How to avoid having one unhappy person undermine your congregation

How to avoid having one unhappy person undermine your congregation

Church members frequently refer to their congregations as a family, and the simile is apt in many ways, since churches, like families, are made up of different and interdependent parts: clergy, wardens, lay leaders, members, some of whom are older, some younger, some in families, some single.

Nor is this a new understanding – St. Paul pointed it out in 1 Corinthians 12: “The body is a unit … though the parts are many, they form one body.”

And when one part suffers, the whole body suffers.

Churches rightly spend time ensuring that their clergy are healthy and have what they need to do their work well, but anyone who has been around any church – or any family — for very long can testify that even the best leaders can be undermined by a few unhappy, bitter, bullying, or otherwise dysfunctional members.

Recent work in healthy congregations has focused on family systems, which means looking at the way the entire congregation is functioning, not just the leadership.

This is the work Peter Steinke does, and it is the approach he will be talking about in the April 4 and 5 and June 20 and 21 Growing in Faith Together – How Your Church Family Works workshops at Trinity Lutheran Church, 3621 Tulsa Way, Fort Worth, TX 76107.

The family systems theory is based on the work of Dr. Murray Bowen, who suggested that individuals cannot be understood independently, but rather as a part of the emotional unit, the family. In a family system, members play different roles, responding to each other in certain ways according to their roles. Within the system, certain patterns of behavior develop and persist. The actions of one family member influence the actions of all the others. This interdependence leads either to balance or dysfunction.

Attributes of healthy families include trust, communication, shared values, and conflict resolution – characteristics that can also serve as indicators of a healthy church.

One key indicator of how healthy a family is how it deals with conflict and the same is true for churches. Too often, church leaders seek to avoid conflict, believing that it has no place in a church where we are commanded to love one another. But just as unresolved conflict can fester and spread in a family, so can it do the same in a congregation. Lasting damage can result.

Refusing to acknowledge conflict does not make the conflict go away, it simply drives it underground. Learning ways to resolve conflict and foster communication, openness, and trust will help ensure that all members of a congregation feel safe to offer their gifts.

Come learn more. Register for Growing in Faith Together, How Your Church Family Works. The event cost is $25.00/person and includes dinner.

Online registration is available by clicking here. Mail-in registration will be facilitated through congregations. Registration deadline is Monday, March 31.

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