Ever feel like you’re struggling to connect with your congregation or maintain harmony in your ministry? Feel like you’re teetering on the brink of burnout? This episode will be your lifeline. Joined by Jay Whittmeyer, the executive director of the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center, we dive into the transformative concept of self-differentiation and its profound significance in ministries. Drawing from Family Systems Theory, we untangle the complex dynamics between the need for community and individuality, and how understanding these can revolutionize the way you lead your ministry.
We then shed light on the importance of emotional maturity and effective management of reactivity in times of change or crisis, such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic. With Whitmire’s insights, we dissect how a calm and responsive leadership style can maintain commitment and connection within the church, even in the face of adversity.
Lastly, we reflect on the critical issue of balance and sustainability in ministry. We discuss the common pitfalls that lead to burnout and share practical tips for cultivating a sustainable approach to your work and life. Highlighting the power of coaching and networking with other ministry leaders, we aim to help you avoid the dreaded ‘Crabby Pastor’ syndrome. With a focus on aligning with God’s purpose and fostering sustainable growth, we aim to equip you to lead your ministry with renewed vitality and joy. So tune in, and let’s navigate the ministry landscape together.
Connect with Lombard Mennonite Peace Center’s training HERE.
The Peter Steinke book link is HERE.
Edwin Friedman’s book link is HERE.
Roberta Gilber’s book on Bowen’s family systems theory is HERE.
Murray Bowen’s book is HERE.
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Speaker 1: 0:01
Hey there, Margie Bryce, here bringing you the Krabby Pastor podcast, and I don’t think you’re going to be too surprised to know that it’s too easy today to become the Krabby Pastor. Our time together will give you food for thought to help you be the ministry leader, fully surrender to God’s purposes and living into whatever it takes to get you there and keep you there. So we’re talking about sustainability in ministry. This is Reverend Dr Margie Bryce, and I am your host of the Krabby Pastor podcast, where we offer you chronic and continual tips on how to lead yourself well, especially in the area of self-care. I am here today with Jay Whitmire, who is the executive director of the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center which is in Illinois Lombard neighborhood of Illinois, and they do amazing work. They do a lot of mediation work, training people pastors to mediate situations. And I came to Jay and I said you know we really would love to have you on to explain to us a bit about family systems theory. This is something that I know I encountered in seminary and then again later on in my doctoral work. That was just a useful tool. And so Jay is going to just kind of, we’re going to have conversation here and you can probably always polish the facts for me, but I’m mostly going to let you give us an understanding of what this is about and how it can be valuable for ministry.
Speaker 2: 2:01
Thank you, Margie. It’s really important for ministers to really understand the basic concepts of this and in our work in church conflict and mediation we always anchor everything within the framework of family systems. So I’ll start and try to give a few basics of it. I mean it’s a huge topic and well beyond our scope at this point. I often describe it in churches this way Dr Murray Bowen, who was serving as a surgeon in World War II and was going to come back and continue surgery, but he saw so many cases of shell shock and trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder on the field that he decided to switch to psychiatry and one of the questions, as I understand it, that really puzzled him was why do you have two individuals go through the same event and they I mean both are traumatized etc. But one kind of comes out of it and moves on and the other becomes sidetracked in life, demoralized, and kind of lost. The responses were so fundamentally different and Bowen was asking the question. He observed that people are different and there are differences among people. And why are they different? How do you talk about that? How do you think about that? So he began his work in the time late 40s, early 50s and at the time, in the field of psychiatry the key model was a Freudian, analytical model if you will, and much of that model was based on the relationship between a parent and a child and the attachment, often the mother-child attachment. He was working with really dysfunctional families and so it was the dyad between the mother and the child and that intense fusion between the two and overly protective or overly concerned or trying to please trying to fix all of that. And as Bowen got into it and quite literally with he would keep families long term in his clinic and study them, he began to see wait a second, it’s not just father or mother-child here. The father plays a very significant role in this as well. And he began to see that the relationship between the mother and the father, how it changed as they focused on the child and sometimes the child became the problem that the two of them had to solve. However, it was working out the tensions in the family ease as they both focused on that child and what I’m seeing here is not a dyad but really a triad. And then, as he expanded, he didn’t like the term triad, so he put triangle. And he didn’t like the term triangle because it sounded too geometric. He might say that’s his words. But what he began to do is step back and say the interactions are very significant and it’s not just husband and wife, but you have grandparents and a mother’s relationship to her mother and the expectations and how she came out of her family of origin. So it begins to build out into the family system. So that was a profoundly important part. And that phrase he began to talk about is this chronic anxiety, how an anxious family in a sense instills that into a child, worried about the child, the health of the child, the development of the child. The child kind of bears that and then begins to pass that on to the next generation. So there’s this pattern of multi-generational transmission of the anxiety that gets passed down, kind of the dysfunction or the fears of the family moving forward. So Bowen was beginning to see how people reacted differently within the context and he summarized the human experience that says you can think of humans as trying to balance two life forces. The one is this need to be together, to be part of a group, to feel lonely and isolated and lost if you’re not part of the group. And so you can think of children as growing up those little three and four year olds. They want to help in the kitchen they want to help carry trash If you’re mowing the lawn. They kind of want to help and it’s not appropriate. They want to fold clothes, and there’s this real eagerness to be productive in the context, to participate, to be helpful and to be liked. And that goes into the school setting, to be committed to it, to learn the societal norms and culture and to go into it. But there’s another real bent in the child and this is the bent to be an individual that the child sees kind of this group, think of the family. And the child says you know, I want to be my own person, I want to have agency, I want to have voice, I want to be creative, I don’t want to be kind of this robot. And often the child will grow up and see parents, that boy, my parents don’t even recycle and I learned about recycling in schools. So they’ll say dad, what are you doing? We can recycle that. Or dad, why are you wasting this or wasting that? They begin to speak into that group, think and have voice and they begin what Bowen calls self differentiation. They are moving outside of the group, think of the family and the expectations of the family and finding their own voice in the midst of it.
