Creating a Healthier Church (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1996)

It’s the fifth Tuesday. Here is a book I’ve found helpful in understanding groups: churches, families, businesses, and softball teams.

The following are some of the “mustard seeds” I highlighted as I read:

In the systems model, there is recognition of the connections between people. It says that people can only be understood fully within the context of their relationships. No one lives or acts in isolation, and we are all affected by each other’s behavior (Kindle Locations 246, 247).

One of the keys to functioning in a healthy manner as a church is for the leaders to look at the church as a system rather than as a collection of isolated people (Kindle Locations 259-260).

Walter Lippmann once said, “When all think alike, no one thinks very much” (Kindle Location 1277).

When the situation calls for it, people with a well-differentiated sense of their own individuality have the ability and, especially, the courage to stand alone, without any emotional support from others and without needing praise or recognition for what they do. They do not fear criticism, seek to avoid it, or look for approval and support port for the positions they take. They do not need the cooperation of others in order to be a solid self.
This does not mean they will never feel the “loneliness” of abandonment; it simply means they will not be governed by it (Kindle Locations 1339-1342).

Aloneness is not a goal for the better differentiated person. But we recognize that this could be the possible outcome of our actions and are not surprised by it. When acting on our principles and beliefs, and being true to our own understanding of what God asks of us, we may feel very alone; no one may support us; they may even mock us for our beliefs.
There is a kind of aloneness we may seek. That is solitude. We do not seek this sort of time apart from others reactively, against others, but proactively, as a way to clarity our own thinking, beliefs, goals, values, and so forth, in order that we can better connect with people. Solitude is about getting to know ourselves better, so we are clearer about what we have to bring to others. Solitude is a way to cultivate perspective and objectivity (Kindle Locations 1346-1351).

There is a time to lend a hand to a child learning to walk and a time to not take the child’s hand. This has as much to do with the parent’s anxiety about the child falling as with the child’s desire and ability to walk (Kindle Locations 1605, 1606).

So as Christians we want to he sensitive to those times when others are in genuine need so we can respond. But, it is uncaring and inappropriate to function consistently for others when they can manage for themselves, even if they want us to function for them and tell us we are “uncaring” if we don’t (Kindle Locations 1609-1611).

Underfunctioners will be slow to claim their competence in the presence of overfunctioners. They will tend to act as if they don’t know how to do much of anything. It is easier just to be dependent and let others worry about our wants and seek ways to fulfill them for us. We can get angry at them when they fail to guess correctly about our needs, and this stimulates them to work harder on our behalf. (Kindle Locations 1620-1622).

While overfunctioning is often regarded as the act of committed and caring leaders, it is not good for any of the parties. The more people overfunction in the church, the more all suffer from issues of confused responsibility. The clearer members and leaders can be about who is responsible for what, the better the congregation as a whole will function (Kindle Locations 1623-1625).

People who regularly take responsibility for the functioning and well-being of others (rescuers) are the ones who often end up with a breakdown, physically or emotionally, or they burn out and have to drop out (Kindle Locations 1661, 1662).

Differentiating yourself within the group often does not lead to praise from the group but to a negative reaction at first. This reaction is related to the challenge people experience when someone takes a new position within the emotional system. Your new position has an unbalancing effect on the group mobile. It may “feel” wrong to those close to you, and they will react, saying that you are wrong or bad or crazy and that you must change back to how you used to be (Kindle Locations 2224-2226).

Excited and Growing Church in Washington State

6th New Shepherds Orientation Workshop

The sixth New Shepherds Orientation Workshop was with the Puyallup Church of Christ in Puyallup, Washington. We had the training sessions in the Holiday Inn Express in Seattle, Washington.

I was touched and encouraged. Although two of the elders were involved in deaths close to them, they were present for most of the training. One was preaching the funeral for a close friend of many years. The other’s brother had died.

[tweetthis]This church is alive and well! They are growing.[/tweetthis]

Their building fund is increasing each week. Children are bringing their change for the new building and had donated $135.00+ the previous two weeks. We saw crowded seating and an overflowing parking lot. They are looking for more property where they can relocate.

Their building fund is increasing each week. Children are bringing their change for the new building and had donated $135.00+ the previous two weeks. We saw crowded seating and an overflowing parking lot. They are looking for more property where they can relocate.

Mark Jamieson, their preacher, told me they are within 1% of having the national average of age groups and generations. Yes, they have millennials.

Not only are they present, but they are also excited about doing the Lord’s work. Gail and I were there on potluck Sunday and were able to talk with many of the Christians.

