“I Don’t Think We Need to Write It!”

objections to written job descriptions and contracts

We don’t need to write anything down. We’ll just trust each other like Christians, and I promise you we’ll take care of you and work out any problems that come up along the way.” And that’s been the beginning of disappointing “agreements” between leaders and their new preacher.

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But what could go wrong when we’re all sincere, honest, and faithful brethren?

Let me suggest a few things I’ve learned from the University of Hard Knocks, whose colors are black and blue and the school yell is, “OUCH!”.

Some possible agreements:

  1. What do you expect of me?
  2. What are my responsibilities?
  3. How will I know if I am doing well, mediocre, or if I am in danger of being terminated?
  4. Will I know that in advance of termination or will I be informed on the way out?
  5. What spiritual support will I receive?
  6. How often and when will I meet with the shepherds?
  7. As your preacher, how many weeks do I get for vacation?
  8. Will these be with or without pay?
  9. How many weeks do I have for workshops and gospel meetings?
  10. Who arranges for speakers when I am gone and who pays them?
  11. Are there provisions for medical and life insurance, car mileage reimbursement, provisions for continuing education or lectureships or seminars, reimbursement for half of social security, retirement, or other benefits?
  12. When I decide to leave, or you decide for me to leave, will there be severance compensation until I relocate?
  13. How long will that be?
  14. Etc., etc., and etc.

If any, all, or some of those are discussed, how many in the group remember them fifteen minutes after we agreed on them?

In the last two posts, I wrote about the importance of specific written agreements. Not everyone agrees with that concept. Here are reasons people have for resisting.

  • “If we don’t trust each other any more than that, we have no business working together.” It isn’t a matter of trust, it’s a result of imperfect memory. After that, each will regard the other with suspicion and distrust. Each is sure he remembered correctly. A way to eliminate that is to write it, sign it, distribute it to all parties, scan it, save it on your computer, back it up to external hard drives (I use three in rotation), secure it in the cloud, and put the original in your safe-deposit box in the bank. Since I’ve done that, I’ve never had a disagreement on details of my agreements that wasn’t solved by reading the document.
  • “In my daddy’s day, people just shook hands and did what they said they were going to do.” If it worked for your daddy, I’m pleased. My experience is I forget. We had written agreements with our children when they were growing up. Every time I remember having a disagreement, I was wrong. I wasn’t trying to cheat my children. I forgot the details. When we checked the document, I had no trouble doing what I promised to do.
  • “I don’t think it’s spiritual for brethren to have to write every detail. It seems like Christians should be able just to agree and do what they said they’d do.” In His two big agreements, the Old Testament and the New Testament, He chose to have details and stories recorded in writing. Some of the big agreements, He wrote in stone — twice! When the first copy was deleted by breakage, He had another copy made and placed in a safe-deposit box (the Ark of the Covenant).

My conclusion: the only people who don’t need to write their agreements are those who’ll never forget and who’ll never die — and they need to work only with people who’ll never forget and never die. Otherwise, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and damaged relationships are likely.

What are your thoughts and what’s been your experience in recording and keeping of agreements?
Please comment below:

How Much Do You Pay an Interim?

what is fair compensation for the interim preacher and the congregation?

In each discussion with a congregation considering inviting me to work with them, we get to the question, “How much do you pay an interim?” My consistent response for nine years, “Pay me what you paid your last preacher.”

Compensation

Five reasons I think this is a good and fair request:

  1. You need an interim who’s as good at his work as your last preacher was at his.
  2. Paying your interim the salary you paid your last preacher is fair for small, medium, and large congregations.
  3. You’ll pay your next preacher as much, or more than you paid your last preacher. I’ll help you hold the place in the budget for him.
  4. A worker is worthy of his pay. If an interim preacher has spent his life learning, applying, and teaching the principles of transition, his knowledge and wisdom are worth that of any other consultant of comparable ability.
  5. People show respect, value, and credibility by compensation. Not every church has followed this principle, and I agreed to work with them. Observation: when a church did significantly less, it was also expressed in their attitude toward me. They expressed that by what they paid me and by the way they treated me while I was there. I just wasn’t that valuable. Non-verbal communication is powerful. Although I was paid well and lived comfortably, their response to that suggestion was the first sign of how I’d be regarded by them. I’ll ponder this in the future.

