September 2011

Recalculating

September 20 2011 by Bill Wilson

It comes in a variety of accents. It can be a man’s voice or a woman’s (My favorite is the female Australian). It can break your heart or serve as a warning. It will mock you. It will scold you. When I am behind the wheel, to hear it makes me cringe. If you have a GPS in your vehicle, you know the word “recalculating.” It means you have taken a wrong turn, you might be lost, or at the very least you have wandered off the path your GPS prefers that you take. The unspoken message is “way to go dummy, now wait patiently while I figure out how to get us out of this mess.”

Every generation comes up with words that aptly describe their era. From “groovy” to “whatever,” the English language has an amazing ability to morph and shape itself to fit an ever-changing population. Could it be that “recalculating” is a word that describes congregational life early in the 21st century?

Every healthy minister and congregation I know is doing some form of recalculating.

Most ministers come out of their theological training only semi-prepared for what they find when they go to work in a local church. No surprise there; that is the prevailing model of higher education in most specialties. Why do you think medical school graduates go from medical school to a residency, rather than straight into practice? For most clergy, our theological education is the background for the ongoing education that begins at graduation. Every sensible minister understands that recalculating is the normative way of life for us. To be described as relevant is one of the greatest compliments one can receive as a minister or as a congregation.

While we serve an unchanging God and represent eternal truth, the methods by which we do so change daily. Recalculating is the standard operating stance for effective ministers. Every day, our antennae are up and sensitive to the ebb and flow of the world we live in. We must read, think, pray, and experience our culture constantly if we are to be able to link the Good News of Christ with those around us. We cannot assume that what we knew five years ago about our community or those we serve holds true today.

Likewise, congregations are awakening to the fact that recalculating is an essential skill that we must master. Some things do not change about us, and those unchanging eternal truths are the values at our very core. Everything else, however, is changeable. Whether it be worship times, styles, music, structure, facilities, VBS schedule, ministry partners, or staff job descriptions, the operative word must be “recalculating.” Everything that is not eternal is temporal, and should be regarded as open to recalculation.

Healthy congregations and clergy invest significant money, time and effort in this regard. They engage in proactive thinking, rather than reactive. This means they actually schedule time to think, brainstorm and project into the future. Most of us are so busy trying to do all that has to be done this week, that the idea of taking time away to think and reflect, in the spirit of Jesus, is laughable. Actually, it is laughable to imagine that we can do the work of the Kingdom without time devoted to recalculating.

To embrace “recalculating” as an essential ingredient in our congregational life will mean sending staff and key leaders away on retreats, to conferences, and insisting that they leave day-to-day operations to others in order to recalculate. It will mean we invite clergy to think more and do less, to pray more and perform less, to reflect more and talk less.

The new reality of congregational and clergy health includes a healthy dose of what the corporate world calls “R and D”: research and development. How are you going to make such thinking part of your daily and weekly diet of responsibilities? What you are going to do to encourage your ministerial staff members to recalculate regularly?

Occasionally, I get fed up with my GPS and it’s insistence on recalculating. I turn it off and launch out on my own, choosing to ignore the fact that I am hopelessly lost. Such journeys seldom end well, either for me, your staff or your congregation.

Perhaps we need a female Australian voice over our loudspeakers at church inviting us to stop, admit we are a bit lost, and “recalculate.” Would we be so wise as to cultivate a congregational culture that encourages recalculating among its leadership? If we do, we may find ourselves squarely on the path God has envisioned for us as we move into the future

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health.)
9/20/2011 9:21:00 AM by Bill Wilson | with 0 comments



Intervention

September 7 2011 by Bill Wilson

Intervention is an award-winning reality show about addiction and the extraordinary lengths it can take to face one’s unhealthy compulsions. Each episode chronicles the attempts by family members and friends to bring health to someone who is destroying their life.

The extreme measures portrayed often work, 134 of 172 people portrayed since the program began in 2005 remain sober.