Speaker 1: 8:21
So let me just jump in here for just a second here so you know, in case some are running off shrieking into the night because of the psychological dimension that we’re talking about here. I recalled filling a pulpit at a church and I did have a component, an aspect of psychology in the sermon and of course there was heavy theological tones. But I had people come up to me after and say, you know, I don’t know about what you said. You said all the psychology stuff and I just said to them well, why don’t you? Why isn’t it important to understand why we do the things we do and then bring Christ to bear into that? So I feel like people that study why we do the things we do and who have very valid and actually, I recall in seminary drawing the little squares and circles of my grandparents all the way down, which I kind of thought was a bunch of bunk at the time, until I got to the very end and I went oh, my goodness, how much you know my family of origin and beyond had played a role in who I had become. But, like you said, you know you have the two dimensions. You have the dimension of you want to be part of a group. There is that aspect, but then also, you want to be self-differentiated and have a strong understanding of yourself as an individual. So I kind of wanted to throw in that disclaimer. But it’s not really a disclaimer, I guess. It’s really more an explanation of what is so valuable about this and I’m going to toss it back to you, jay, if you want to continue your thoughts on the importance of self-differentiation. I think that’s where you were headed next.
Speaker 2: 10:22
So I think your example of the sermon and this is too much psychology is really excellent and we would anchor our explanation of family systems theory in a biblical understanding of being the body. And you can think of so many passages Ephesians 4 is one of my classic that you’re all members of one body and Corinthians. There are so many areas but to think about how one body part reacts to the other body and there’s an influence on that, and that’s the context. We try not to bring in too much psychology language in that way. But why do we interact? How do we interact and what does that mean? The issue of self-differentiation is particularly important because you can be in a group and maybe there’s a culture or there’s a preferences. Maybe the church is very traditional, wants to be traditional, seeing those Wesleyan Isaac Watshims, and someone doesn’t like it. And someone says I really think we should have some more contemporary music. And just to make that statement when everyone in the room is very much against going toward a contemporary music. It takes a lot of effort, it takes some boldness to be the dissenting voice and there might be some reactivity that will come when you begin to change that culture. You know we get stuck in a kind of a homeostasis and we don’t want to change and there’s reactivity to that change. But if someone really thinks that I’m committed to the church, I love the church, I want to grow the church, I think this is an important way and can stay in close communication with others, not get reactive when others get reactive to the self-differentiation, but just to continue as a part of it. That really takes some maturity. Often when there’s disagreement it’s hard to talk to people. People get angry, they get upset, they start yelling and the temptation is of course to begin to cut off in distance, separate, leave church, split the church and move down that road. So fundamentally, the role, the understanding of self-differentiation is the ability to be my own self, to speak what I believe, to act out of my beliefs, but to do it in a loving, caring relationship with others. So, just as the, I give the example of the child and the recycling. You know the child loves the parents but can see that they’re not as ecologically minded or environmentally minded as they should be and can kind of help them grow into it. We see that in churches. But you know, dad, you should recycle well, blasted blasted, I don’t. And then there’s reactivity. The child gets reactive, the relationship gets severed and Bowen would call that, you know, kind of a real lack of emotional maturity, lack of self-differentiation so few that they begin to have to distance, can’t be themselves in the met. So it’s incredibly helpful for churches to understand the concept that when changes are coming, some people are going to be really reactive to those changes. So you look at the finance, you look at whatever a church merger for example there can be a lot of reactivity around the reality of needing to make difficult decisions and understanding Bowen has a scale of differentiation. He says higher on the scale there’s more maturity, people can manage these differences a little easier. Lower on the scale, when changes come, people are more reactive. And just having that concept can help church leaders say, as we move in this new direction, we have to be attentive to those who are not going to immediately accept this. It’s going to be hard for them, there’s going to be grieving, there’s going to be loss. How do we talk with them? Talk through them as we go through it. It helps them step away from the situation and kind of get that bird’s eye view you know that stadium view to understand the group dynamics and how they’re playing out and that can prevent a lot of church conflict and church splits and other things.