It’s expensive to be an interim.

We live where we work. We’ve lived in two houses owned by churches for use by their preacher. We’ve rented three apartments. We’re now renting a house close to Northside where we’re woking, and paying utilities.

We’re maintaining our house in Nashville. We pay utilities, property taxes, insurance, and mowing. We don’t move to a new location. We live there, bringing our clothes, computers, and an interim bed. Brethren loan us furniture while we’re working in a location. They pick it up when we leave. What isn’t loaned, Gail buys at a thrift store. This helps the most unpleasant part of our interim ministry, relocating every eighteen months.

God has been good and provided for our every need and most of our wants. I appreciate the support of brethren to permit the enjoyable work we’ve been doing for nine years.

What are your thoughts about compensation for interim preachers?
Please comment below:

Interim Minister Job Description-Contract

good relationships begin with clear understanding and mutual agreements

I didn’t know I was supposed to do that.” “You said you were going to do it.” “You agreed to pay me ninety days after we announced I was leaving.” “We don’t remember that.” “Check your notes.” “It’s not in our minutes.” “Some said they don’t like the length of your sermons; a lot of people are upset.” “Who are they?” “We can’t tell you. That information is confidential.”

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How do you settle these disagreements?

You don’t. If no one made an effort and took the time to write agreements, make copies for all parties, and keep them safe for future reference, you won’t solve these disputes to everyone’s satisfaction.

The only person who doesn’t need written agreements is the person who’ll never die and who’ll never forget anything. If he isn’t writing his agreements, he needs to be dealing with people who’ll never die and will never forget anything.

It took me ten years and much pain to learn to make agreements of expectations and record those in a job description-contract.

Before writing a job description-contract, I like to have several hours of getting to know each other. I want to hear why the church wants an interim preacher. What are their expectations? What is their understanding of what I’ll do and how long I’ll be there? What is the difference in an interim minister and fill-in preaching? What is our understanding of transition? Who will be involved in it? How much does each person want to grow or do we just want to get everyone else straightened out? What are tasks and groups that need to be involved in the transition process? How much interaction will there be between the elders and interim preacher?

The contract-job description is an official statement of understandings we have reached during our discussions.

Items in Job Description-Contract

  1. Job description.
    * Preaching.
    * Teaching.
    * Staff meetings.
    * Organizing transition projects and people.
  2. Relationship with elders and staff.
    * Meetings.
    * Communication.
    * Evaluation.
    * Criticism guidelines.
  3. Contract.
    * Salary, other benefits.
    * Moving.
    * Time away from the congregation.
    * Study at home and building.
    * Length of work together.
    * 90-day notice of termination.
    * Clear no consideration of taking the position as the next full-time preacher.

Two critical agreements:

  • “Any criticism of Jerrie Barber will be directed to Jerrie Barber, and it will be welcomed. Jerrie Barber does not accept anonymous criticism.” A principle I’ll emphasize is delivering mail to the correct person. Matthew 18:15–17 applies to preachers as well as other Christians. I don’t respond to, “A lot of people are upset…some people said.” I look forward to visiting with each person individually. I appreciate criticism. It helps me grow. I don’t accept second-hand criticism.
  • “It is understood that under no circumstances will Jerrie W. Barber consider or be considered as the next full-time preacher for this congregation.” This is one thing distinguishing interim ministry from fill-in preaching. I’m not here to see if we like each other and to determine if I want to be the next preacher here. I’m not here to take brother Last Preacher’s place. I’m here to help the church make a good transition and to make it easier on the next preacher.

I plan to discuss compensation in the next post.

Here’s a copy of my present contract: interim minister contract .

How have you found written job descriptions-contracts helpful or unhelpful?
Please comment below:

It’s Not the Work of the Interim Preacher to Make a Good Transition

interim ministry isn’t fill-in preaching

Jerrie, our elders need fixing. Our deacons don’t deak. You need to get members who left to come back. People need to give more. I’m not giving because of what the elders did. What are you going to do to deal with all these problems?”

