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Posts Tagged ‘church systems’

When I was ten years old, my friend Steve invited me to spend a Friday night at his house.  It was an experience I’ve never forgotten.

We flipped baseball cards … slept in the living room in separate sleeping bags … and ate toast with an egg in the middle for breakfast.

I had never flipped cards before … slept somewhere in total darkness … or had anything other than pancakes for breakfast on a Saturday.

For the first time I could recall, I realized that the way someone’s family did things was vastly different than mine.

Families not only have systems … families are systems … and family systems theory teaches that every group or organization operates like a family.

Let me make several observations about family systems:

First, the way our family of origin operated seems normal to us.

I grew up without color TV.  To me, watching a black-and-white television was normal.

But when I watched television at someone else’s house, they invariably did have a color set.

In fact, it’s only when we visit the homes of friends that we discover that everyone is not like us … but it’s not easy to shake family culture.

Remember the old TV show The Munsters?  Whenever Marilyn Munster brought home a guy to meet her family, he’d scream and run away.

The Munsters assumed that they were normal and that Marilyn’s boyfriend was the weird one.

And yet to those outside the family … including TV viewers … Marilyn was the only normal member of the family.  It was the rest of the Munsters who were weird.

This same dynamic happens in our churches as well.

After a while, we become so accustomed to the way things are done that we just accept things rather than try and change things.

My wife and I recently visited a church where the music was really bad.  It was obvious to us … but not to church leaders.

They accepted it because it had gone on for so long that it became normal … and yet the music was killing their attendance.

What they needed was for someone from the outside to help them see the problem … if they had the courage to solicit help.  However:

Second, families search for scapegoats when things go wrong.

My wife and I once lived in a place that shared a wall with a family.  We got along fine with them, but on occasion, we could hear blood-curdling screams coming through the wall.

The screams came from a female teenager who had seemed to have some serious life issues that disrupted her family’s tranquility.

Several times, this girl’s parents sent her away for various forms of rehabilitation.  Each time, she thrived in her new surroundings, and was deemed well enough to return home.

But each time she came back, she slipped into her former behavior.

The simplest way to deal with this situation was for the other family members to blame the girl entirely for the way she was disrupting their family.  After all, the screaming stopped when she wasn’t around.

In fact, this is the way that many families handle matters when one family member’s behavior seems intractable: the others blame every family issue on the one who’s acting out.

In our quick-fix culture, organizations … which all operate like families … have a tendency to blame problems on just one person.

*If a sports team isn’t winning, the general manager fires the coach … but some teams fire coach after coach and never improve.

*If a company’s profits are down, the board cans the CEO … but sometimes the entire organization is 20 years behind the curve.

*If donations are down, some churches remove the pastor … only to find giving continuing to slide under the next pastor.

Sometimes in our anxiety, even Christians forget that Jesus was crucified, not because He had done anything wrong … but because the system of His day demanded a scapegoat.  And yet:

Finally, it’s far more productive to treat the whole family system when things get unhealthy.

When the girl in the above story was away from her family, she did well … but when she was with her family, she regressed.

Most likely, the problems in that family weren’t due entirely to her … they were due to her family system.

So instead of sending just her to counseling, the entire family needed to go … but first, they needed to become convinced that they were part of the problem … and pride makes that a tough sell.

In the language of family systems theory, this girl had become the identified patient, or the family scapegoat.

By blaming her for the family’s problems, the others didn’t have to think about making changes in the family system … or in their own lives.

Many churches do the same thing.  They hire a pastor … and then fire him.  They hire another … and soon afterward let him go … time after time.

Most pastors can readily tell that a church suffers from a serious pathology.  But every time he attempts to point out problems and resolve issues, he becomes a threat to the current system … so he has to go.

The church at Corinth was like that … as was the church in Galatia.

So when Paul wrote his letters to those churches, he didn’t address the pastor or lay leaders … he intended that his epistles be read to the entire congregation.

Let me be blunt: there are many churches in this world where the problem isn’t the pastor … it’s several individuals or a group that doesn’t want the church to change.

Because as long as the church maintains the status quo, they maintain their level of power.

But if the church did change, these powerbrokers would be forced to reflect on their own lives, confess their sins, and get right with God … and quit blaming all their church’s problems on their pastor.

When Israel continually rebelled against Moses in the wilderness, the people demanded new leadership on multiple occasions.

But God didn’t immediately fire Moses and replace him with Joshua.

No, God stuck with Moses.  In fact, it wasn’t Moses whose heart needed to change … it was the heart of the people.  God had to kill off an entire generation before he could let Israel into the Promised Land.

Let me summarize this post by posing three sets of questions:

*How healthy is your family of origin?  Your church?

*How often do people at home or at church blame others for problems rather than look at themselves?

*What might be the best way to help your family or your congregation become healthier?

 

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