Saturday, March 14, 2009

Thoughts on Family Systems, Spiritual Formation, and Leadership

Picking up on my last post about the vine and the branches, I would like to share a portion of a letter of praise I wrote recently to leaders who planned a most wonderful workshop I went to on Thursday. It was led by Dr. Ron Martoia and entitled "Getting Your Church Past 'Stuck'".

I wanted to thank you for what was, for me, the best church leadership workshop I've ever been to. Ever.

I got burned out on church growth workshops years ago because they began to feel bane, fixated on technique, and void of any depth that would help me grow in awareness of myself and emotional dynamics of change. I know that bane may seem a strong word, but I would leave feeling wounded by increased pressure to perform with no more ability to navigate. In those years, by grace I turned to Family Systems theory which brought me both healing and perspective about change dynamics. Then I also discovered Spiritual Formation studies so that I was not drawing from such an empty well.

I say all that to say this. The workshop yesterday was the first time I have heard articulated, in a nutshell, the journey I have gone through myself in finding my way as a leader. For me, it was a "retreat of integration" but I also wish I had heard this 12 or 15 years ago. It was the first worskhop on transformational leadership that I have been to that has drawn together systems thinking with emphasis on spiritual formation, through the eyes of someone who has been an outstanding local church leader. What wonderful weaving.

This is to say thank you. So much of what we do in our conference contributes to wholeness and transformation. Natural Church Development and Pastoral Care and Counseling, for sure, plus some historic formational ministries and holy places, plus outstanding local churches and leaders who embrace wholeness and navigate the waters of change. You all are to be commended for the amazing work you do.

At the same time, I wish that someone would do an honest and balanced analysis of our conference as an emotional system. Though I serve transformative churches and am considered effective, I continue to be troubled about rhetoric and policies that represent fixation on results, with little definition (or questionable definition) about what effectiveness is. When not balanced with an organic understanding of who we are and a trust in God for fruit (Jesus defined effectiveness in the metaphor of the vine and the branches), and without a complementary and relational commitment to support leaders in the journey of self-care and awareness, I feel the rhetoric pressurizes the system. At times it "lives out" some deep institutional anxiety about loss and spreads that anxiety around in ways that do not lead to transformation but to fight, flight, freezing, and cutoff. Ron said this so beautifully when he was talking late in the day about the danger of imposing expertise or ideas on a system without awareness of emotional processes.

Thanks for listening, and for your part in not only transformational growth in our conference but in planning a great and thought provoking day.