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“Differentiation means the capacity of a family member to define his or her own life’s goals and values apart from surrounding pressures; to say “I” when others are demanding “you” and “we”.” – Edwin H. Friedman

“Self-differentiation always triggers sabotage.” – Edwin H. Friedman

9781596271678_p0_v2_s260x420 And the ninth book on my list of 15 Spiritual Formation Books that have influenced me is A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, written by Edwin H. Friedman. Friedman (1932–1996) was Jewish Rabbi and family therapist. Before his death he was well respected among both religious (Jewish and Christian) and secular establishments as a therapist and leadership consultant. He took the concept of “Self differentiation” and family systems theory, as developed by Bowen, and applied them to congregational leadership systems and leadership in general. His book, Generation to Generation, was so influential that it is now required reading at many Christian Seminaries across the country. The book was written primarily for congregational leaders for the purpose of helping them develop in three areas:

  • Being self differentiated
  • Being non-anxious
  • Being present with those one is leading

Friedman defined self differentiation as, “Knowing where you begin, and others end”:

“Differentiation is the lifelong process of striving to keep one’s being in balance through the reciprocal external and internal processes of self-definition and self-regulation. It is a concept that can sometimes be difficult to focus on objectively, for differentiation means the capacity to become oneself out of one’s self, with minimum reactivity to the positions or reactivity of others.”

This, “reactivity to the positions or reactivity of others”, has to do with anxiety. Friedman believed that how a person handled anxiety, their own as well as the anxieties of others, was a maturity issue, and had more to do with the success or failure of an organization than simply learning data and techniques, whether the “organization” was a family, business, or Church. One illustration he’d use (I cant remember which of his books I read it in), is that of falling dominos. The anxiety that organizations experience when confronted with change is like someone knocking over a domino. The domino falls, causing other dominos to fall in succession. One by one each domino falls…UNTIL, one domino chooses to stand firm. The self differentiated leader is a principled leader who knows himself, and is in healthy control of his emotions, so he does not “react” to the anxiety of the group. Friedman, however, is clear to point out that such a leader:

“…is not an autocrat who tells others what to do or orders them around, although any leader who defines himself or herself clearly may be perceived that way by those who are not taking responsibility for their own emotional being and destiny… is someone who has clarity about his or her own life goals, and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about…. is someone who can separate while still remaining connected, and therefore can maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence… is someone who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing.”

In the presence of such a leader the dominos stop falling. The snowball effect of escalating anxieties, and the sabotage that others engage in, are lessened as people learn to stand upright in the face of a crises.

Of course, for such a leader to have this kind of influence, they must be present. It’s easy to be non-anxious if one removes themselves from the company of others. The idea is to absorb the anxiety, to remain non-reactive in the presence of instability. Friedman taught that, “Nurturing growth always follows two principles. One is: Stay out of its way; you cannot ‘grow’ another by will or technique. But the second is: Do not let it ‘overgrow’ you.”

In A Failure of Nerve, Friedman further developed the ideas he presented in Generation to Generation, presenting to us a vision of the self-differentiated leader as someone who:

  • is able to detach from the emotional reactions of others
  • is principle centered and clear about their vision
  • is transparent and willing to admit areas of weakness
  • has the stamina to withstand resistance from others
  • is able to regulate his own emotions in the face of sabotage

Although this is marketed as a book on leadership, it has done more to expose my lack of spiritual and relational maturity than maybe any other (the only other leadership book to affect me in a similar way was Dan Allender’s Leading With a Limp). A Failure of Nerve exposed the reasons I had failed in many areas of my life, not just relationally, but also in accomplishing goals that were important to me. It continues to challenge me to grow into maturity, and one of the most important ways it does this is by reminding me that we are only as mature as our relationships reveal us to be, and the importance of staying connected to those we love and serve, even those that are difficult. The concept of self-differentiation, and the role anxiety plays in our relationships, and the need to manage it well, has been life changing to me. No. I have not mastered it, no one ever arrives at being fully differentiated, only Jesus can lay claim to that, but this book has helped me to be quite a bit more resilient in the face of crises, to cultivate healthier relationships with others,and to focus on walking in my own integrity. I’m also better able to stay connected with others even while remaining my own separate self, and regulating my own emotions in response to the reactivity of others; how to not only help others take healthy responsibility for themselves, but maybe just as important, how to stay out of the way of the growth of others. We leaders have a way of thinking we know more than everyone else, at least more than those we serve, and the temptation is to try and lead others by trying to change those who do not want to change, or control them. One of the lessons Friedman has taught me is that:

“The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change. Communication does not depend on syntax, or eloquence, or rhetoric, or articulation but on the emotional context in which the message is being heard. People can only hear you when they are moving toward you, and they are not likely to when your words are pursuing them. Even the choicest words lose their power when they are used to overpower. Attitudes are the real figures of speech.”