The church has recently appointed seven new deacons. I was asked to lead opening prayer of the first elders and deacons meeting for the new group.

[tweetthis]Shepherds of this church are committed to letting the deacons deak. They are caring for the sheep.[/tweetthis]

This workshop is the second one I’ve led where everyone stayed together in the same building. Although Puyallup is only a twenty-minute drive from the Hotel, they decided to stay on site. It worked well.

The elders, preacher, and wives are Chris and Jolene Bartlett, Mark and Suzy Jamieson, Gene and Carolyn McCaul, Bob and Diane Sallee, Ken and Sandy Wilson.

I am scheduling workshops for 2018.

Some of the topics we discuss are:

  • What are guidelines to help us have a better discussion and workshop?
  • How can elders shepherd each other?
  • How will we grow together as a group?
  • How will we handle criticism?
  • What is a good plan to be sure we are caring adequately for all the sheep?
  • How can we deal with deacons and encourage them?
  • How will we develop as overseers as well as shepherds?
  • How will we oversee each other?
  • What can we do to keep important things from falling through the cracks?
  • Will we function as deacons and be called elders?
  • How can we prevent the development of a toxic “head elder”?
  • What is one thing we can do to prevent conflict and promote peace?
  • How will we evaluate the deacons, the ministers, and each other?
  • What are some ways we can have good communication with the congregation?
  • What are different kinds of meetings we should have to lead this church?
  • Who should select additional leaders in this congregation?
  • What is a good way to facilitate selection?

The workshop should:

  • Include all shepherds, preachers, and wives.
  • Meet offsite — away from the building.
  • Include twelve hours of working time.

The usual schedule:

Friday — 6:00-10:00 p.m.
Saturday — 8:00-12:00 a.m.; 1:00-5:00 p.m.
Bible class: When Leadership Is a Gift Instead of a Grind
Sermon at worship: What Do You Say at Your Last Elders’ Meeting?

Dates I have available today for 2018: a weekend (Friday night, Saturday, Sunday morning) in March, April, May, September, October, November.

What questions or observations do you have about New Shepherds Orientation Workshops?

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I Don’t Respond to Anonymous Letters…

…unless they have money in them

When a new eldership was ordained at Berry’s Chapel November 19, 1995, none of them had ever served before. Every issue was new. They couldn’t ask, “How have you usually handled this?” to the older elders because there weren’t any. Read: Starting from Scratch

On April 27 the following year, the elders, five members, and I received a stinging anonymous letter. This eldership had never dealt with that. One of the elders called. He asked me to meet with them and discuss the best way to respond.

We met and discussed options. After a good discussion, looking at the advantages and disadvantages of each possibility, they decided to do nothing.

[tweetthis]How can you answer an anonymous letter? To whom would you address your reply?[/tweetthis]

They followed the plan, doing nothing. Threats and prophecies in the letter never materialized.

I have a similar, but a slightly modified rule. I don’t respond to anonymous letters…unless they have money in them.

About this time, in the early 1990’s, I was driving to speak in Lewisburg, Tennessee. Gail paged me. I called. She told me about an unusual letter we received. Inside an envelope was a postal money order for $200.00. A sticky note was attached with the message, “For all you do in Him,” signed, Anon E. Mous. There was a return address on the envelope: Anon E. Mouse, with a street address in Cincinnati, Ohio.

I’d never received this type of letter. I went to the bank with the money order and asked if it were worth anything. The teller replied, “It’s a postal money order. It’s worth $200.00.” I deposited it. I wrote a thank-you note to Anon E. Mous in Cincinnati, Ohio.

A few months went by. I received a similar letter with a $200.00 money order. This time it was from East Ellijay, Georgia. I wrote a thank-you note.

After some more months had passed, I received an envelope with a $100.00 money order from California. I wrote a thank-you note.

More time passed, and I received the fourth, and final, money order for $200.00 with a return address at David Lipscomb University. I wrote a thank-you note.

Of all the anonymous letters I’ve received, those are the only ones to whom I’ve written a response.

The general rule: anonymous letters aren’t a good way to communicate. If you want to write an anonymous letter without getting caught, let somebody else write it. People usually write the way they talk. The night of the discussion about how to handle anonymous letters, every elder and I came to the same conclusion about the letter we received. It sounded just like _____ ______ .

[tweetthis]The best way to deal with an unsigned letter is to do nothing.[/tweetthis]

However, if anyone reading this post would like me to respond to an anonymous letter: write a letter, place money in the envelope, give a return address, and I’ll write a thank-you note.

How have you dealt with anonymous communication?

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