The Dignity Principle was born out of some discussions I was having with our church leadership about how to assign a criteria to what we were trying to accomplish in the lives of people. As the pastor of a young church, it has been important for our leadership and I to establish not only mission, vision and purpose, but also a philosophy of how we do things that will serve us well for years to come.
I was aware that other churches had used attendance as a primary metric. That makes sense, right? If you’re seeking to reach people, the more that come to your church the more successful you are. The first problem that arises with this philosophy is when you become consumed with numbers, people can become just that: a number. A bit ironic given that the purpose of the church is people. Consequently there is a dehumanizing effect that inevitably comes into play. Rather than being concerned about the faces, the names, the stories, the individuals, we can become more concerned about numerical growth and effectively prioritize performance over people. The second problem is that there is no way to personally guarantee individual attendance, let alone a large group. Consequently our metrics and goals become something we have no power to personally affect. This is a dangerous place to be because you simply cannot realistically attach your success indicators to something that is out of your control.
This left us fumbling for a new metric: something we could control while also not presuming to control people. According to biblical teaching on the subject, men and women are created in the image of God, meaning at the very least that they possess value by virtue of the fact that they bear a certain likeness to their Creator. As such their value is derived not from what people do, but who they are. As a result I realized that if any of our success indicators violated the inherent value or dignity of an individual, we had made a major misstep. What does this look like? Seeking to understand, avoiding manipulation, honoring personal boundaries, etc…? While this is obviously falls far short of a full-on philosophy in a positive sense, it provided a helpful barometer for what we were doing and a guarded against undercutting one of our mission’s key points: to reach people in our community. If we were not careful we could easily invalidate our message of spiritual, relational wholeness by not properly honoring our relationships on an individual level.
The thought teased me: what would this look like in practice? How would we carry it out? I was reminded of a time in my life when a project I was working with required me to interact daily on social media frequently with negative and angry individuals. The challenge was that I did not have the freedom to respond in kind, nor would that have been helpful. It occurred to me that what many of these folks needed was someone to listen and understand, not just fire off a rebuttal. The thing that helped me the most in responding charitably was to remind myself there was an actual person on the other end of that interaction. Someone with hopes and dreams, hurts and hang-ups: were they not worthy of a thoughtful, careful and loving response? Is this what treating others with the dignity they deserved looked like?
As I begin to think more about dignity I realized its applications went far beyond the context of my sphere of influence and that they were in fact foundation and fundamental to any life-giving personal interaction. I love building teams and thrive in collaborative, creative environments so naturally my first thought for who to involve was my good friend J Young, who not only brings great insight to the subject from his position as COO of Northwest Professional Services, but is also someone with whom I have worked with creatively and collaboratively in the past. J is also a person who embodies the principle of dignity in how he treats others both professionally and personally and it has been exciting for me to have him bring his considerable experience to bear as we begin to put together the pieces of understanding and applying The Dignity Principle.