In the face of change, or other crises, its easy to allow anxiety, our own or others, to overwhelm or distract us, diverting us from that which God has called us to be or do. Or maybe we resort to quick fixes as we try to control and change others as a way of accomplishing our goals. It takes courage, or “nerve” to choose another way to be and lead.

If you are interested in a quick, and entertaining, visual illustration that summarizes some of the principles in this book, here’s a link to a fun video that does an excellent job. Check it out:

“Let us Trust in God’s love more than we believe in the Fear that paralyzes us!” – Edwin H. Friedman

Litmus Test: 1. A crucial and revealing test in which there is one decisive factor.   2. A test that uses a single indicator to prompt a decision.

I wasn’t planning on posting again until next week but, in light of some of the personal responses I received this week because of my last two posts (I Visited A Church Today, and 15 Theses), I decided it best not to put it off.  Something I learned last week is that though it’s sometimes good to play the provocateur, it only works if its clear that that is in fact what you’re doing, and then you better clarify quickly where you stand on an issue.  Since all of the discussions that revealed my full position on the Theseshappened off the blog rather than in the comments, I’ll give a response now.

Wolfgang Simson made some provocative statements about church reforms (some I agree with in spirit), but some I do not (as I stated in the post).  I was asked to give a clearer position on where I stand on some issues (what I perceived to be a “litmus test”), as to where I stand in the faith, and regarding clergy and church life.  I’ve never been fond of such “tests”, but I’m willing to do so for the sake of clarity (and salvage my reputation amongst the head hunters).  I’ll be plain and direct.  

I am not anti-institutional church.  But I am anti-“Tradition of The Elders” (what Jesus referred to as religious rules taught by men but passed off as the commandments of God).  I’m against it because Jesus was against it.  Jesus was against it because they presented stumbling blocks to true worship and often misrepresented the heart of the Father toward his people and those who were searching.  Tradition is good however, when it aids us in worship, and also when it protects from ungodly cultural influences and false doctrines that threaten the church.  Some of the traditions passed down from the “Church Fathers” were pragmatic responses to legitimate threats to the orthodoxy of the Faith.  But when our traditions interfere with our worship, or no longer serve their intended purpose, then we should be open to innovations.  However, it can be difficult for some to distinguish between the Commands of God, and modern day versions of the Traditions of The Elders.  That isn’t a negative criticism, just an observation.  

I am not anti-Pastor, but I am anti-rigid clericalism where church leaders take on the role of “priests” creating a huge clergy/laity divide where they are content to minister to a passive congregation (and the people content to have it so), when they are called to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry”.  This equipping does not mean training for ushers, filling communion trays, and raising up volunteers for church programs (though the church may indeed need servers who do these things), but equipping for the ministry as fellow priests, ministering to “One Another” according to their gifts and abilities by the grace God has given to each.  I am decidedly for Church Elders (overseers) such as these .  There is no Calling I respect more (except maybe good parents;-) than church elders who preach the Gospel and lead in this manner, and they should be honored.  

I do not believe that “house churches” are the biblical mandated way of “doing” church, though some do prefer it.  In fact, some of the views within the the house church movement (though not all), and Emergent churches, regarding preaching and authority, concern me.  Nevertheless, the small group advantage some of these expressions provide, is important.  They provide the forum through which a church can grow more connected the way a body actually “assembles”, providing nourishment to each part of the body, and thereby becoming more Christlike as they learn to build up “One Another” in love.   The reformer, Martin Luther, expressed a desire that an alternative service be formed for those who wanted to meet in this fashion, but never made such reforms because in his words he did not think the people wanted it, nor did he have the men capable of leading them: 

