A Statement from Matthew Vines About The Reformation Project

Following up on the Board of Directors’ statement from Tuesday, and recognizing the hurt that many are feeling, I would like to provide our community with as much information as possible about the recent changes within The Reformation Project.

As part of The Reformation Project’s annual performance evaluations, I ask the employees I supervise what suggestions they have for improvement regarding their supervision. In August 2018, a staff member recommended in writing that having a weekly call between the three department directors that was “structured around mutual accountability and collaboration for our work” could be beneficial. The employee stated that the aim of this call was to “focus on actionable items and how we could mutually support one another,” with the goal of making employees’ supervision “more collaborative and less hierarchical.”

I saw potential value in a less hierarchical structure that fostered greater collaboration and allowed department directors to contribute to one another’s supervision through mutual accountability and support. When each department director was hired, the job listing stated that their position reported to the Executive Director. This new weekly call (dubbed the “multi-supervision call”) didn’t alter that basic organizational structure; it simply allowed them to contribute to each other’s professional growth and development through additional constructive criticism, accountability, and support.

For the first few months, this approach carried some benefits, facilitating greater collaboration and efficiency among the team. In January, I received a proposal from the department directors for what was called a “group supervision structure.” This proposal was presented as an extension of the weekly multi-supervision call, but with a significantly broader scope. The proposal was to move beyond department directors contributing to each other’s supervision to officially change TRP’s organizational structure so that the department directors would no longer report to the Executive Director, but would report to each other instead. This proposal was never approved by the Board of Directors or by me.

Upon reviewing the proposal, I asked how decision-making would work in times of significant disagreement, as well as how a termination process would occur within a group supervision structure, as the original proposal did not address performance improvement plans or termination decisions. The response was that, if this proposal were implemented, termination decisions would also be made by consensus. Specifically, the employment of a department director could be terminated only if all other department directors agreed.

This struck me as unworkable, and in conversations with the department directors in the following weeks, I outlined my concerns about the proposal. Chief among the concerns was that the proposal outlined a shared directorship model but did not make the department directors directly accountable to the Board. Under the proposal, the department directors would have equal authority to the Executive Director, but unlike the Executive Director, they could not be terminated by the Board of Directors. Increasing authority without increasing accountability in a proportional way is untenable.

In an early call with the department directors about the group supervision proposal, I sensed that there was some confusion about our current operating structure, so I clarified these things:
• The group supervision proposal was not our current structure; it had not been approved by the Board or by me.
• Changes to our existing supervision structure would require Board approval.

When the group supervision proposal was first shared with me by the department directors, it was framed as a natural extension of dismantling white supremacy culture in nonprofit organizations and as a further development of our commitment to anti-oppression.

Consequently, over the next two months, I consulted about the group supervision proposal with over 30 executive directors and nonprofit leaders who have a strong commitment to social justice, prioritizing the input of leaders of color and those from other marginalized communities.

Of those leaders, only four thought a flat leadership structure could be viable even in theory. None of those four thought that the department directors’ proposed supervision structure was viable, as it did not hold the department directors directly accountable to the Board. The overwhelming consensus among the more than 30 executive directors and nonprofit leaders consulted was that flat organizations frequently become unstable and fail much more often than they succeed.

While many leaders I spoke to said they thought the idea of no organizational hierarchy sounded good in theory, they did not think it could work for the long term in practice because disputes become much harder to resolve in the absence of explicit lines of decision-making authority.

In early May, after months of consultation with key advisers and after finalizing a decision alongside the Board of Directors, I wrote a memo to the department directors explaining my decision about their group supervision proposal. I shared how widely I had consulted and how deeply I had researched and considered their proposal, emphasizing that I had invested as much time as I had into the process because of the value that I placed on their input and perspectives.

My decision was that our supervision structure would remain as it had always been, with each of the department directors reporting to the Executive Director, who then reports to the Board of Directors. I recognized that there were further needs to be met and communicated that we should continue the weekly director’s call to help advance team cohesion. I expressed that I wanted to work with each of them individually to identify their supervision needs and how I could work to best meet them.

The group supervision proposal only involved the three department directors; our three other staff members were not a part of these conversations. Separately, while I am unable to share any details about personnel decisions, reasons for termination have always been cited in termination decisions and shared directly with the employee.

During the events of recent weeks, I proactively reached out to multiple staff members to ensure them of their job security and seek to maintain an open channel of communication. I did not hear from any of them about their concerns until they indicated they would be offering their resignations.

I have a deep love for our former staff, and their departure saddens me greatly. They made critical contributions to the life of our organization, and I will always be grateful for the things they taught me and the ways in which they helped me, the organization, and our community. They are gifted and capable people, and I hope to see them thrive going forward.

The LGBTQ Christian community has already weathered too much suffering from schisms in our support networks, and the Board and I are deeply saddened that any developments at TRP have added to that suffering rather than helped to alleviate it.

It’s so important to us to be a welcoming and supportive space for everyone in our community. We know that this is a difficult time for our grassroots leaders, cohort alum, and supporters, and in the coming weeks, we will work to hold space for much-needed emotional and spiritual processing.

The need for LGBTQ inclusion and affirmation in the church remains as important as ever. We’re fully committed to moving forward and look forward to equipping and empowering attendees at our Seattle conference this fall.

Thank you to all for your patience and grace in this time, and I extend my love and thanks to the entire TRP community.

—Matthew Vines