Gettin’Feedback

I had a meeting that I don’t too many of us get too often. It was a meeting of several peers, friends, co-workers, and Christine and myself that met with the purpose of giving me feedback. As part of my seminary program all of us need to go through a process of meeting with a feedback team or “sustaining relationships.” We met for 4 times together working through stuff like mission, values, and goals and then the others met once without me to gather the feedback and the last meeting was today where they walked me through the feedback that they composed.

It’s been a cool process and I’m very appreciative for all of them taking the time to do it, but I’ve learned a lot and made some good connections. Today was both encouraging and instructive as it relates to bridging from my own perspective to how people experience me. One of the things I’m thinking about it how many experience me as having trouble getting out of my head sometimes to really engage people in relationship. I’ve gotten feedback that I’m more cognitive than I think I am and that I sometimes get lost in my head at times and am unaware of how that impacts people. It’s shows me that I need to continue to pay attention to how easily I get stuck in my head and fade from engaging those around me. There’s a lot more I need to think through, but that’s the bottom line.

It’s really good to get insight from such quality people that can help me move towards who and what God has called me to be and do. It made me realize that I need more opportunities more consistently to get this kind of feedback along the journey from people in relationship. It doesn’t tend to come without pursuing it!

Homeostasis

Systems thinkers borrow the concept of homeostasis from the world of the human body and apply it to systems, which makes for very interesting insights about how systems work.

Steinke describes homeostasis as follows:

“We have internal means that seek the most favorable conditions for survival. To secure the stability of the organism, the body functions as a cooperative community preventing it from being overwhelmed by changing conditions or restoring the necessary balance after conditions change it.” (How Your Church Family Works, pg. 6)

“Relationship systems require stability.” (pg. 8)

This is such a fascinating dynamic because especially within the Christian community there is such as emphasis on “unity.” It seems that within a system there is a force of unity that is ever present and that is the group dynamic towards calmness and stability. That’s not to see that the group is free of volatility or other dynamics, but the system itself works to preserve itself just as the human body seeks to preserve itself from any outside change. As this sense of self-preservation is at work, it should help us understand what is happening within groups when a force presents itself that threatens the dynamics of the group.

Homeostasis seems to have a lot of healthy aspects to it in that it protects against self-destruction and guards against intruders or threats. This is necessary for survival. However, in systems, I think it might be helpful to consider how it can work against the individual and corporate transformation of people and groups by unconsciously (or consciously) rejecting healthy change and threatening truths or realities.

It seems that just because something is stable, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. And conversely, just because there is a “threat” to that stability, it doesn’t mean that it is a threat to the overall good – it’s just a threat to the current system.

Self-Differentiation

I wanted to continue my exploration into the world of congregational systems by sharing Steinke’s description of self-differentiation. He writes,

“Self-differentiation in emotional processes refers to the amount of self available to an individual, such as an individual’s overall maturity, level of functioning, and the degree of responsibility for self. It is the capacity to choose a course of direction and to stay the course when reactive people want to reroute you. It is the ability to stay focused on your own functioning while being aware of others. Self-differentiation is the ability to stand up and be counted in matters of principle and belief and yet remain with family and community. It is the ability in anxious circumstances to regulate one’s own reactivity by thinking. Differentiation is to take a position in the midst of emotional forces and still remain in touch with others.” Healthy Congregations, pg. 103.

This is such a powerful issue for us to consider today. How often are we able to stay connected in relationship with others in the midst of tension, disagreement, or conflict without withdrawing or disconnecting from the relationship altogether? Self-differentiation is about staying separate and staying close at the same time. I have very few examples of people that maintain the ability to differentiate amidst difficult circumstances because our culture seems to reinforce blame-shifting and a victim mentality. My mom is someone that has continued to impress me over the years for her ability to move towards people in the middle of awkwardness, tension, or conflict. One of her ministry values that I’ve heard her express over the years over and over is that staying connected as you work through things is of paramount importance to moving towards relationship healing and health. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done and I’ve seen many just eject from relationship completely as opposed to doing the hard work of staying connected in an effort to reconcile and move forward.

Self-differentiation is about exercising self-control and responsibility for what one can control and not getting lost or absorbed by other people who may be reactive. Can we maintain perspective, exercise self-control, and keep moving towards people despite their anxious reactivity?

There are great examples in the Scriptures of this, none more powerful than Jesus on the cross who in his moments of greatest rejection cries out to the Lord, “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do.” He was in this way still moving towards humanity in the moment of humanity’s greatest rejection of Him.

6 years and counting!

Christine and I celebrated our 6th year of marriage yesterday. We stayed an extra day on vacation while my family took Morgan back for the night so Christine and I could get some space to celebrate. We’ve had a great day together and have really enjoyed both the vacation and having the larger space of the sabbatical. We’re thankful for so much of where we are right now in our relationship with one another and as parents.

