Interim Ministry Workshop

Nashville, Tennessee, September 21-23, 2017

Front Row: Alisa Leonard, Susan Sandefur
Back Row: Roger Leonard, Dean Miller, Ron Sandefur. We had an elder and wife, a preacher and wife, and another preacher.

Our schedule:
Thursday and Friday: 8:00-12:00; 1:00-5:00; 7:00-9:00
Saturday: 8:00-12:00

I appreciate the brethren at Charlotte Heights Church of Christ allowing us to use their building and helping in every way.

Some of the topics we discussed:

  • Three Rules.
  • Introductions.
  • Discussion Guidelines.
  • My ministry today — my ministry ten years from today.
  • Family Systems.
  • Questions to Learn More About Your Family.
  • When to Leave…Before You Go, “mustard seeds”.
  • Elder Rules.
  • Staff, elder, deacon evaluation.
  • Contracts.
  • Learning from past elders.
  • Getting the word out about your availability.
    • Blog, website.
    • Emails from Contacts.
  • Interim Ministry Network.
  • Leadership classes:
    • God’s Great Servants.
    • Learning to Love my Friend(s).
  • Preaching during the interim. (Workbook).
    • Sermon series I always preach.
    • How to Treat the New Preacher.
    • Every Christian Is an Interim Minister.
  • Staff meetings.
  • Different ways of doing interim.
    • Sundays.
    • Weekend.
    • Residence.
  • Transitions, “mustard seeds”.
  • Jesus and Peacemaking—how to reduce conflict in a church.
  • Compensation for an interim preacher.
  • Setting goals.
  • Transition Monitoring Team.
  • Gail and ladies discussion of wives of interims.
  • Expressing gratitude, appreciation, recognition.
  • Self-study.
  • Timeline.
  • What Preachers Wish Elders Knew About Preachers.
  • Evaluation of workshop.

I’m considering another workshop next year (2018). Please let me know your interest and preferences as to the month and which three days in the week.

Please leave a comment by ...... clicking here.


Interim Ministry Workshop

September 21–23, 2017

What do you plan to do for the rest of your life? How will you use the wisdom you have gained by study and experience as a preacher? For ten years, Gail and I have enjoyed interim ministry in seven congregations. We have continued to learn and grow. We have been encouraged by brethren in all these places. Some of you have the ability to offer a great service. I would like to share what I am learning with you. We will meet in the beautiful new facilities of the Charlotte Heights Church of Christ, 6833 Old Charlotte Pike, Nashville, Tennessee 37209.

Three things to do to take advantage of this opportunity:

    1. Mark your calendar for September 21-23
    2. To answer any questions, contact Jerrie 584-0512
    3. Reserve your place in this workshop: I want to participate in this workshop

Reserve my place in this workshop

Eddyville, Kentucky

The cost is $317.49 per person.

Hendersonville, Tennessee

There is a minimum and a maximum number of participants:
The minimum for the course to be conducted is — 1. If no one shows up, I won’t talk.
The maximum is 20 people, total. We will be doing group sessions. Twenty will be the limit.

Cookeville, Tennessee

The concepts we’ll discuss will be good training for any preacher and his wife. Gail and I had an introduction course in 1996. We went through Interim Ministry Network training in 1998-1999, seven years before I started interim ministry. I took a refresher course in March 2007, before starting interim ministry in May of that year. The training and what I learned helped during those last years of full-time ministry.

LaVergne, Tennessee

Preachers’ wives are encouraged but not required to attend this workshop. Gail and I went for training together.

Maury City, Tennessee


Thursday, September 21, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Friday, September 22, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Saturday, September 23, 8:00 a.m.-noon

Jeffersonville, Indiana


  • The story of our journey to interim ministry.
  • Family Systems, the framework of working with groups.
  • Is there any hope for this church?
  • The work of the interim preacher — to guide and coach a process.
  • Contracts, opportunity to clarify expectations — objections to written contracts.
  • Compensation for an interim.
  • Making contacts, getting the word out that you’re available for interim ministry.
  • Rules. (Differentiation)
  • Initial Family Meeting.
  • Projects.
  • Preaching during the interim.
  • The interim’s wife — discussion, Q & A with Gail.
  • The Search — training those who will be searching for the new preacher.
  • The Preacher.
  • When you don’t need an interim.
  • Conflict management.

