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Establishing the Agenda for the Unmoderated E-mail List


Agendas are not necessarily evil.  However, hidden agendas often are because people are tricked into signing up for something they never wanted in the first place.  This is because hidden agendas would not have to be hidden or secretive unless they were somehow unacceptable to the people being sold on it.  Even worse, there are those who state they have an agenda or agree to one, yet actually have a different agenda. This is another variation of the hidden agenda and is simply called 'hypocrisy' in the Bible. And we should all flee hypocrisy (Rom. 12:9).

With that, here is our agenda to better establish the dynamics of viable Christian Internet ministry. It might also be known as a small 'mission statement':


To establish Christian principles and purposes for Internet ministry within the confines of scriptural precedent and as led by the Spirit, and to take pragmatic action to support the vision of those specific principles or purposes.


We believe that all purposes of an e-mail list should be within the confines of what is scripturally honorable. For instance, a fellowship list is an honorable purpose. So is a forum for evangelism, or an announcement or news-only list, or any other e-mail list that serves an honorable goal. If a purpose changes by the leading of the Spirit, or if a new purpose emerges, we can be flexible enough to either change the goal of the current list or establish or help to establish a new list to accommodate the new purpose.


Generally, HarvestNET does not support the moderation of discussion or fellowship e-mail lists. There are no examples in Scripture of a leader monitoring a person's communication ahead of time in a fellowship/sharing setting. Gentle reproof or even rebuke are seen in Scripture after the fact, rather than before. There are no godly examples of one person having all power to arbitrarily suppress communication on the basis of their own personal bias or prejudice without the knowledge or those they suppress or the other members of the fellowship.  Too often, 'removal' of someone from a 'fellowship,' even if it is a 'virtual fellowship' is done secretly. Afterwards the person who is 'excommunicated' is either encouraged to be silent or is forced to be silent in some way (this is an easy thing to do with an e-mail list) This is a shameful practice. Leadership is needed, and yet Christian accountability to the Scriptures and Christian conduct should not be a standard followed by some and not for others.  Examples of controlling conduct regarding Christian communication are the high priest of Sanhedrin against the Apostles in Acts 5:27-29 and Diotrephes in 3 John 1:9-11. In the first instance, the apostles disobeyed, and in the second Diotrephes was exposed.  Moderation is the perfect set up for a Diotrephes or religious 'high priest'.

Rather than agree with unScriptural dynamics, we thus far chosen unmoderation for our e-mail lists. Our purpose is to provide a list where all members can feel free to openly share their needs, concerns, praise reports, or anything else on their hearts!  The dynamics of an unmoderated list are much like a fellowship meeting, with the freedom to speak/share whatever God has put on your heart/ or offer gifts for the edification and instruction of all.  We have found that by and large, an unmoderated e-mail list provides the best possibility for appropriate dynamics for Spirit-led, spontaneous, cyberspace e-mail fellowship.


Anarchy and safety issues are the greatest concern expressed when a list is without a Moderator who can have complete control of unfettered communication. In the heat of such concerns, it would be easy to opt for a more controlled format in order to 'prevent' any 'problems' that are sure to come. We are aware of these problems and are aware that this is why some either insist on moderation in the first place or resort to it at the first sign of trouble.  As evidenced by the 'war stories' (detailed on the previous page), we have been severely tested and tempted ourselves. However, fears (yours or ours) are no excuse for become controlling beyond Scriptural precedent, which we have briefly described above. Moderation may seem to bring a sense of safety, but it also sets up a dynamic that allows abuse of authority in a myriad of ways. In the end, the only really 'safe' person is the Moderator.

However, this is not to say that HarvestNET condones taking no action that would reasonably protect all involved in an e-mail discussion or fellowship list. Leadership is important for establishing an open, healthy, agenda with workable dynamics. That is why we have written this page (to establish an open agenda) Unmoderation automatically takes care of some types of abuse, but not all. We would consider the following on-list actions or behavior by the unmoderated list co-ordinators, owners, facilitators, or "moms" to be contradictory to our principles:

The presence of non-specific objections along with veiled or open threats to either moderate the list or to shut down the list. We have run an unmoderated e-mail list, either formally or informally, for five years. For three of those years, our list has been completely open to the public. In other words, people have been able to subscribe or unsubscribe themselves without interference or prior private screening. During all that time and through various 'crises', we have not found it necessary to resort to subtle or open 'threats' to moderate the list or shut down the list.  We consider it not only completely unnecessary, but we have also observed that people who need to share are easily intimidated from doing so because of such threats.

Allowing on-going abusive, impolite, or disruptive behavior by Christians on-list, regardless of who it is or how many people are involved, without objection or action.  Useless, divisive and inflammatory 'debate' between groups of dogmatic Christians should be moved off list. We have noticed that such debate quickly degenerates into personal attacks and insults, with those bringing up Scripture and valid points being ignored by the offenders. Christian reproof or rebuke, along with speaking the truth in love, are allowed in Scripture. List members are encouraged to participate in this Christian action of concerned admonishment toward offenders who violate Christian conduct, so that the list coordinator is not overly burdened with 'baby sitting' a list. They may not be watching the list at the moment, and the list members themselves are capable of saying what they need to on-list to an abusive person, because it is unmoderated. This may be just what is needed for all involved and may be enough. However, we do provide a contact person for something that goes beyond initial intervention by other list members. A believer should be held to a standard of Christian conduct, both for the sake of their brothers and sisters in the Lord and also as a good witness to the unbeliever.