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Not much.

Quite a bit — if what I teach and preach is true and practiced.

Edwin Friedman says one of the greatest mistakes of GOOD leaders is over-functioning.

The work of the interim minister is to help the congregation grow — navigate through a good transition during this time of change from one preacher to another.

Interim ministry is not fill-in preaching. Fill-in preaching is showing up at appointed times and speaking. And good preaching can do much good. But interim ministry calls for more. It’s an opportunity to help people think about what’s happened and learn from it. I do this from the pulpit, in smaller classes and groups, and in individual conversations.

Different circumstances may call for an interim:

  1. The preacher resigned.
  2. The preacher died.
  3. The preacher was fired.
  4. The preacher retired.
  5. The preacher stayed for a long time.
  6. The last several preachers stayed a short time and left unhappy.
  7. The church is in conflict.
  8. The church is at peace — so much peace for so long it’s about to die. There’s a lot of peace in a cemetery.
  9. The church is at peace. The last preacher stayed a long time, did a good job, left because he chose to go and believes he made a good decision. People miss him because he was a good preacher, a good servant, and a true friend. No one will ever be able to replace him.

The church needs to grieve his absence to get ready to consider who will be the next preacher.

And if you’re looking for the one you just buried, that person is in the cemetery.

All these call for a time to think and learn from what’s happening.

In my early ministry, the only method of conflict resolution I knew was to talk with people involved. I found if I talked to one first, I always talked with the one who was right. I knew he was because he told me he was right and the other was wrong.

My next step was to get the wrong one to come in to talk. The one who was right and I would get the wrong one to repent, and everyone would be happy. They would send me a thank you note and Christmas cards every year.

I’ve never received my first card from one of those peace conferences. I didn’t know and practice Proverbs 18:17:

The first one to plead his cause seems right,
Until his neighbor comes and examines him (NKJV).

My responsibilities and opportunities are to teach, coach, and encourage people in conflict to follow Jesus and His teaching. If I try to do the work for others, it probably won’t work. And if it did, the people failed to exercise their responsibility to follow the Lord’s way of repairing broken relationships. If I did their work, they didn’t grow from a lack of exercise.

I can’t grieve for another.

I can’t find the way out of lostness for another.

I can’t express and find relief from anger and despair for another.

I may be able to help someone find a better way through the wilderness between the Red Sea and the Promised Land.

My goal is to help, not replace, Christians who are finding their way to a new beginning.

In blog posts that follow, I’ll relate specifics about what I do as a guide on this adventure.

What have you found helpful when your stability and peace was disrupted?
Please comment below:

Is There Any Hope for this Church?

should we trash this one and start over?

People are afraid to talk to anyone. Some people they thought were their best friends have left and labeled those who have stayed as “liberal,” “radical conservatives,” or “without conviction to stand for the truth.” “We thought we could trust them. There may be some like those who haven’t left. Let’s go home. I don’t trust anyone. I thought we had the best church in the world.” When the congregation has a potluck, food often runs out. People are withholding their conversations, their love, and their green beans. They come late and leave early.

Universe

What does an interim preacher say to a church like this in transition? Here’s what I say, “This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24, NKJV).

I follow with several questions:

    • Do you believe God loves His church? We know He does because He gave the blood of His loving and cooperative Son to buy it (Acts 20:28). His church is valuable to Him. He has a lot invested in it.
    • Do you believe God loves this congregation? It isn’t too bad for Him to love. I enjoy studying 1 Corinthians with a troubled church. This congregation was divided and had arrogant, prideful people in it. A man in Corinth was living with his father’s wife, and the rest of the church liked it that way. Brethren were taking each other to court rather than using the principles Jesus taught to settle disputes. They had marriage problems. Idolatry was still a stumbling block with some members. Worship had become a time of separation rather than unity. Some were getting drunk during worship. Spiritual gifts provided the opportunity for believers to continue the apostles arguments of “who’s the greatest in the kingdom.” Corinth Church of Christ had severe doctrinal problems. There were some who denied a cardinal part of the gospel: resurrection.