Sikeston, Missouri

Three things to do to take advantage of this opportunity:

    1. Mark your calendar for September 21-23
    2. To answer any questions, contact Jerrie Barber: 584-0512
    3. Reserve your place in this workshop: I want to participate in this workshop

Reserve my place in this workshop

Staff Meetings

coordinating and growing individually and as a group

Unity isn’t an accident looking for a place to happen. I often hear youth ministers, preachers, administrative assistants, and other members of the team talking about either bad or practically non-existent relationships among those who work out of the church building. I ask about their staff meetings, celebrations, and time they spend together. The answer often is, “We don’t spend time together.”

I’m not surprised that camaraderie isn’t great without aiming for it and working for it. I’ve enjoyed in four of six interim congregations having other people who are part of the team. We’ve had weekly staff meetings.

These weren’t always welcomed. As we began at one congregation, I asked, “What kind of staff meeting would you like to have?”

The reply from more than one person was, “None.” They told me previous staff meetings were times when they were reprimanded and embarrassed. I can understand their aversion to that kind of meeting

In some congregations, we have one or more elders who come to staff meetings. In some, they rotate. In others, it’s the same elder each time.

I begin with rules. Family rules are usually unconscious, unspoken, but understood. I spend the first meeting discussing and negotiating rules for staff meetings. I like to discuss them, agree to follow the guidelines we’ve negotiated, then review them six months from the beginning and adjust to achieve better results.

Here are guidelines for the staff meetings at Northside, the church I’m serving now:


For Staff Guidelines in PDF, click here

For Staff Guidelines in Word document, click here

There are three parts to our staff meetings:

  1. Bible study and prayer. We read a book of the Bible, a chapter a week. We spend about 30 minutes reading and discussing the chapter. The way we select a book to read is to give everyone a piece of paper. Each person writes the book they would like to read in staff meetings. We draw one to start, finish it, then draw for the next book. Eventually, everyone gets to study the book he or she suggested.
  2. Coordination. We discuss what’s going on in the congregation: regular services and projects, special events, the bulletin, people’s schedules, and other things that need to be coordinated.
  3. Staff development. This consists of reading 3-5 pages from a book encouraging growth in a group of people who work with others. It often takes a year or longer to read a book. But at the end of the year, we have ideas and a vocabulary enabling us to work more effectively. Some of the books we’ve read in staff meetings:

Conrad — Alabama Star;
30+ years at Northside!

Our staff has times of celebrations. We celebrate birthdays. It’s the responsibility of the person having a birthday to remind us it’s time for a birthday party. We go to a restaurant of their choice. Different groups have their rules on paying for the meal. In some, each person pays for the honoree’s meal and brings a card for the birthday.In others, elders allot money from the budget to pay for everyone’s meal. In one church, we enjoyed birthday parties so much we celebrated half-birthdays. Six months after each person’s birthday, he or she alerted us the half-birthday was coming up. We went to a restaurant of their choice; each person paid for their meal, and the honoree brought a birthday card for himself and told why he deserved the card.

It’s also good to schedule a time to say good-bye. When a staff member is leaving, we have a meal together and say what we need to say to reflect on our time together.

Staff relationships ooze out to the congregation. Click To Tweet I believe that health is catching as well as disease. Click To Tweet

When the preacher, youth minister, administrative assistants, and other people who work from the church office like each other, get along, and work well together, people learn that. They notice the relationship, appreciate it, and may imitate it in their interactions with those close to them.

The opposite is also true.

It’s my observation that time and money spent in developing better staff relationships are wise investments and produce valuable dividends.

How have you improved staff cooperation?

Please leave a comment by ...... clicking here.

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?”

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.

Helicopter parents rarely produce responsible adults. Click To Tweet

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.

It doesn’t seem wise to marry a week after burying one’s spouse. Click To Tweet

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

All these call for 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:

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.

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!

“I thought we had a perfect church. I don’t know if I’ll ever be happy again.” Click To Tweet

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);

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.
There’s no escape to suffering. We get to decide where we’ll invest our suffering. Click To Tweet

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.

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).

[tweetthis]Jesus taught “straight talk” on the part of everyone in a conflicted relationship.[/tweetthis]

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).

[tweetthis]Crucifixion is uncomfortable. A follower of Jesus volunteers to carry a cross daily (Luke 9:23).[/tweetthis]

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?

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.

More than likely, our relatives were human. They had strengths and weaknesses. Click To Tweet

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
Individuals in families tend to do what that family has always done. Click To Tweet

“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?
Please comment below:

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.

