Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Dealing with Discipline

During some down time in July I decided to give some extra attention to an online ministry I started around six years ago. It's a discussion list that has grown to several hundred members. With large numbers come rejoicing, but also administrative duties with which I admit I had gone lax. My lack of involvement because even more apparent when tensions arose during controverial discussions that contravened several of the forum rules.

I had a choice to either use my authority, or to shut the thing down completely. After careful prayer and consideration, I opted to keep it going. The first thing I needed was acocuntability as a leader, so I recruited a co-moderator, someone mature in the faith and whom I trust. We had several lengthy discussions both online and on the phone about how to handle the growing disagreements and in-fighting. We came to several conclusions:

1) The existing rules had to be enforced with greater authority.

2) New rules had to be created to handle new situations.

3) A process had to be established by which to deal with rule violations.

With regards to #3, we developed our own way of invoking a Matthew 18 process - otherwise known as discipline:

1) A first warning would be issued to the person privately, via e-mail.

2) A second warning would be given in the group itself.

3) If a need for a third warning emerged, the person would be expelled from the listserv, with public explanation.

We felt this would give people fair warning, as well as clear explanations of why discipline was being invoked. We announced the new rules and disciplinary procedures in a series of e-mails sent to the group.

And then it began.

People began arguing about the validity of the new rules (pretty much the ones who were breaking them in the first place). They said our Matthew 18 process really wasn't correct. They said we were wrong. They said we had no right to be doing this.

They are no longer part of the group.

Some people in the group were not happy about the stricter procedures, but were grateful the situation was dealt with and tensions loosened. Some outright don't agree with the rules, but know why they are there and respect them. Most of the rules deal with avoiding controversial topics that quickly spin out of control into personal attacks and arguments.

I learned a really eye-opening lesson about discipline. Just like in a real-life congregation, if someone needs to be disciplined, usually by the time the person is asked to leave the issue is no longer about what raised the need for the disciplinary procedures in the first place. It becomes about a person's pride, a person's unwillingness to follow the rules, and refusal to accept the other person's leadership and authority.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Adventures in Leadership

The last couple of weeks have been pretty wild -- most of the leadership were away at a denominational conference or on holidays, while most of the other leaders who remained and in charge of leading services were sick. One of the ill people in question was the worship leader, leaving yours truly to lead musical worship through lists of pre-chosen songs that were in and out of my vocal range (mostly out). Fortunately, I've learned a few vocal tricks over the years, and if I can't sing in key, I go low. And I had another vocalist with a higher range than mine to fill in the blanks, so to speak (and I filled in hers as well). I had to do more liturgical chanting than normal -- I don't normally chant the Torah blessings, just the regular Shabbat liturgy.

Our crew has led services on our own numerous times and are usually prepared for whatever comes our way. However, we did not expect someone who used to attend our congregation to pass away unexpectedly. Although G-d led her somewhere else, she remained friends with many in the congregation, and this was a blow. We found out simply because I saw her obituary in the newspaper. I had the sobering task of letting as many people know about her passing as possible, and fortunately several people were able to attend her memorial. Which led me to do something I never have done before: chant Kaddish. I was able to recite it in Hebrew, without the tune, after several practise sessions.

My journey in leadership is reflective of my walk with G-d in life in general. Just when I am about to say that I have done every task or role, something new is thrown my way. And sometimes I simply cannot anticipate what is around the corner. I just feel very excited lately, because life in a relationship with G-d is always an adventure.