Toward a Forum Philosophy for SI, Part 6

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.
GrowingThe last article in this series compared running a forum to bowling and likened the two gutters to two common extremes in forum management: the extreme of too much or overly censorious control and the extreme of anything goes. With that as an analogy, I raised the question: if we were doomed to fall into one gutter or the other, which would be better? I asserted that we are not actually doomed to fall into one or the other but that how we answer the “Which is better?” question shapes our thinking in important ways as we develop forum policy and procedures.

I argued that we’re better off erring in the direction of control and based my view on three factors: the fact that our conversations are published, the fact that the fundamentalist movement is not in need of more rancor or emotional rants, and the fact that Scripture strongly urges us to pursue peace and generally avoid strife and contention (especially among ourselves).

At the conclusion, I restated my belief that we are not doomed to one extreme or the other and announced that Part 6 would offer some ideas on how we might achieve the middle of the lane.

The Inevitability of Change

I believe I can still offer some of those ideas, but the response to Part 5 revealed that some—perhaps many—could benefit from an adjustment in expectations regarding change. Three principles should shape SI members’ expectations in this area:

  1. There is no growth without change.
  2. All leaders seek change.
  3. Almost any proposed change in any setting will be disliked by some and appreciated by others.

I’ll elaborate on these individually.

All Growth Requires Change

Biblical admonitions to change are numerous. We’re urged to “run the race with endurance” (Heb.12:1 NKJV), to “grow in grace” and the knowledge of Christ (2 Pet. 3:18), to “abound more and more” and “increase” (1 Thess. 4:1, 10), and to “add” Christlike character qualities to those we already have (2 Pet. 1:5). None of these are possible for a person who does not change. Running a race requires constant change of location. Growing in grace requires a change for better in our appropriation of what God has provided, and growing in knowledge requires changes in our thinking (either gaining missing information or correcting errors in our beliefs). It would not be unfair to say that the very definition of growth is positive change.

Of course, not all change is positive. Decay is also change. But the Bible is clear that the solution to error and decay is not to cling doggedly to the status quo because where there is no change at all, there is no growth. To put it another way, though not all change is growth, all growth is change. To those called to run a race, standing still is the enemy.

Consequently, we should all desire change for SI. If it does not change, it cannot improve.

Change Is on the Agenda

Any change of leadership in an organization brings with it changes in direction. If all things continue as they were, no actual change in “leadership” has occurred.

SharperIron is no exception. When I agreed to take over the leadership of the site, I did not do so with the intention of presiding over stagnation. Some changes were stipulated by Jason in the agreement. Other prospective changes arose from my own evaluation of SI’s potential. Two scenarios were far from both of our minds: (a) keeping everything just as it was and (b) going to the membership with no ideas at all and simply saying, “What does everybody want?” Neither of these scenarios is leadership.

So any expectation that the site can continue unaltered is unrealistic. Change was on the agenda from day one—not change for the sake of change, but the kind that is unavoidable in the pursuit of improvement and growth. Naturally, I have my own beliefs about what needs improving and how to accomplish it. Some of those are negotiable, some are not.

Some Will Hate It

Whenever a leader pursues change, some will hate it. If the leader isn’t a fool, he does what he can to help people understand what he sees as needing improvement and why. He makes his case. Sometimes in the process his views change a bit. He comes to understand situations more fully. But at the end of the day, he’ll still have strong convictions about needs and opportunities and will do what he can to accommodate them

When he does, folks will tend to fit into one of three groups: those who welcome the change with enthusiasm, those who aren’t sure and decide to wait it out and see how it works, and those who hate the change (usually well before it’s implemented). Among the latter are some who eventually decide to tolerate it. But a few find it necessary to remove themselves (or be removed). They are not for that reason bad people. They simply have non-negotiable commitments that are not compatible with the non-negotiable commitments of the leadership. It’s all an inevitable part of the process of change.

Implications for SI

All of this is to say that a certain amount of turnover at SI is inevitable if we’re going to grow. I’m not eager to see people go, but I’m also not alarmed if some do. Eventually, as changes crystallize some will feel that SI is no longer for them, while others among the hundreds of lurkers who frequent the site will feel drawn to join. In that respect, the SI community does resemble a church.

That said, a few changes are being talked about in the Admin. Team (Adam, Susan, Jim, and me) as well as among the Moderators. Some of these changes we will probably roll out out in the near future.

1. Objectivity and Consistency

Many are skeptical that more objectivity and consistency in moderating are possible. Others feel more is not necessary. I am convinced that more is both necessary and possible. In the interest of pursing these ideals, a couple of procedures that will probably roll out soon include the following: (a) a standard tag on official Moderator intervention and (b) some standard Moderator responses.

The former is intended, among other things, to make it clear when a Moderator is not merely participating in the discussion but is asking for some kind of change on the part of those participating. We’ve been experimenting with this procedure some already. Eventually, we’ll iron out more specifically what’s expected of posters in response to official Moderator intervention. As for standard Moderator responses, the goal is to more consistently refer folks back to the Comment Policy as well as to encourage a more objective tone from Moderators in certain situations. Nobody is suggesting that Moderators use only standard responses at this point.

We’ll also be encouraging Moderators to recuse themselves from official Moderator activity in a thread when they’ve already taken a position and argued strongly for it or if they feel that their ability to be impartial is otherwise compromised in that thread.

2. Privacy vs. Anonymity

Several of us have come to see that anonymity and privacy are not the same thing. That is, it is theoretically possible to provide the accountability that comes from identifying yourself without the security problems that come from having personal information exposed to the general public and indexed by Google. Accordingly, it’s likely that we’ll soon disable visibility of the forum profiles to nonmembers and also exclude them from indexing by search engines.

These changes are not in effect until an official announcement appears, but they are likely in the near future.

A Closing Appeal

To those who are enthusiastic about the direction we’re going, I can only say thanks for your support and that I much appreciate hearing from you. To those in the middle who are somewhat skeptical but willing to wait and see, thanks for giving things a chance to work. To those who simply cannot tolerate whatever changes work out, know this: it’s nothing personal, but eventually the time comes to stop deliberating, start deciding, and move forward.

blumerandson1.jpgAaron Blumer, a native of lower Michigan, is a graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He, his wife, and their two children live in a small town in western Wisconsin, where he has pastored Grace Baptist Church (Boyceville, WI) since 2000. Prior to serving as a pastor, Aaron taught school in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and served in customer service and technical support for Unisys Corporation (Eagan, MN). He enjoys science fiction, music, and dabbling in software engineering.
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