“The right kind of evangelical order cannot be exhibited among all sorts of people, but those who are seriously determined to be Christians and confess the gospel with hand and mouth, must enroll themselves by name and meet apart in one house, for prayer, for reading, to baptize, to take the Sacrament, and exercise other Christian works. With such order it would be possible for those who did not behave in a Christian manner to be known, reproved, restored, or excluded, according to the rule of Christ (Matt. 18:15). Here also they could, in common, subscribe alms, which would be willingly given and distributed among the poor, according to the example of Paul (2 Cor. 9:1-12). Here it would not be necessary to have much or fine singing. Here a short and simple way of baptism and the Sacrament could be practiced, and all would be according to the Word and in love. But I cannot yet order and establish such an assembly…In the meantime I will call, excite, preach, help forward it, until Christians take the Word so in earnest, that they will themselves find how to do it and continue in it.” – Reformer Martin Luther-1526 

The obvious solution: Train leaders who are capable and then allow them to lead those who do wish to meet in this fashion.  Do not forbid Innovative or Simple Churches, but rather raise them up as a means of strengthening the body, and when appropriate, recognize them as legitimate expressions of “Church”.  And nor should we tear down the institutional church but rather draw from their resources and continue to add to the spiritual health of the body.

An old friend of mine, who is an elder in his church back east, suggested that a good place to start is to define what is a local church.  I like the description of a local church community that Mark Driscoll gives in his book Vintage Faith

“The local church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord.  In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and Communion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy.”

Regarding a “litmus Test” for defining a “Church”, For me, this is the “One decisive factor”:  A community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

Mark, a reformed pastor in Seattle (who also believes that all of the gifts of the spirit are for today’s church) leads a large “institutional” church, with small groups (led by many who have, and could be pastoring their own churches).  His ministry has planted  numerous missional churches around the world, and he goes on to say that there is “confusion because nowhere in the New Testament does church in any of its forms refer to a building”.  (Hmmm, he can’t be anti-institutional).  He quotes Wayne Grudem, a leading respected Bible scholar:  

A “house church” is called a “church” in Romans 16:5 (greet also the church in their house“), 1Corinthians 16:19 (“Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord”).  The church in an entire city is also called “a church” (1Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; and Thess. 1:1).  The church in a region is referred to as a “church” in Acts 9:31: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up.”  Finally, the church throughout the entire world can be referred to as “the church.”  Paul says, “Christ so loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25) and says, “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…” (1 Cor. 12:28)….We may conclude that the group of God’s people considered at any level from local to universal may rightly be called “a church.” – Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine

This is introductory stuff; nothing “deep”, or radical, or anti-anything.  Just  basic Bible doctrine.  

Hopefully this gives you a clearer picture of where I’m coming from.  I’m not seeking to play the iconoclast and tear down our institutions, but the Kingdom of God really is at hand, and although I am Theologically Conservative, I am also Culturally Innovative, and I believe in being missionally creative.  I want to be a part of what Jay Tolson in his article, A Return to Tradition described as “…innovative returns to tradition….a means of moving beyond fundamentalist literalism, troubling authority figures, and highly politicized religious positions…while retaining a hold on spiritual truths”.  Is this easy?  No.  Sometimes messy?  You bet.  Mistakes are made, but its worth pushing the boundaries for the sake of others and their stake in the Kingdom of God.  Especially when those boundaries are mostly in our hearts and in our heads.  

Well, I took the litmus test (and maybe presented one as well?).  Ultimately, God is our judge and he knows our hearts; and what matters most is “faith working in love”.  And as the second definition says, a litmus test also “prompts a decision”.  Have you been “prompted”? 

Peace,

Roc

Please forgive my slowness in posting lately.  It isn’t for lack of interest, but a round robin of cold and flu symptoms at home.  I have had some time to let some thoughts germinate, and if it comes out rather random, well, I’m not feeling particularly clear headed these days. 

First, in light of what I’ve already written about the dangers of groupthink, for the intensely independent readers, I would like to point out that I do believe in community, and it is my intense desire to be a better, more authentic member of the Christian community as I understand it in scripture: A body of believers,  “One Anothering” each other, caring for one another, ministering to the needs of one another, breaking bread and sharing their spiritual gifts with one another, impacting their community around them with one another, sharing their food and belongings with one another.  Basically, sharing life with one another.  Little of what I just described actually happens in a church meeting on Sunday mornings (we have professionals who are hired to do those things), but I do believe in the assembly of the body of believers, though I maintain that it will look different for various communities (especially if a church community is dedicated to living out what I described above).