Intervention is also a way of describing what happens when a congregation decides it no longer wants to continue down a path of dysfunction and destruction. Such a process may lead us into the most painful and intense emotional journey we have ever experienced. It takes courage, deep spiritual resources, and an undying belief in the power of prayer and divine presence.

We only intervene with someone or some group when we love them. You and I see destructive behavior every day in our culture, in the lives of clergy, and in the lives of congregations. However, the only times we are moved to action is when someone or something that we love is threatened. If you love your church, or your minister(s), then you may find yourself at the place of considering an intervention that is fueled by that love. God can use that love and the power of facing the truth to bring health and healing to his church and those he has called into ministry.

How do you know when an intervention is called for?

In the realm of individual clergy, the behaviors that spell trouble often mirror the behaviors that indicate dysfunctional behavior in general:
  • the individual becomes increasingly isolated, abdicating leadership.
  • behavior becomes disjointed and irrational.
  • secrets become standard fare in dealing with the congregation.
  • triangles (talking about others rather than to others) rule.
  • signs of depression, addictive behavior, or emotional extremes become obvious.
  • work habits suffer, meetings/appointments are missed, there are long stretches of time when the individual disappears.
Likewise, there are times when a congregation’s behavior merits an intervention. Consider an intervention when a congregation:
  • breaks into “camps” or divisions; factions of people take sides on all issues.
  • talk is primarily about one other rather than to one other.
  • there is widespread demonization of those in disagreement.
  • biblical methods for dealing with conflict (Matthew 18) are abandoned.
  • secret meetings are held.
  • signs of depression emerge: declining energy, decreasing financial support, declining attendance, spiritual lethargy.
What does a spiritual, or congregational intervention look like?

The first thing needed is the cultivation of a spirit of brokenness and humility. God is able to accomplish great miracles when his people acknowledge their sinfulness, abandon their rationalizations and justifications, their blaming of others, and own their mistakes. For inspiration, read David’s story again and again.

Second, the congregation or congregation’s leaders must come to the point that they acknowledge there is an issue that needs to be dealt with. Breaking through denial and blindness is often the most difficult issue you will face. Without an overt act or public failure, it is often hard to admit that things are off track and headed in an ominous direction. Too often, that sort of honesty is missing in a dysfunctional congregation. Speak the truth in love, but persistently speak the truth.

Third, you need an interventionist. Generally, this means someone from outside the congregation who is relatively objective and able to guide a process with a lower level of anxiety than those immersed in the system. A skilled interventionist with a track record of working in highly intense situations is a gift from God. He or she functions as a congregation’s Nathan as they speak the truth in love and guide you through the necessary steps toward healing and recovery.

Fourth, you need a process that is healthy. Recovery from dysfunctional conflict or behavior is never quick nor easy. You did not get into this situation overnight, and you will not emerge from it instantly. Beware of those who want to bring healing to your congregation or clergy in a weekend or a single worship service. Certainly, there will be breakthrough moments, but genuine recovery from dysfunctional behavior is best measured in months and years rather than days. A church split, clergy firing, or clergy flame-out often impacts a congregation for a generation. Repeated often enough, dysfunctional behavior becomes embedded in a congregation or clergy’s DNA. Changing those patterns takes time and great endurance.

Finally, the time to act is sooner rather than later. Nothing is more heartbreaking to a pastor than to have a married couple show up in the office asking for help for their broken marriage, only to find that the conflict is in it’s last stages and no amount of pastoral care will reverse the damages. So it is with congregations and clergy. It is often the case that calls for help go out only after the conflict has become intractable and beyond resolution. If you think your congregation or minister is in trouble, proactively and humbly raise the possibility of seeking professional care.

To become an agent of intervention is serious business with many consequences. Hopefully, it is above all an opportunity to see God’s healing hand at work.

(EDITOR’S NOTE - Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health.)
9/7/2011 8:11:00 AM by Bill Wilson | with 0 comments