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IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT HOW ANXIETY IMPEDES RELATIONSHIPS IN CHURCHES

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and so then interferes with doing God’s work as well.

One of the books I am currently reading explains how a negative emotional dynamic in churches works. It has to do with unhealthy anxiety. Everything I read here fits both my experience and my theories about unresolved trauma in the CRC in Canada. By the way, I will start mentioning that the theory is not a blaming theory, in fact it is quite sympathetic. People at that time did not know what was happening, and they did not know how to deal with it.

By the point in the book these quotes are found, the author has explained there are two kinds of anxiety. Short term, or acute, and chronic, which is always there. Chimes or alarm bells are always going off for the chronically anxious. I will add that they seem to need to be fearful. He has also explained, simplistically put, that there are three areas of brain activity that regulate our behaviour, one is the part we have that is most in common with primitive, reptilian animals, it governs basic functions that keep us alive—survival processes. The next, more advanced part of the brain, which we have in common with mammals, is the part that deals with playing, nurturing, bonding, and emotional expression –relational processes (my term). The most advanced section of the human brain’s processing centres, consisting of about 85% of the brain matter, deals with analysis, concepts, symbols, reflection, observation and insights. The author refers to it as the “Thinking Cap.” Stress, or anxiety, tends to cut out the second and third level and have the lower one dominate.

In this section the author is talking about Jesus’ parable of the lost son, using the runaway as an example of acute anxiety, and the homeboy as an example of chronic.

Here is the quote:

“Acutely anxious people regain their perspective. There is a return to the Thinking Cap. They have the capacity to control their reactivity. But the chronically anxious have immense difficulty keeping their hands off their own chimes. They are not self-regulating. And they are not imaginative. Note how the father appeals to his oldest son’s thinking capacity: “It is fitting to rejoice and give thanks. After all, my son—your brother—was lost and is found. Son, everything I have is yours.” There is no response.

“Typical of chronically anxious people, the older son resorts to either/or, yes/no, or black/white thinking. It was either “favor me” or “favor your other son;” it was all these years of obedience versus the irresponsible behavior of the other son. Anxiety-driven reactivity inhibits the use of the Thinking Cap. With little capacity for discernment, the chronically anxious reduce everything to all or nothing. Lines are drawn. It is no wonder, then, that they overfocus on others and their weaknesses. They blame or falsely criticize. The older son, for example, diagnoses his brother—reckless, careless, foolish. By overfocusing on the riotous brother, he is no longer responsible for his own reactive position nor responsive to his brother. To the older brother, the trouble is external to himself. Obviously, the brother cannot think systemically. For when you see yourself as part of all relational transactions, you look in both directions. You understand that in emotional systems everything is mutually influenced.

“The parable of Jesus also clues us to another characteristic of chronic anxiety. There is willfulness. “If it’s not done my way, I’ll show you.” Thus the older son refuses to join the festive party. If the chronically anxious cannot diminish or eradicate their pain by blaming, they’ll rid themselves of it nonetheless through other means. “I’ll make you suffer yet.” If differences cannot be tolerated, they are likely to be persecuted.

“It is the chronically anxious individuals in the church family who are apt to conduct a “search and destroy mission.” They will not hesitate to impose their wills on others. They make hostages of their gifts, attendance, and participation. They employ their stewardship as brinkmanship. Their ultimate threat is to run away from home—transferring or terminating their membership if an action is not rescinded, a person is not removed, or a demand is not satisfied. These tactics are effective in church families that place a premium on peace and harmony. They will exchange integrity for tranquillity. They cannot free themselves from the bondage of others.

“Basically, chronically anxious people have a low threshold for pain. This is why they are in the forefront of the effort to secure immediate relief. They hanker for answers and comfort. Threatened, they make demands, spread rumors, exaggerate circumstances, claim injustice-whatever it takes to lessen their anxiety. Governed by instinct rather than insight, they cannot be stopped by reasoning or appeasing. Mistakenly, those who must deal with them think being “nice” to the chronically anxious will earn cooperation in return. Or that being reasonable will get the reactive forces to follow suit. But the reptilian brain does not respond to nice behavior, clear thought, or sugar and roses. Under the siege of the Automatic Pilot, thoughtful and careful approaches are ignored. For this reason, too, difference itself is not the cause of the friction. Differences are problematic in proportion to the automatic processes. With the chronically anxious, the contentious issue is not at the basis of their reactivity. Even if the issue changes, their chimes are still ringing. They keep adding emotional fuel to the fire.”

–Pg 24-25 How your Church Works

“At times a system becomes aware of the anxiety-generating forces, yet refuses to use its strengths and resources to deal with the agitation. Sweeping the anxious reactivity under the rug, the system proceeds as usual. But “benign neglect” only reinforces malignant processes. Moreover, ignoring is as reactive as placating or attacking. VICIOUS CIRCLES CAN ONLY BE DISABLED THROUGH EXPOSURE. They are enabled by secrecy and avoidance.

“The church family’s relationships are no exception to anxiety. It was as true in the early church as it is in the contemporary church.”

