Thursday, March 03, 2022

Rethinking Patronage to Prevent Abuse

‘I like the things you write on Twitter but I can’t like them publicly because I’d lose my job.’ 

This is what one of my friends said to me; he was a church leader, but felt unable to speak truth to power because of his job security. This highlights how the way we’ve been doing patronage in ministry can make it harder to speak out about abuse.


The recent thirtyone:eight executive summary review of the Titus Trust culture made a similar observation, 

‘the value of patronage of some of the more influential and powerful leaders within the wider Evangelical community could be seen to have been on inhibitor to disclosing abuse and why some people may not have been called out about behaviour as they should have been.’

 (Independent Culture Review Titus Trust Executive Summary & Recommendations November 2021, p.7)


It’s therefore really important that we look at how funding and abuse can be linked:


1.     Take for example John Smyth who was funded for years whilst he abused people. His funding for so-called ministry gave him credibility and opportunity. Credibility in that some might have thought, ‘Well if people are prepared to back him financially, he must be a good chap.’ And opportunity in that if no-one had funded him, he wouldn’t have been able to stay in Zimbabwe spending considerable time grooming and abusing vulnerable people.

2.     If we consider my opening quote, then we must also wrestle with the perception that funding will be taken away if we speak up on abuse. This comes in various forms. Sometimes people in ministry are afraid that their funders are close friends of their abusers, and will pull the funding they need to keep a roof over their head. Other times people fear they will be speaking against ‘the brand’ and therefore will lose funding because it’s all about ‘the brand.’

3.     Now let’s turn our attention to narcissism. Narcissists tend to make grandiose visions and claims that they are the person to help your organisation do what it has so far failed to do. For this reason, narcissists are attractive to funders; after all you want to get a return on your investment, and you want people to be reached for the Kingdom. So you fund the narcissist, and this enables him or her to bully others with devasting consequences, whilst appearing to produce the results the funder is looking for. Over time, the narcissist’s church or ministry becomes a collective narcissistic entity that thinks it is the better than all the other organisations, and claims to produce results no-one else can. In this environment more bullying will occur, but the entity will look more attractive to the funder, who may even boast of their contribution to others. Sadly, the increase of funding here, exacerbates the problems outlined in points 1 and 2 above. More abuse is enabled, and it will become harder for people to speak out.


So how can we respond to this? I’d suggest a comprehensive study on how we do patronage. Such a study would include Paul’s handling of patronage in Corinth, but is of course beyond the scope of this article, so I’ll just end with some brief suggestions.


Funders, please learn about narcissism and the dynamics of abuse. Consider people’s character more than what results they promise. Learn how you should respond when someone brings concerns to you. Recognise that you have a huge responsibility in not enabling abuse. 


For those seeking funding, it’s not worth getting funding at any cost. If you feel you would not be able to speak up about abuse issues, then these are not the right people to get funding from. You cannot serve two masters (Matt 6:22-24).