I’ve really been encouraged by Christine’s perseverence over the past couple of years through a lot of physical, emotional, and even spiritual struggles. She’s not had an easy road, but is still looking to grow in her knowledge and obedience to the Lord. That’s one of the things I love about her. Plus, she’s still really fun and easy for me to be with and I think she’s hot! She’s awesome with Morgan and it’s really fun starting to see Morgan take on some of Christine’s personality and mannerisms. Morgan’s a lucky girl and I’m a lucky guy.

We’re praying for many more years together!

Fish Brownies

Speaking of ethnic differences, one reminder to us of such difference is our neighbors who are of a different ethnic persuasion. They are very nice people, but once or twice a week a pretty powerful smell will overwhelm our condo especially if the doors and windows are open. I am not judging such foods as wrong, but they are definitely different that what we are accustomed to and after just lighting a few candles and closing all the doors, nothing has changed.

I would describe it as fish brownies today and it is throughout our whole place. Morgan just woke up from her nap early and I’m pretty sure it’s because of the fish brownies. There’s a time and place for embracing differences – primarily when there are people involved. Now is a time to run from difference as we have to get out of our apartment ASAP!

Morgan and ethnicity

We went to the Buena Park library a couple days ago to check out their children’s books and music cd’s and all that good stuff. Morgan loves bookstores so we thought it would be a good idea. Last week she said, “I want to go to Barnes and Noble!”

She at first thought it was a Dr.’s office and was pretty frieked out that somebody was going to inflict pain on her. Once she got comfortable she started terrorizing the place and trying to get us to sit in different chairs to read books to her with her “outdoor” voice. We might have to postpone future library visits until she grasps the indoor voice thing a bit better. I was studying in a quiet section and she ran over yelling “Hey Dada!”

The most interesting moment though was when a little boy started playing with Morgan. He happened to be Asian-American and I think specifically Chinese-American. After interacting a bit Morgan yelled “He’s yellow!” Under normal circumstances I think we would have been a bit frozen in terms of what to do, but her proclaiming that in a quiet library with a lot of people definitely caught us off guard. Christine then told me that at one point in our garage sale on Sat. Morgan shared her observation of a young Latino boy, “He’s red mama!”

We were trying to figure out where red and yellow came from because it seemed a bit odd to us that she came up with that on her own. We remembered later that night that Morgan has a song book that has the song “Jesus loves the little children” which goes on with the lyrics,

“Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

That brought everything together for us. So on one hand we’re really encouraged that Morgan is identifying differences, but on the other hand we’re trying to figure out how to value those differences. Right now all she can really discern as different is skin color, but it definitely brought this area of parenting to the forefront of our minds as we desire her to deeply appreciate and value people with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. We’re praying for that for her and will continue to think about this as she gains a greater awareness of such differences. We’re also trying to figure out if the song is good for her, neutral, or outdated.

Systems Theory and Ministry Teams

One of the books I’ve wanted to read for a while is How Your Church Family Works by Peter Steinke. I was very much intrigued by “systems theory” as a result of my exposure to some of Rabbi Edwin Friedman’s work in an intro to spiritual formations class I took last summer. Steinke is a “disciple” of Friedman, but maybe more helpful is that he is also a disciple of Jesus Christ. Steinke applies systems theory to Christian communities and congregations to help discern the underlying dynamics that are at work in any group system.

As I read some of Friedman’s work I remember believing that I had first been exposed to systems theory through my parents and their work with ministry teams over the past twenty years, especially in an international context. As I moved from ministry on campus to ministry in WSN (int’l short term missions), I began to instinctively approach team building and mediation in much the same way I had observed. After four years of doing team work, team building, and even team mediation and reconciliation, I am quite convinced that a greater application of systems theory into ministry teams with wisdom and discretion, would bring greater integrity to so many of our ministry teams at work and would bring greater integrity between the corporate identities of our churches and ministries with the visible witness of our activities and functions in this fallen world.

I will probably post several thoughts from this book over the coming week, but I want to start off by acknowledging that what is at stake here is a major presupposition that plagues most ministry leaders and team members alike. This presupposition that prevails today is that when there is an outburst of conflict, chaos, or anxiety in a team or group setting, that the person who is deemed to be “most responsible” is the root cause of the problem and needs to be removed in order to move ahead. How many times as this happened only to have the problems resurface weeks, months, or a few years later?

Steinke explains system theory, but I will not offer a technical explanation. It essentially entails the view that groups form systems that seek to keep a balance (i.e. homeostasis) in much the same way the human body functions. Group members tend to work to keep the status quo and maintain stability. When a member, or a relationship, or even external circumstances produce anxiety, the system will be tested and people’s responses to the presence of anxiety will in large part determine the future health of the system.