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.[tweetthis]If I’m in despair when someone points out what he believes is a weakness in me, I’m stuck with his evaluation.[/tweetthis]

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.”

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).

Paul was not only concerned with the man committing fornication in Corinth but also with the church who “liked it that way.” Click To Tweet

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.

When individuals see how they are supporting the condition, they can regain hope that things can be different. Click To Tweet

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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Principle 1 of Family Systems: The Identified Patient

what is wrong with him (us)?

Often a family will name one of its members as the “black sheep.” A church will pick a person or a group in the congregation and label him or them as “the problem.” If we could only fix “the problem” or if we could convert the “black sheep,” the family or church would be okay.

The concept of family systems: if a situation is chronic – if the symptoms are recurring or of long duration – it’s not the “fault” of one person. It is because the family “likes it that way.” The family likes it the way it is more than being willing to endure the pain and effort it would take to change it.

Edwin Friedman, in the first chapter of his book, Generation to Generation (© 1985 The Guilford Press), explained the concept of the identified patient. The family member with the obvious symptom is not to be seen as the “sick one” but as the one in whom the family’s stress or pathology has surfaced. Physicians don’t assume the part of a human organism in pain, or failing to act properly, is necessarily the cause of its own distress. Problems in any organ may relate to excessive over functioning, under functioning, or dis-functioning of another. By keeping the focus on one of its members, the family, personal or congregational, can deny the very issues that contributed to making one of its members symptomatic, even if it ultimately harms the entire family.

A doctor doesn’t suggest someone who comes to him with yellow skin call the Avon lady. He’ll probably start by looking at the liver. Although the skin is yellow, it didn’t begin in the skin.

My father had bypass surgery in 1981. In February 1998, he was having pains in his jaw. He asked my wife, “Gail, do you think the pain in my jaw could have anything to do with my heart?”. She assured him that was a distinct possibility. He called his doctor on Monday. Tuesday he had an angiogram. Wednesday he had his second bypass surgery. He had a pain in his jaw. He didn’t need to see a dentist. It was heart disease.

Often when I’m consulting with congregations, the identified patient is “leadership.” Brothers tell me, “Our problem is a lack of effective leadership.” I ask how long this has been an issue. Usually, it’s been an issue for years. It’s my observation a church has the leaders it wants. It has leaders it’s trained, prayed for, encouraged, and tolerated. It’s late to be concerned about the quality of leadership two weeks before time to appoint shepherds or deacons. A series of sermons from 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 won’t make up for years of neglect in making disciples of Jesus.[tweetthis]It’s late to be concerned about the quality of leadership 2 weeks before time to appoint shepherds or deacons.[/tweetthis]

Paul describes how the body is connected and how members affect each other in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (NKJV). We rarely have an individual problem of long duration. It’s a family problem. If we fail to recognize this, we may fix “the problem” (identified patient) but if the family doesn’t change, the symptoms will resurface in the same patient or another because forces that contributed to “the problem” are still there.

Do you know of a congregation that’s fired most of its preachers? Who selects preachers? Who interacts with preachers, encourages preachers, and discourages preachers? Are they consistently choosing bad preachers? Who did that? Do they select good preachers and good preachers become bad after they arrive? Will you solve the problem by choosing another bad preacher or a good preacher who will be micro-managed or ignored and criticized until he leaves?

We need to ask the same questions about all leadership. Who selects leaders? Who encourages elders and deacons in their work? Does the group approve or say nothing when unqualified men are considered? Do many in the congregation begin to criticize and question motives of anyone appointed to leadership? How long has it been since many people or the group expressed sincere, specific, and sustained appreciation to the leaders, individually and as a group?

I heard Ira North say, “We put a man in an ice house and cuss him for not sweating.”

If a church has a leadership deficiency, I wonder why they like it that way?[tweetthis]If a church has a leadership deficiency, I wonder why they like it that way?[/tweetthis]

In his book, Healthy Congregations (Copyright © 1996 The Alban Institute, Inc.), Peter Steinke gives two quotes about this principle:

  • “It is more important to know what sort of patient has the disease than what sort of disease the patient has.” –Sir William Osler (page 23).
  • “The healthy society, like the healthy body, is not the one that has taken the most medicine. It is the one in which the internal health building force is in the best shape.” –Peter Senge (page 101).

When “the problem” has been in a church, family, business, or softball team for years, a good question for the group, “I wonder why we like it that way and would we be willing to endure the pain to change it (us)?”.

How have you dealt with “the problem” (identified patient) in your group?
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