whichever elder, deacon, or staff member you feel most comfortable speaking with. We will ensure you are adequately cared for or that your concerns are raised to the appropriate leaders. You can find contact information here.
An emergency meeting was requested in the letter, but both our consultants did not recommend this type of meeting in these circumstances. LFM said it would not be helpful to their process.
We understand your desire to ensure the consultants hear from those of you who are most concerned and we will work with you to accomplish that goal. We have actively requested that the consultants interview some of our most concerned members and recently departed staff. LFM and GRACE are selecting interviewees and focus group participants and we have already asked both consultants to take note of those who signed the letter for consideration. In addition to the focus groups and interviews previously conducted, LFM has offered to host an additional focus group composed of some of the people who signed the letter. GRACE has received the letter and will include the document along with other items built into their process as they determine who to interview.
To this point and as mentioned above, an elder will reach out to each member and regular attender that signed the letter to meet and hear your concerns directly. You can expect an elder to contact you within a week.
Rather than the emergency meeting, we hope this approach accomplishes the goal of making sure your concerns are heard while also being consistent with our consultants’ established processes.
Care & Concern for All members of our Church Body
As we addressed in the Annual Meeting, there were instances where we did not properly care for hurting members of our church community. Jay and the Elders apologized for missing those opportunities and the pain it caused. Since the investigation into our former Executive Pastor, we have committed to better care for those hurt and are following through with those commitments. We are providing counseling for people, both professional and with Elders and staff pastors as desired. We have also provided additional funds to pay for counseling for those in need, from a counselor of their choice. It grieves us that, in a few cases, former members of our community are angry or disappointed with the church and our offers of care have been declined.
The Elders, Deacons, and staff pastors are unaware of a need or a request for care from our church body that has not already been responded to. If there are members or previous members of our body that need care, please reach out to us. We encourage you to reach out to any elder, deacon, or staff member you feel the most comfortable with and we will ensure that you get the care that you need, pastoral or professional. Here is the contact information of those groups so you can reach out.