That this is the basic context for the ways group systems function really has implications for how we view our role and responsibility in a ministry team context (or congregational context on a larger level). It has implications for how we see ourselves and others and definitely has implications for what wise team stewardship looks like for a leader. Leaders can no longer afford to lead as if everyone under their charge is a completely separate and unaffected individual. What a challenge for leadership today! But what hope for Christian ministry teams to actually live out the Kingdom of God together while they are working so diligently to stay on the mission! So often these two things have been presented as competing ends, but how powerful could corporate witness be to the world if they were part of a larger view of the people of God.

In the next few posts I will seek to address the concept of self-differentiation in Christian community, the presence and role of anxiety in group systems, and common mistakes in attempting to solve problems in the context of community. Hopefully I can spark some interest in learning more about how systems theory can be a helpful tool for leaders to create missional environments of grace and truth.

Jesus and the Disinherited

Jesus and the Disinherited

As I’ve just started my sabbatical, 8 years in the waiting, I’m shooting to read at least 10 books in the next 4-5 weeks. I might be able to read more, but 10’s probably reasonable. The first book I finished was one for a seminary class by Howard Thurman – Jesus and the Disinherited. Thurman was a pioneer of the civil rights movement prior to its actual inception in the 50’s. Figures like Martin Luther King Jr. studied under him and learned from him.

Thurman captures much of the Christ-centered love ethic that is required to follow Christ amidst social, economic, and racial injustice. At one point he writes,

“A man’s conviction that he is God’s child automatically tends to shift the basis of his relationship with all his fellows. He recognizes at once that to fear a man, whatever may be that man’s power over him, is a basic denial of the integrity of his very life. It lifts that mere man to a place of pre-eminence that belongs to God and to God alone. He who fears is literally delivered to destruction. To the child of God, a scale of values becomes available by which men are measured and their true significance determined. Even the threat of violence, with the possibility of death that it carries, is recognized for what it is–merely the threat of violence with a death potential. Such a man recognizes that death cannot possibly be the worst thing in the world. There are some things that are worse than death. To deny one’s own integrity of personality in the presence of the human challenge is one of those things. ‘Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do,’ says Jesus.” pg. 52-53

Part of his thesis is that the oppressed or “disinherited” actually can contribute to their own dehumanization by succumbing to the temptations of fear, deception, and hatred. Only living, loving, and serving out of the identity that comes through being a son of God through Christ can free one from those temptations so that one might truly live and reflect God’s glory whatever their station in life is.

One of Thurman’s concluding thoughts is as follows:

“The religion of Jesus makes the love-ethic central. This is no ordinary achievement. It seems clear that Jesus started out with the simple teaching concerning love embodied in the timeless words of Israel: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy might,” and “thy neighbor as thyself.” Once the neighbor is defined, then one’s moral obligation is clear. In a memorable story Jesus defined the neighbor by telling of the Good Samaritan. With sure artistry and great power he depicted what happens when a man responds directly to human need across the barriers of class, race, and condition. Every man is potentially every other man’s neighbor. Neighborliness is nonspatial; it is qualitiative. A man must love his neighbor directly, clearly, permitting no barriers between.”

Thurman’s ideology and theology was developed through an era where he himself experienced great suffering and racism. He found in Christ the power and strength to respond to injustice and oppression without violence, hatred, fear, and deception. Today the powers of oppression still abound, yet the calling of believers is the same – to love out of humility. Regarding the power of authentic humility, Thurman on page 27 poignantly quotes Simkovitch in referencing the means of oppression in the civil rights era who writes, “Natural humiliation was hurting and burning. The balm for that burning humiliation was humility. For humility cannot be humiliated.”1

What a great reminder that as we encounter situations where fear, anger, or hurt may tempt us to compromise our integrity or true identity, true humility cannot be humiliated. Christ himself humbled himself beyond compare by dying the death of a criminal on a tree, but indeed his humility cannot be humiliated as his victory, power, and love conquers free, anger, hatred, and deception. I take away from Thurman that authentic humility anchored in the life of Christ is of central importance for the victorious Christian life in this world.

1. Simkhovitch. Toward the Understanding of Jesus. Macmillan Co. pg. 60-61, 1947.

Back from Minnesota

It is so good to be home after being gone in Minnesota for 2 weeks. It is awesome to be with my family again and reconnect.

Two great moments or moments of horror depending on how you look at it:

1. Morgan was with Christine at the store and walked into the female “undergarment” section saying “check out this section.” Upon looking at some bras she exclaimed, “I want boobs!”

Sheer terror for a father.

2. When we watch veggie tales together and a commercial comes on, Morgan yells “TIVO!!” to notify me that it is time to fast forward through the commercials. She’s too classic, though maybe too smart for her own good.

Leadership Formation & Development Within Systems and Organizations