Is it? Or, is it just the way we’ve always done it. Perhaps it feels normal because my rut is so deep that I can’t imagine doing life any differently.
Shortly after we married, Charlotte and I had some sort of disagreement (read "argument") and my response was to back away, get quiet, and even withdraw. I did this repeatedly. Meanwhile, Charlotte would want to talk about the issue, get it out on the table, and deal with it. Her family seemed to deal with their issues this way most of the time.
I remember going to her house one time when we were still dating. As I recall, we walked into the kitchen and Charlotte’s dad was sitting at the kitchen table with her little sister who was about fourteen. The conversation was — "intense." Charlotte told me as we passed through that they were just dealing with some things. Now that scared me to death. Why? It was different for me.
We tend to bring into our marriages old ways of relating to people. We bring into our marriages habits and comfortable patterns of behavior. This is one reason why it is important for any person who is considering marriage to at least become acquainted with their prospective spouse’s family and the dynamics of that family.
Church leaders do the same. We bring into our churches the dynamics of our families. We bring into these churches the dynamics and system of relating that feel most comfortable and "normal."
About fourteen years ago, I was a part of Edwin Friedman’s post-graduate study program. Friedman was a former Rabbi, marriage and family therapist, and author. He took Murray Bowen’s work on Systems Theory and applied it to the dynamics of church and synagogue. (Later, people such as Peter Steinke developed this even more and made it even more applicable to church leaders, etc.)
Being a part of Friedman’s program meant a trip to Bethesda, Maryland, three times over the course of a year. (The following year, I was a part of the second part of his program, which meant two trips to Bethesda that year.) With Friedman, a small group of church leaders would talk about not only our roles as leaders but also how we functioned in our families. Of particular interest to him was our functioning in our families of origin. Each person came with a Genogram that mapped out his or her family of origin and their way of functioning in that family. Friedman believed that a person could actually increase his capacity for leadership by working to stay connected with his family of origin while at the same time being a person who was an authentic "self" (as opposed to simply reacting to that family).
Yes. I can tell you after years of working with ministers, elders, and other church leaders that the most important clue as to how they will function in their ministries and how they will relate to others is the way they function in their families. Some examples:
- A church leader avoids conflict — at all costs. He has always done that in his marriage as well.
- A minister is very disconnected from the other church leaders. Looking back at this person’s family of origin, there are very similar patterns with these family members as well.
- One church leader tells a joke or in some way tries to be funny whenever a discussion calls for people to share what is on their hearts. It has a way of destroying the moment. This person has done the same thing in the marriage for many years.
- A certain church leader is a "benevolent controller." With a smile on his face, he carefully orchestrates situations to fit his agenda. He gained these skills many years ago as he, his sister, and his mother would maneuver around his alcoholic father.
We ALL bring something to the table. We bring in our own family dynamics. What is important is that I make an attempt to recognize these dynamics in myself. What about you? What patterns or ways of relating to people do you recognize in yourself that you have brought from the past? How do these patterns impact the way you relate to people today? In particular, how have they impacted the way you relate to people in your church?