Spiritual Coercion and pastoral malpractice statement
Co-Mission is an increasingly diverse church-planting network that God has been growing since 2005, united by Christ’s compassion for the people of London and committed to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Approximately 30 churches and plants spread throughout London are part of this network and details of these churches can be found at co-mission.org/our-churches.
Whilst these churches are often referred to as “the churches of Co-Mission”, because they have either been planted with support from Co-Mission or have joined the network because they want to be part of our mission to London, they are all (legally speaking) independent churches, each governed by their own local leadership teams, and each operating through their own legal entities or as part of established denominations.
Whilst Co-Mission seeks to support and strengthen all of the churches within its network, Co-Mission is a voluntary fellowship of local churches and, in principle and in practice, Co-Mission respects the autonomy of the local church and does not have, or seek to exercise or assume, any control over or legal responsibility for, any church in the network.
As a network, we recognise that spiritual coercion, pastoral malpractice and abuse in all its forms is offensive to God and deeply damaging to the victims. Our trustees, the Co-Mission Executive, the Senior Pastors’ Council and the teams appointed by our organisation are therefore committed to promoting and facilitating best governance and pastoral practices within our organisation, throughout our collective activities, and in so far as we are able, within the churches of Co-Mission.
As an organisation, we provide training, coaching and support to church planters, church pastors and to ministry trainees and provide conferences and events for wider groups. Throughout all such Co-Mission activities and ministries, we are committed to best safeguarding practices and to protecting from harm everyone who comes into contact with our organisation. As part of that commitment, we provide regular safeguarding training for our trustees, leadership, staff and volunteers and have introduced regular staff reviews (often “360 reviews”).
Where allegations or concerns relating to our workers are reported to our safeguarding coordinator or trustees, they will be taken very seriously and will be properly investigated. Where appropriate, our safeguarding coordinator and/or trustees will seek advice and support from external bodies such as our legal advisers and Christian Safeguarding Services and will not delay in making reports to the Police or to other statutory bodies.
In all cases of alleged misconduct involving our workers, we will make the appropriate pastoral care of victims our primary concern, and in this regard, will seek external advice from professionals such as Christian Safeguarding Services. We would actively encourage anybody with any concerns or complaints to report them either to our safeguarding coordinator (by email to email@example.com or via our separate complaints procedure (by email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Whilst Co-Mission is not responsible for safeguarding issues arising within any church, we do require all churches who wish to join our network to exercise (amongst other vital policies and processes) a rigorous safeguarding policy and we strongly recommend the adoption of a clear complaints policy. We remind the churches that where there are allegations of illegal activity, we expect these to be properly reported to the statutory authorities.
If Co-Mission is given credible reason to believe that a church within our network has systematically failed to act in accordance with its own safeguarding policy and refuses to subsequently ensure appropriate action is taken internally, then Co-Mission will ask the church to deal with the matter urgently. If the church fails to take reasonable appropriate action, the Co-Mission Senior Pastors’ Council will consider suspending that church’s participation in the network until the issues have been adequately addressed and, where necessary, a report will be made to the statutory regulatory bodies.
If it is alleged that a church has failed to properly act in accordance with its own complaints policy, Co-Mission will contact the church involved to seek reassurances. If the church cannot confirm that it has properly handled the complaint, then Co-Mission will encourage the church to make further efforts to resolve the complaint in accordance with its complaints policy. Whilst Co-Mission has no legal basis to review any decisions made by any church in accordance with that church’s complaints policy, if any church is found to be repeatedly in breach of its own complaints policy, the Senior Pastors’ Council will consider suspending that church’s participation in the network until the issues have been adequately addressed.
Recent high-profile cases have also reminded us that church leaders, or others in the local church involved in leadership and pastoral care, can behave in ways that, whilst not illegal, do fall short of the standards expected of a person with pastoral responsibility. This behaviour may range from serious misconduct (including coercion or control) to simply being unwise in relating to others. Again, given the autonomy of the local church, we expect local churches to take appropriate disciplinary action where it is needed. The Senior Pastors’ Council will consider suspending a pastor’s participation in the network during the investigation of a credible allegation of misconduct. Where a pastor of a church in our network has been shown, after credible investigation by a reputable body, to be guilty of misconduct, the Senior Pastors’ Council will consider terminating their participation in the network and, if required Co-Mission will report the pastor to the appropriate statutory bodies.
To assist the churches of the network in upholding the highest standards of pastoral practice – which are servant-hearted rather than coercive – we have encouraged all of their leadership teams (council of elders or PCCs) to conduct annual reviews (preferably “360 reviews”) for their pastors and have supplied them with a paper written by our CEO on Servant-hearted leadership [HERE]. Given the importance of these matters, we have also devoted one of our Co-Mission Partnership evenings to the subject in order to provide further guidance and training to the pastors and leadership teams of our churches. Our Church Strengthening Team is also committed to providing additional training and materials to our churches on servant-hearted leadership at future Co-Mission events and informally as part of their ongoing support of our pastors and churches.
In all cases of potential misconduct, Co-Mission is encouraging its churches to make the appropriate pastoral care of victims their primary concern, and in this regard, to seek external advice from professionals such as Christian Safeguarding Services or Thirty-One:Eight.
Our full complaints policy and procedure can be viewed [HERE]
This written statement on behalf of Co-Mission was approved by the Co-Mission Executive and the trustees of The Co-Mission Initiative Trust on 6th October 2020 and was revised in July 2022. It is published online at: https://co-mission.org/abuse-and-malpractice/