–Pg 27 “How your Church Works; Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems” by Peter Steinke

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July 2014 “where we are in the process” update

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As I put in my last few minutes before officially starting a two week vacation, it seems a good idea to create a post updating you on where we are in our Transition Process at this time.

Here is the description of that: http://wp.me/P3etrg-ge

 

 

Why pastors need strong healthy boundaries (will be a series of posts)

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“The pastor is called so serve God and his people, right?” the person said.

The pastor hesitantly responded with a “Yes.”

“Well then, when one of the people has a need, he should always be there to serve them, right?”

“No.”

At least that is my answer, and the answer of more and more pastors. We all will have our reasons…

Here is a link to the rest of part one of my fleshing this out: http://wp.me/P3etrg-gb

(the conversation above us a construct, not a quote)

 

How to distinguish between the truly concerned and the consistently anxious

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Some questions and statements have me trying to think this through. What clues do I, as a pastor or a person, go by in my interactions with others by which I discern if the person is concerned about something in a healthy way, or is one of ‘the anxious.’

Here are my thoughts: http://wp.me/P3etrg-gk

The damage of congregations ‘firing’ pastors

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I am about to share a rather provocative blog piece. I share it because I think it is important for all congregations to know this reality of the other side of a difficult parting with a pastor. Ministers don’t readily talk about the pain of this if they have experienced it (I have), partly because it just sounds like complaining and sour grapes after the fact. In sharing this, I am not directly accusing Nobleford CRC of doing this or being a “clergy killer” (language used in the linked article), but I also cannot pretend that what is described in the article has nothing to do with what transpired here. It is simply something I believe you should know.

A pastor serves a congregation. Congregations are filled with people who each have their own list of things they expect a pastor to be like and a pastor to do. Those will not be the same for any two people. That means a LOT of expectations are placed on that one pastor. Yet we all agree that the Pastor’s main “boss” is God. Few would object to that, I think. Problem is, if there are 300 people in the congregation they tend to act like 200 bosses (because maybe 100 don’t care too much either way) of the pastor. They do that because they forget the principled statement we all agree to, and/or they believe they themselves are speaking ‘for’ God. When that process goes sideways, goes off the rails, we get the trainwrecks and pain the article speaks of. Being let go from a church is very very personal and very very public, in a way that does not apply to any other job, career or calling I can think of. It involves a person’s spiritual, emotional, psychological, personal self, really all of the person, and so is a shock and hardship at all levels. The article speaks of various aspects of this.

The start of a solution is for church leaders, especially Elders – as support and accountability for the pastor – to learn to ‘see’ how people try to inappropriately make themselves ‘the boss’ of the pastor (Elders sometimes do it too) in a way that displaces what God is calling the Pastor to do. Having seen how this works, they can then help work counter to that sin. Those who are heavily invested in having power over what the Pastor does as a leader have very very subtle and sneaky and nasty ways of disrupting things, so it is not easy to spot.

Anyway, here is the article: http://wp.me/P3etrg-fY

 

Two of the interesting things I’ve read recently

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I have lately been taking up interest in some developments at the denominational level. I am working on a significant blog post related to the denominational picture more than to Nobleford, but it is not fully ready. I’m  not sure it every will be, actually.

Instead, for now, I’ll share a few things by others which I have read recently and which are pretty close to my own views. Transition Team members are especially likely to appreciate the applicability of the second one.

This first one you can skip the first four paragraphs about a particular dispute, and begin reading at the heading “What to make of little progress.” I do agree with him that the self-awareness he writes about is a big part of transformation.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/may-web-only/real-transformation-happens-when.html?start=3

This one is by a consultant who has worked with many many churches. He says the single common factor in churches that are dying is their inward focus. Here is his list of warning signs:

Warning Symptoms

  • There are very few attempts to minister to those in the community.
  • Church business meetings become arguments over preferences and desires.
  • Numbers of members in the congregation are openly critical of the pastor, and lay leaders in the church.
  • Any change necessary to become a Great Commission church is met with anger and resistance.
  • The past becomes the hero.
  • Culture is seen as the enemy instead of an opportunity for believers to become salt and light.
  • Pastors and other leaders in the church become discouraged and withdraw from effective leadership.
  • If the churches are a part of a denomination or similar affiliation, meetings of those denominations mirror the churches in lost focus and divisiveness.

http://thomrainer.com/2014/05/31/common-factor-declining-churches/?fb_action_ids=10152407711820129&fb_action_types=og.likes

Happily, not all apply here! But the ones that do will likely sting a little. More hopefully, the prod will be seen as an opportunity to work more on transformation in the congregation!

Nomination season

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Yup, almost sounds like an announcement of hunting season.

I had hoped to work in some sermons in which we looked at the passages that describe what Kingdom Leadership or Leadership in the Body of Christ looks like, but looking at the calendar I can’t see that working out. So I’m going to try communicate some of the same things via this blog.

Today’s reflection is more about mistaken criteria we often use to select leaders.

http://wp.me/P3etrg-dZ

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