The Penn State independent investigation report is now out. On page 129 the report criticizes Penn State for an
“over-emphasis on ‘the Penn State way’ as an approach to decision-making, a resistance to outside perspectives, and an excessive focus on athletics…”
I’m not a Penn State alum nor do I have an insider’s experience of “the Penn State way.” However, I would assume that this mindset provides alum and current employees some guidelines for how to approach many situations. Consider other entities like the Marines or particular denominations, or sporting associations and how they each have a culture that helps shape decision-making. Tennis players apologize for winning points when the ball hits the netcord. Marines won’t leave someone behind. Presbyterians entrust church polity to representative government processes. The strength of a culture helps individuals choose the “right” response without having to reinvent the wheel every time a conflict or problem arises. But that same culture leads to blindspots–things that no longer receive much attention or criticism.
As a result, an organization or system runs smoothly based on strengths of culture but risks failing to identify where these same strengths damage others. The only way to keep these strengths in check is to be willing to question them as a matter of routine AND to have close proximity to outsiders who will give honest criticism (it certainly helps if this criticism comes from a heart of love).
Individuals suffer from the same problem. What you consider your best asset or strength may be your biggest blindspot. Preachers who are excellent communicators often fail to recognize how much power their words have on others. Organizers sometimes fail to see how much control they exert on others. Critical thinkers sometimes fail to see how they devalue the ideas of others. Visionaries often burden underlings with work that cannot be completed in realistic timeframes.
What is your most valued strength or cultural artifact? Ask a trusted friend to tell you how this wonder part of you (or your organization) can be dangerous.
Don’t forget, 1 week til our “Abuse in the Church” mini-conference runs. It is not too late to sign up. Let’s all work to make sure that our churches don’t have to suffer the public humiliation that Penn State is going through right now. Come and see what the Church can do to respond with love and righteous!