Date of Award
Doctor of Ministry
Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary
Doctor of Ministry DMin
Stanley E. Patterson
Problem. Recent publications on the topic of safety, my observations of some church members’ reluctance to be involved, and a serendipitous experience of added safety I had outside of the church coalesced to point me to lack of spiritual and emotional safety in my church as a possible cause of deficient personal spiritual growth in some members and of a resulting want for greater church efficiency. Emotional safety seems to be a core component of the ideals of love usually professed in the church. This indicated to me a possible need to focus on facilitating practice of emotional awareness and safety that would be experientially confirmed as conducive to personal growth in contrast to simply using the traditional methods of just preaching and teaching on these subjects.
Method. The development of an added sense of safety beneficial for spiritual growth and effective church life was explored through the study of relevant biblical and non-biblical material and through the creation of a pilot group of men meeting for ten weeks in the Fox Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church in Neenah, Wisconsin. My goal was that the project’s participants would feel safe enough in this group to dare starting to become more aware of themselves and of their environment and to start practicing safer interaction with one another in a way that they would retrospectively judge as having been helpful to their spiritual growth and potentially useful for the church as an organization. The curriculum was adapted for my congregational use from a curriculum I experienced in the summer of 2010. Odds for safety from social harm greater than that found in the general church setting were improved through a mutually accepted formal agreement guaranteeing full confidentiality and impunity within this group. The soundness of the concepts discovered in the study was tested at the end of the ten-week project through an analysis of interviews conducted with each of the participants.
Results. My study of relevant biblical and non-biblical material highlighted the determining potential of factors left unconscious, particularly through any escapist focus on what Robert Greenleaf calls intoxicating “idealistic pretensions,” to sabotage any action or program intended to foster spiritual growth and church effectiveness, and thus render it ineffective or even dangerous. My study also highlighted the need to address such hidden or unconscious “shadow” factors (as Carl Jung refers to them), through an effort to develop conscious awareness—first an honest and comprehensive awareness and acceptance of oneself (including hidden assumptions about oneself); and then also, a greater inclusive and pacific awareness of one’s surrounding world in all its diverse reality. The theological and biblical study specifically allowed me to describe the type of individual spiritual growth stemming from genuine personal awareness acquired through a sense of safety. I was able to legitimately equate such spiritual growth with the concept of personal stewardship or “sanctification” used in the Bible—in an understanding of it that encompasses the development of all of one’s life as part of the spiritual endeavor. This involves all aspects of life and not just those commonly understood as “spiritual” in a narrower religious sense. Others have used the term “individuation” to describe this spiritual development. This is different from other understandings that associate “sanctification” with lists of concrete attitudes and behaviors which, in the mind of some outside observers, are “evidence” of spiritual growth, but may not always be reflective of such. The need for greater “shadow” awareness is the number one result of this study, and all three subsequent findings—that is, the need for theological, structural, and practiced safety for spiritual growth, in this order, both flow from it and are to be improved through its practice. My assumption at the beginning of this project was that practice of emotional safety could enable increased awareness leading to spiritual growth. This foundational element, in my estimate, seemed to be the missing piece in the promotion of spiritual growth and organizational effectiveness in the church. However, my study revealed two more foundational levels of safety that must precede the practice of safety because they either enable it by their presence or foil it by their absence. Practiced safety is greatly impaired by a lack of structural safety (i.e., retained parts of organizational structures that enable lawful harm to some); and a lack of structural safety may be the outworking of a lack of theological safety—that is, retained personal and organizational elemental worldview, assumptions and beliefs about self, God, and the universe that generate unsafe space instead of a place of safety and trust. Lack of safety deters people from seeking awareness that can lead to growth, while the presence of safety can facilitate a fuller experience of awareness leading to satisfying and genuine spiritual growth. But such safety which enables awareness towards growth cannot occur without its foundational theological, structural, and practiced components being attended to, in this order. A careful evaluation of participants’ input through interviews conducted with each of them individually at the close of the project yielded their confirming perception of a need for theological and structural safety as foundational prerequisites to practiced safety towards increased awareness for spiritual growth and more effective church life.
Conclusion. Two circles of causes and effects are proposed to the consideration of the reader through this project. One is a circle of theological, structural and practiced safety which seems to facilitate individuals’ willingness to engage in the pursuit of increased conscious awareness, resulting in greater spiritual growth and a safer world. The alternate circle is one which continues to perpetuate theological, structural and practiced dangers, thus apparently metastasizing individuals and organizations’ inhibitions towards greater conscious awareness into regressive conformism and dangerous projections. The process successfully used in this project at the Fox Valley Church in Neenah, Wisconsin, to increase a sense of safety conducive to conscious awareness and spiritual growth among project participants is proposed to all readers and entities willing to recognize a lack of safety as a reality to be addressed, and it may serve as a model to any such individual or organization to improve safety, with the ensuing increased spiritual growth and organizational efficiency, within their sphere of influence.
Spiritual formation, Spiritual life, Church renewal
Garbi, Samuel, "Safety as a Foundational Prerequisite to Spiritual Growth and Effective Church Life in the Fox Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church of the Fox Valley District in Wisconsin" (2012). Dissertation Projects DMin. 49.