      When I finish this study, I ask, “Had you rather be a member of this congregation in Anytown, U.S.A. or Corinth?” I haven’t had anyone choose Corinth yet.

      Notice how Paul addressed this church: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2).

      It seems the Holy Spirit if He had anything to do with writing this, (I think He did) and Paul have a high regard for what God and His word is able to do with and for sinful people. I’ve observed many cut and run three weeks, or three months, after the explosion. They think this congregation is hopeless. Paul thought Corinth still had good people and was worth loving and teaching.

    • Do you believe you can serve God in this congregation? Often people are still trying to decide if they can worship here. “I don’t know if I can worship with these elders, those members who gossip, because they let the last preacher go, or because they kept the last preacher too long.”

      Many choose to go to another congregation or start another church because of sin and shortcomings they see in “the others.”

Often people ask me about starting another church. My answer: “To have scriptural encouragement for planting another congregation for a reason other than evangelism, the church you’re leaving should be meaner than Corinth and deader than Sardis.” Corinth had committed nearly every sin available. Sardis was dead because Jesus said it was dead (Revelation 3:1).

I can’t read that anywhere in the book.

Jesus through John wrote to Christians in Sardis, “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy” (Revelation 3:4). Neither Jesus nor John recommended the faithful few to leave Dead Sardis Church of Christ and start Lively Sardis Church of Christ. You and I can be live Christians in a dead church. How do I know? The Bible tells me so!

  • Do you believe God will give us wisdom? He promises He will. James, the Lord’s brother, told us to pray for wisdom when we need it (James 1:5). The wise man of the Old Testament instructed us to work for wisdom like we work for money and search for it as if we were searching for buried treasure (Proverbs 2:1-5).

What’s the big question —Who’s in charge of the universe?

If God is God, we have hope. If our faith is in people, I understand hopelessness. We can survive and thrive during this time of transition. I like the sentiment I read: “To love the ideal church is easy. To love the real church is difficult.” I’ve never worked with or heard of a church as bad as Corinth or some of the seven congregations in Asia (Revelation 1-3). God loved them enough to send messages of rebuke, correction, and hope.

We can learn from His messages to them and grow during trying times.

 

What has encouraged you during difficult times in the church?
Please comment below:

I Don’t Like it this Way!

but I like it the way it is better than what it would take to change it

The time of transition is painful for many people. A favorite preacher has left. The elders have made unwise choices — or no choices. People are gossiping and saying unkind, inflammatory things. The contribution and attendance are often down. In more serious cases, many have left for other congregations, started a new congregation, or quit public worship altogether.

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People want others to change so they can be happy again. Somebody should talk to the elders to tell them to do their work properly. Someone needs to visit the people who left and get them back. Somebody must stop the loose tongues!

Why doesn’t everyone do what’s right?

Is there anything I can do when everyone else is making mistakes?

  1. Could I, should I talk with the elders about my concerns? Will I do that with compassion realizing they aren’t feeling great in the midst of turmoil in a group they’re leading?
  2. As an elder, can I listen kindly and with an interest in gaining more wisdom? Is it possible that an ordinary member who “doesn’t know all the elders know” can still have something to say and to teach me? Is this Christian who’s speaking to me one that I should esteem better than myself (Philippians 2:3)?
  3. Do I have a responsibility to show concern for people who are weak, discouraged, or in sin? Am I a spiritual person (Galatians 6:1)?
  4. Have I encouraged gossiping people by listening to them, reading their emails and Facebook posts, and saying nothing to them about delivering mail to the right address (Matthew 18:15-17; Proverbs 26:20)?

The apostle Paul is a good example of one who had horrible conditions but kept his faith and joy and remained contented. When he wrote to the Philippians, he was in a dirty, stinking, Roman jail.

John McRay wrote in Christian History:

Roman imprisonment was preceded by being stripped naked and then flogged — a humiliating, painful, and bloody ordeal. The bleeding wounds went untreated as prisoners sat in painful leg or wrist chains. Mutilated, bloodstained clothing was not replaced, even in the cold of winter.