I also believe in leadership.  Please do not make the mistake of mis-interpreting my previous posts on groupthink and the wrong kind of leadership as being a rebellious take on legitimate authority.  I’ve been misunderstood in the past, sometimes understandably, other times either in an attempt to discredit the message and the messenger, or in reaction to some point that struck too close to home.  Note: If it appears as if I’ve been aiming at you, I’m not directing what I’ve written at anyone in particular.  To quote a former pastor of mine: “I’m not shooting at you.  You’re simply in the line of fire.  Get out of the way.”  The Church needs servant leaders.  Spiritually gifted men and women, of proven character, sound in doctrine, who know how to walk along side their brothers and sisters, not lord it over them; a person of strong faith, who understands the way of the cross, the way of sacrificial love; leaders who are in touch with their own weaknesses and transparent about their failures, so they are comfortable with the weaknesses and failings of others as they grow in maturity.  Leaders like that take time to cultivate, but once they are, they can be trusted, and their faith should be imitated, and their authority within a church community should be recognized. 

Regarding community, another word that has repeatedly come to  mind, but I’ve resisted using until now, is consensus.  Community, team, relational, communal, consensus; these are all words that have grown in popularity in recent years with entire theologies built around these themes coming to the forefront of theological discussions.  What we mustn’t lose  sight of is that consensus does not begin with man at the center.  Christ and discernment of His will, His purpose is the goal of every community. 

By consensus, I do not mean uniformity, but harmony.  I’ve met leaders (and too often have been one) who preferred that others would be more like them rather than more of who they truly were.  Using  music as a metaphor, we want to be a part of a group that’s playing the same tune.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  A group cannot “play” together unless they’re playing the same tune.  Some leaders, however, mistake the unity of playing the same tune as meaning that everyone must play the same note.  Certainly, a group playing a tune by insisting that everyone play the exact same notes on their instruments will ensure that everyone is playing the same tune.  But this kind of “unity” is neither reflective of skill or maturity.  It allows for no thematic variations, or emotional nuances brought about by the interplay of major and minor chords that make music, or any relational dynamic, so thrilling, memorable, and yes, at times  even dangerous.  Nor does it allow the interplay of musical themes (people’s own stories or sense of purpose) into the mix because things might get “complicated”, and yet these are exactly the kinds of complexities life brings us, complexities that small-group and organizational leaders must learn to conduct. 

The very meaning of the word consensus is to harmonize, and ironically, you cannot have harmony without differences.  It is when notes are played that are different, but sympathetic to one another in arrangement, that harmony is created.  These differences allow a simple tune to be transformed into a beautiful composition.  In the same way when a group honors differences while seeking to be like minded (sympathetic), embracing the diversity of gifts within the group, listens well, and speaks the truth in love, then harmony can be achieved.  But it takes skill and maturity for a conductor (leader) to orchestrate complex arrangements or a diversity of gifts within the Church Body (ultimately it’s the work of the Holy Spirit).  Many leaders simply resort to control mechanisms or more traditional, or authoritarian forms of leadership simply because it’s easier (I’m not the only one, am I?).  That does “work” in a pragmatic sense, if one is forceful or charismatic enough, but when groupthink is the result, it’s a song sung off key. 

My question is, “How can a leader avoid groupthink, and co-operate with the Holy Spirit in facilitating harmony within a community unless they themselves learn to sympathize with the instruments and notes (struggles, strengths, gifts weaknesses, callings, stories, etc.) that others in the group carry within them?” 

It may not be linguistically precise for me to do this , but I like to think of consensus in this way: Con (means with or part of) + sens (sense or awareness of) + us (others I am relating to or interacting with).  Consensus: with a sense or awareness of others.  Doesn’t that sound better than simply trying to get everyone to agree with you?  Or allowing the group to be controlled by those who want consensus simply as a means of thwarting true Godly authority.  Consensus is about including informed others who’s strengths can and should be brought to bare on issues of discernment or decision making.  We see this in Acts 15 at the Church of Antioch when a groupthink posse from the more established church in Judea tried to dictate to the  gentile converts who did not feel bound to the same traditional restraints. 

 I’ll wait until my next and final post in the series to unpack their conflict and we’ll see the creative way the leaders overcame groupthink, and in co-operation with the Holy Spirit helped to “orchestrate” harmony in the community.  

Peace,

Roc 

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