The principle of following the Scriptural format for open communication in a fellowship has proven itself not just in theory but in practice too. Our unmoderated lists have never suffered the potential 'problems' that those who insist upon moderation predict will happen. On NETchurch for instance, an e-mail list that has always been openly joinable from our web site, we have never had to forcibly unsubscribe anyone for several years. The reports of how NETchurch blessed people are beyond our expectations. We are imperfect people in an imperfect world, and yet the Lord moved through a simple e-mail list. Our testimony for the Lord is that we stepped out in faith and obedience to the Scripture and leading of the Lord at a time when many Christians predicted an unmoderated list would fail, and found that the Lord is more than able.


Administrative leadership in some form is necessary on any e-mail list for technical reasons alone. Leaders must be good stewards of their task and if they aren't, they must be accountable in some way. An unmoderated e-mail list allows opportunity for free speech which in itself is a check/balance against any unknown or secretive abuse by anyone. Therefore, the leader(s) are automatically more accountable then any list that screens communication beforehand.  The list members are also more accountable since they are accountable to an entire list of people and not just to one person.

Leaders can serve the e-mail list members and promote accountability in other ways than just free speech. For instance, they can announce new members, thus preventing unknown 'lurkers'. They should not unsub someone (the ultimate moderation), without at least announcing it to the whole list. These two things alone will keep the entering or leaving of people on the list open, especially when it involves the exercise of authority.

Solving things apart from carnal action or words is an important responsibility (Numbers 20:11-12), so leaders must have the option of not being worn down by grumbling or going with popular demand. (I Sam. 15:15; Numbers 11:4-15).  If a leader cannot respond appropriately when challenged, this is the first step to becoming unaccountable to anything or anyone. If he or she becomes a mad, authoritarian, and abusive leader, drunk with power and full of himself or herself, please state your objections openly if you wish on the unmoderated list and unsubscribe if your feelings are strong enough. Whether you are right or wrong, the dynamics of the situation just won't work for you.

E-mail is even more imperfect than the people who use it, and so can give rise to occasions for misunderstanding, hurt, or offense. Should this happen, it stands to reason that it cannot be cleared up without the effort of both people. Resentment will breed without forgiveness, and open trust cannot be fostered in the context of repeated and deliberate offenses, hypocrisy or reversals, lack of commitment, or lack of grace for all involved.

We have found that carnal or sinful words and actions accompany deliberate false accusations. Sometimes these actions will not be immediately known, as a person may be very clever. If someone bears false witness against another, it is up to you to discern the best you can. We have experienced such a thing ourselves, and know that it is painful. Therefore, our only defense is to rely on the Lord in time of trouble.


Rules and regs can be cumbersome. Solving every difficulty with yet another arbitrary rule treats adults as though they are children, and this is often unnecessary and insulting. Indeed, it can prevent maturity and will foster resentment. Yet, having no boundaries can make one wonder if they will accidentally cross an invisible line and then be penalized. It might also make one wonder if all things are allowed against them.

The Christian walk is concerned with appropriate Christian behavior more than it is concerned with a rule for it's own sake. We find rules of conduct in the Scripture, and this should be sufficient. Our agenda as far as 'boundaries' is to come as close to scriptural Christian conduct as possible. The Scriptures address conduct, and in doing so, set reasonable boundaries for our interactions.

If we engage in appropriate Christian conduct, we should have no problem with another person's reasonable boundaries. If it is a personal request for a personal situation, the person who desires to be treated differently should speak it out. No one can read another person's mind and be expected to abide by what is unspoken. If what they want is completely unreasonable, perhaps they can be counseled by other mature Christians to adjust their expectations.

If we are concerned for others more than we are for ourselves, we should be willing to respect another person's reasonable boundaries. A person's boundaries and conduct are reasonable when they can stand up to the scrutiny of Scripture. They are unreasonable when they don't. Those who have unreasonable or weak boundaries often impose or expect one set of 'rules' of conduct for others, while they hold to a different set of 'rules' for themselves.

To reflect this concept well as far as list behavior, rules or codes of conduct should apply for those who speak them, for those who may have to enforce them, as well as for everyone else. There should be accountability for all, or the rules are just there to be broken by some.

Therefore, rules should be as openly visible as an agenda would be. They should be openly discussed and enforceable. On a Christian list, for those who break the 'rules' or code of Christian conduct, there should be open avenues for at least appropriate verbal accountability (in the Christian walk, this would take the form of gentle reproof or specific open rebuke). In the event of unsuitable behavior by a false or carnal Christian, the Matt. 18 process and steps could be invoked as closely as one can in e-mail, and this would include only Christians. In e-mail lists or other Internet forums that may include unbelievers, believers should still hold to Christian conduct. Carnal or false Christians do not help the gospel.


Etiquette can be thought of as rules, but more in the sense of common politeness. The word 'etiquette' had a softer connotation than 'RULES' which is why we chose it. It has worked so well that we would highly recommend that each e-mail list have a 'list etiquette page' or link to one that delineates common courtesy pointers for e-mail. The page might also include general wisdom on group participation and various 'helps' pages for e-mail concerns. Anyone can refer to the etiquette page on the list. Also, anyone can suggest new additions to the page.

We generally give full permission to use the "NETchurch" etiquette page to link to. Or, it may be be used as a template for a 'welcoming message' or 'rules' page. However, please be kind enough to link back to our pages wherever possible and give us some credit where appropriate, so that others are aware of both the principles of HarvestNET ministries and how well they have worked in our ministry.


HarvestNET has hosted lists as called by God, and so we have hosted a few other than our own too. At the time, we always provided this service free of charge. We find that this service is no longer necessary now that it is easy for anyone to host and own a list through e-groups. Feel free to check out the short history of the unmoderated e-mail list we used to run: NETchurch

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Page author: Teri Lee Earl

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