Most cells were dark, especially the inner cells of a prison, like the one Paul and Silas inhabited in Philippi. Unbearable cold, lack of water, cramped quarters, and sickening stench from few toilets made sleeping difficult and waking hours miserable. Because of the miserable conditions, many prisoners begged for a speedy death. Others simply committed suicide.

In settings like this, Paul wrote encouraging, even joyful, letters and continued to speak of Jesus (Elesha Coffman, Christian History Connection (6-1-02), from Christian History (issue 47); www.preachingtoday.com).

How Paul Responded to Bad Circumstances which Were Not His Fault

  1. He was in jail. He used it as an opportunity to evangelize and encourage (Philippians 1:12-14; Philippians 4:22).
  2. Some preachers with unchristian attitudes were trying to make his deplorable conditions harder (Philippians 1:15, 16). He chose to rejoice because they were preaching Christ, even though they were insincere (Philippians 1:16, 17). He selected rejoicing both for the present and the future.
  3. He chose contentment. He didn’t like it the way it was, but he learned to be content instead of being upset over a something he couldn’t change (Philippians 4:11, 12).

When a condition in a group — family, church, business, or softball team — is chronic, and a person is disturbed and critical, it’s because he likes it the way it is better than doing what it would take to change it.

  1. Many refuse or neglect to try to change it because it would be painful and difficult. They don’t want to work that hard and suffer that much.
  2. When some realize they can’t change the situation, they don’t want to get an advanced degree in contentment (Paul said he learned it). They don’t want to work that hard and suffer that much.
  3. So — they suffer in lethargy, discontent, and criticism. There’s no escape to suffering (Job 14:1). We get to decide where we’ll invest our suffering.

This post is my summary of Family Systems. If you haven’t read the previous six posts, starting with March 8, 2016, read these and this post will make more sense: What (Who) Is the Problem?, The Identified Patient, Homeostasis, Differentiation, Extended Family Field, Emotional Triangles.

These are some of the opportunities of an interim minister to coach all to be more like Jesus during difficult times.

How have you dealt with these dynamics with yourself and others?
Please comment below:

Principle 5 of Family Systems: Emotional Triangle

how can I keep from getting caught in the middle?

One frustrating situation in leadership is getting caught in the middle of a conflict. People involved in a dispute have expected me to be the judge or at least “straighten out” the other person. Many elders, preachers, parents, and other human beings find themselves in this predicament.

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Edwin Friedman describes this dilemma:

An emotional triangle is formed by any three persons or issues…

The basic law of emotional triangles is that when any two parts of a system become uncomfortable with one another, they will “triangle in” or focus upon a third person, or issue, as a way of stabilizing their own relationship with one another. A person may be said to be “triangled” if he or she gets caught in the middle as the focus of such an unresolved issue. When individuals try to change the relationship of two others (two people, or a person and his or her symptom or belief), they “triangle” themselves into that relationship (and often stabilize the very situation they are trying to change) (Generation to Generation: family process in church and synagogue, pages 35, 36, © 1985 The Guilford Press).

He continues by listing and explaining the seven laws of an emotional triangle. I’m only giving the list here. He expands on each of these in his book. (This is one of the most helpful books I’ve read [four times], devoured, discussed. Two of four times I read it was in staff meetings. We took twenty-two months to read it the first time and seventeen months the second time, reading about three or four pages a week.)

  1. The relationship of any two members of an emotional triangle is kept in balance by the way a third party relates to each of them or to their relationship.
  2. If one is the third party in an emotional triangle it is generally not possible to bring change (for more than a week) to the relationship of the other two parts by trying to change their relationships directly.
  3. Attempts to change the relationship of the other two sides of an emotional triangle not only are generally ineffective, but also, homeostatic forces often convert these efforts to their opposite intent.
  4. To the extent a third party to an emotional triangle tries unsuccessfully to change the relationship of the other two, the more likely it is that the third party will wind up with the stress of the other two.
  5. The various triangles in an emotional system interlock so that efforts to bring change to any one of them is often resisted by homeostatic forces in the others or in the system itself.
  6. One side of an emotional triangle tends to be more conflicted than the others.
  7. We can only change a relationship to which we belong (Generation to Generation, pages 35-39).

Peter Steinke expands on this concept in his book, Healthy Congregations: a systems approach, Copyright © 1996 The Alban Institute, Inc.):

“When elephants fight,” a Swahili proverb states, “it’s the grass that get crushed.” Triangulation is a natural way of handling anxiety. If anxiety in one relationship is not resolved, it will be played out in another relationship. A person feels relief from tension when anxiety is shifted to a third party, yet the anxiety in the original relationship is unchanged. It has merely relocated.

You know a triangle exists when you experience the following:

  • The reactivity being expressed toward you is excessive, strong, and far beyond what might be normal.
  • Someone is overfocused on you.
  • You look for a sympathetic third person who will share your irritation with an adversary.
  • You turn to a second party to talk about a third party.
  • You become allied with a friend against your friend’s opponent.
  • You need to rescue, care for your friend when he or she is anxious.
  • You pin your anxiety on someone to relieve tension that belongs to another relationship (page 62).

God has given instructions and warnings about this in the Bible:

The first one to plead his cause seems right,
Until his neighbor comes and examines him (Proverbs 18:17).

You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:16).

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23, 24).

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector (Matthew 18:15-17).

The following paragraphs are from the Full-Time Minister Relationships and Responsibilities, Anytown Church of Christ, a congregation where I served as an interim, incorporated in the preacher’s contract and job description:

Conflict Resolution

In any case of conflict at all times, it is expected that the minister practice guidelines Jesus gave in Matthew 18:15-17.

The minister will be expected to refer members that bring a complaint concerning one elder or the eldership in general to Matthew 18 and encourage them to bring the concern to the elder if it involves one, or to the eldership if it involves the entire eldership.

By the same token, if an elder or the eldership has a complaint brought to them concerning the minister, the same action will be taken. The eldership will not entertain complaints unless the member practices Biblical conflict resolution first.

What if we added another paragraph as a family rule at Anytown Church of Christ?:

If any member has a complaint brought to them concerning any other Christian in this congregation, it is expected that the Christian practice guidelines Jesus gave in Matthew 18:15-17. No member will entertain complaints against another brother or sister unless the one making the criticism practices Biblical conflict resolution first including talking to the person alone, then talking again with one or two other people present to help restore the good, loving, and kind relationship.

Following His teaching would eliminate the harmful triangle. The most common response I hear is, “I’m not comfortable doing this.” I need to remember that crucifixion is uncomfortable. A follower of Jesus volunteers to carry a cross daily (Luke 9:23).

What have you done to mind your own business and stay out of the middle of problems that belong to others?
Please comment below:

Principle 4 of Family Systems: Extended Family Field

were (are) my relatives human?

How much of your leadership is heavily influenced by your family? How could learning more about your family improve your effectiveness as a leader?

Devil Human Angel (WYPL)

Although people aren’t predetermined to follow their parents, they may be predisposed because of their environment and training. See: Do You Lead Like Your Daddy? Leaders may improve their leadership by learning more about their extended family.

This term, “extended family field”, refers to our family of origin, (parents, brothers, sisters) plus our other relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.). Edwin Friedman describes the differences in outlook of the individual model of groups and the family systems model:

The thinking that surrounds the individual model tends to see the extended family field almost exclusively as the source of difficulties or pathology. The family becomes something to learn to deal with so that it won’t get you. The model tends to focus on what is sick or weak in the family, what to avoid or keep at a distance. It therefore encourages individuals with problems to see their family of origin only as a source of their weakness and not as also a source of their strengths.

The family systems model enables individuals to seek relationships with their family of origin; the problem with parents, after all, is that they had parents (Generation to Generation, page 35).

This approach recognizes most families and most human beings making up those families have both good and bad characteristics. This approach permits us to recognize both – to find and incorporate the strengths in the system.

It’s my observation that many people see their family members as more than or less than human. Those who see them as more than human (angels) do not recognize they had faults. “My father would never have done anything wrong. My parents were perfect. I never remember a mistake they made.” They were more than human.

Others had painful experiences in their family. “My mother was a devil. She was evil through and through.” Those who see their family members as less than human (demons) want to separate from them and never have contact with them.

God has given us freedom of choice to learn from and imitate the good and learn from and reject what is less than best.

God has given us freedom of choice to learn from and imitate the good and learn from and reject what is less than best.

We have choices of following the strengths or weaknesses of our family. Men and women didn’t get their names in Hebrews 11 because of perfection but because of strengths God chose to emphasize and exemplify. How did God want us to remember the heroes of faith in this great chapter of the Bible?

  • Will we follow Noah’s faith and obedience or his drunkenness? v. 7
  • God recorded Abraham’s faith and obedience in Hebrews 11, not his lying, and laughing. vv. 8-10, 17-19
  • Moses makes it into the Hall of Faith because of his courageous, wise choices, not his murder. vv. 24-27
  • Rahab is listed for her respect for God, not for her prostitution and lying. v. 31
  • Sampson is known for his sacrificial dedication at the end of his life, not his many sins mentioned in Judges. v. 32
  • David is known as a man after God’s own heart, for his repentance and continual search for God, not for his adultery and murder. v. 32

“That’s the way the Jones family is. We’ve always had trouble with our temper.” “The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation” (Numbers 14:18).

However, if we get to know our family better (for two or more generations back), we may be able to see strengths and imitate them, and release weaknesses and not do them just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” This long-range objective is a goal of family systems.

Getting to know my family better and why they do the things they do has freed me to decide whether I want to do things the way we’ve always done it, rebel and reverse everything, or consider the options and do what I think best in each circumstance. I have used questions I read in Family Ties that Bind, by Ronald W. Richardson to discuss with members of my family about our family rules — conscious and unconscious: Questions to Learn More About Your Family .

It’s been helpful to me to see that congregations also form a family system. The more I understand the congregation as a family system, I can be freer to do what God teaches me is best — not just repeat something because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or reject it because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

How have you dealt with humans in your family — their strengths and weaknesses?
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Principle 3 of Family Systems: Differentiation

how can we be connected — but not stuck?

When I am criticized, am I devastated? Do I have difficulty taking a position — stating where I stand — and, if necessary, being in the minority rather than sacrificing my convictions? If the answer is “Yes” to one or both questions, growing in differentiation can improve my leadership. Jesus was the Master of knowing who He was, what He believed, and doing what He needed to do, regardless of consequences.

Foot stuck into chewing gum on street

Edwin Friedman describes this leadership strength as

the capacity of a family member to define his or her own life’s goals and values apart from surrounding togetherness pressures, to say “I” when others are demanding “you” and “we.” It includes the capacity to maintain a (relatively) nonanxious presence in the midst of anxious systems, to take maximum responsibility for one’s own destiny and emotional being. It can be measured somewhat by the breadth of one’s repertoire of responses when confronted with crisis. The concept should not be confused with autonomy or narcissism, however. Differentiation means the capacity to be an “I” while remaining connected (Generation to Generation, page 27, © 1985 The Guilford Press).

Peter Steinke quoted Murray Bowen, the father of family system thinking, in his book, How Your Church Family Works: “A ‘differentiated self’ is one who can maintain emotional objectivity, while in the midst of an emotional system in turmoil, yet at the same time actively relate to key people in the system” (page 69, Copyright © 1993 The Alban Institute, Inc.).

This attribute will help me deal with criticism. If I’m in despair when someone points out what he believes is a weakness in me, I’m stuck with his evaluation. There are possibilities when I receive criticism: the criticism is true, partially true, or untrue. If the assessment is valid and I can correct the deficiency, I’ve learned of an opportunity for growth. If I can’t correct the deficiency, I have the challenge to learn contentment with something I can’t change. If the accusation isn’t true, I don’t want to give the misinformed person power over me.

Peter Steinke presented a helpful way to look at criticism:

By far the most difficult form of pursuit behavior to recognize is criticism. How can those who act adversarially be said to be in pursuit? We feel alienated, not close. But criticism is characterized by overfocus. The “stinger” and the “stung” are emotionally connected. Whenever a gnawing critic gets inside our brain cells and we can’t expunge him, we are connected, even if negatively. Whenever someone gets under our skin, we are infected with anxiety. If we are reactive to a pursuer, the pursuit behavior achieves its goal: connection. Strange as it sounds, the critic wants to be close. After all, if we can’t be close through play, ecstasy, touch, and nurture, our only option to accomplish closeness is through angry outbursts, specious charges, or harsh accusations. People feel close to us when they know we are thinking about them. What we think is not as important as that we are thinking about them. We play into the hands of criticizers when we react to their invasion rather than define ourselves to it (How Your Church Family Works, pages 88, 89).

If that’s true, a critic values me. When I am differentiated, often I can establish, reestablish, or strengthen a relationship with the critic and be his friend and servant.

My hero and model of this quality of differentiation is Joshua. Listen to his farewell speech to Israel:

Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:14, 15).

  1. He told them what was right.
  2. He recognized he could not and should not control them. They were responsible for their choices. He acknowledged that and enumerated alternatives they may not have considered.
  3. He defined himself. Although they had many choices, he wasn’t taking a vote on how he should act. He told where he stood.

When a leader is growing in this quality, he feels no need to take sides in a conflict. He can understand what people are saying on different sides of the issue. He’s aware of strengths and weaknesses of people involved. He talks when it’s helpful and refrains from comments when what he might say wouldn’t help solve the problem.

How do you strengthen your backbone when folding would be easier?
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Principle 2 of Family Systems: Homeostasis (Balance)

how can we improve and stay the same (not change)?

This is the worst thing that every happened. We’ve got to do something to fix it. I’m tired of all this turmoil. It’s time for things to get back to normal.”

Thermostat B

People will get anxious when things get worse in their life. People will get anxious when things in their life get significantly better because that also is out of their comfort zone.

I knew a man who had been successful in his business for many years. However, conditions changed and it looked like he might face bankruptcy. He became cranky and depressed.

He held on to his business and worked out of the crisis. After a few years when he filled out his financial statement, his net worth exceeded one million dollars! How do you think you felt? Do you think he was happy and celebrated? He wasn’t, and he didn’t. He became cranky and depressed. Both conditions were out of his comfort zone. A thermostat keeps the temperature in a room in a comfortable range, making adjustments when it gets too hot or too cold. People seem to have a corrective command to keep conditions in their lives from getting too bad or too good.

Edwin Friedman in Generation to Generation explains homeostasis as “the tendency of any set of relationships to strive perpetually, in self-corrective ways, to preserve the organizing principles of its existence.” He asks the question,”Why has the symptom surfaced now? This is not a static concept, but a dynamic one, as when a thermostat controls the temperature balance, not at a fixed point, but within a range” (page 23, © 1985 The Guilford Press).

In a church, family, business, or softball team, the focus on the identified patient (black sheep) and resistance from those who are peacekeepers instead of peacemakers explain why the group will tolerate and adapt to trouble-making complainers and incompetent leaders and members. On the other hand, the person who encourages personal responsibility, growth, and confronting the long-term problems will be ignored, if not let go.

Peter Steinke comments, “Actually religious institutions are the worst offenders at encouraging immaturity and irresponsibility. In church after church, some member is passively-aggressively holding the whole system hostage, and no one wants to fire him or force her to leave because it wouldn’t be ‘the Christian thing to do.’ It has nothing to do with Christianity. Synagogues also tolerate abusers because it wouldn’t be the Christian thing to do” (How Your Church Family Works, Copyright © 1993 The Alban Institute, Inc., page 59).

This sabotage to keep homeostasis is a major obstacle in any system (family, business, church, or softball team). Friedman adds, “The same qualities that allow for ‘familiness’ (that is, stability) in the first place are precisely what hinder change (that is, less stability) when the family system is too fixed” (Generation to Generation, page 25).

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.
Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? (1 Corinthians 5:1, 2, 6, NKJV).

Often in talking with people in groups (families, churches, businesses, or softball teams) an individual will describe and deplore the “identified patient,” the person “causing the problem.” I ask, “Why do you like it that way?”. If a condition is chronic, the group likes it the way it is more than what it would take to change it.

Have you encountered the paradox, “I want the church to grow, but I don’t want any more people”? How have you dealt with this?
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