Speaker 1: 15:15
Yeah, and a lot of it has to do with how well people do or do not handle. You called it reactivity, but it’s anxiety it really is which is the number one beast. I am playing people how well, you know, how well can I stay calm, how well can I manage myself? And this is a leadership issue for people who are in leadership to know and to understand. You know there will be resistance to any change that you’re going to initiate, even if that changes the best thing in the world for that particular situation. There will be. So you know you have to anticipate that, expect that and then challenge yourself with your own level of self-differentiation to always stay calm. And that’s what I do when I’m walking into some kind of situations. Right, I got to stay calm, I got to stay focused and just know that when you bring change into a situation, it’s like you ding the mobile. That’s my one friend’s really great analogy for this is you ding the mobile. All the pieces start moving in the mobile, you know, and they all kind of move around, and so something like family systems theory can help us to, like you said, stadium level step back and kind of watch what is going on and, as a leader, not let that rattle our own sense of anxiety and hand wringing, whatever it is that you’re going to do so. There’s great value in doing that because people are well, I don’t know. I talked to a couple of counselors that didn’t know each other or anything like that, so they weren’t like in the same practice. And I just said, you know, people were a little odd before COVID. And I said, what about since COVID? I said it seems to me like people are a little more, you know, odd after COVID. I said, am I, are you seeing that? And they both independent different conversations both said oh yeah, I mean like they didn’t even think about it, it just was like oh yeah, for sure. So people are really challenged right now with managing their anxiety in churches. You know, after COVID Many of them are half of what they were membership or attendance wise and that impacts giving, although in some instances it hasn’t impacted the giving so much. But they are facing different kinds of challenges and changes need to happen. So you know, pastoral leadership, ministry leadership today is not for the faint of heart, but it certainly helps to have some kind of grounding in family systems. So you can look a little more objectively about what’s going on, not only in the group that you’re leading but also within yourself.
Speaker 2: 18:40
Yes, yeah, absolutely. I think some of the things that have happened out in COVID is people will come to church for various things, but when you start to ask people, why are you specifically in this church, why do you come, and they’ll begin to name things and they might name something. Well, there’s a great men’s group that I really like, or I sing in the choir and or I’m in this early riser Sunday school class and you begin to hear that they’re actually connecting with people in the middle of it. Now some will say, of course I love the sermons or I love the theology and that kind of plays out, but many of my friends are here, this is where I have fellowship and what’s happened with? So that’s that connection part. I feel like I belong, I’m part of it and they might connect. Let’s use the example of a choir member. They’re there because of the choir, but they really like the choir director as well. Well, in the middle of COVID, a number of we went through something called the great resignation. A lot of people quit, changed jobs, and this happened in churches as well. So the connecting point for individuals might be the choir director, the youth director, it might be a program, but other individuals who are in that mission program, the habitat, whatever soup, kettle, something. It’s the other people that are connected there and not so much the program. But this has changed a lot and so people people tend to members feel a little less committed and less connected because it’s just not quite the same coming through COVID and much of that is really at that emotional level, I think.
Speaker 1: 20:34
Yeah, yeah, because I I have often thought that in many ways and this was something I thought about for COVID was that in many churches, church was there emotional security blanket, and so that’s when you had to address change like, okay, people, we are in the twenty-first century, we are, you know, fifteen years and not two months, but we’re fifteen years and we need to function as if we are. And trying to initiate that kind of change even then was challenging, because it was the one place that I think people felt you know, it’s the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Course, that’s God Jesus is saying yesterday, today and tomorrow. But our methods and how we go about things need to be relevant, because I believe the gospel is exceedingly relevant, especially in an anxious culture, which I think ours is, and you watch the news and you’re like I gotta turn this stuff off. You know we have greater access to more and more information and it’s very easy for some of us. I know I have that kind of temperament where you just keep staring at all the negativity and it just does not do Really great things. I remember a friend of mine had a nine eleven. After that she said, oh my gosh, I think I’ve watched the Twin Towers go down two hundred times and I said what are you doing? You have to turn that off. Stop watching it. You know what happened.
Speaker 2: 22:24
A phrase will often use is when there’s heightened anxiety within a family or a church or an individual, the response to whatever situation is going on is really heightened and disproportionate. So we’re seeing a lot of church conflicts and, given who the pastor is and the appropriate training and experience or the changes that are being made, for people to get so angry and so reactive to such minor things just gives you a sense that it’s been building up through the years. There’s some baggage and some carryover that takes place and thinking in terms of family systems and chronic anxiety, it allows you to step out of the immediate context and think about how else, what else is going on, how did I learn or where did I experience this In the past? So it’s not uncommon for a church to come to conflict and saying what’s going on and then pretty soon you find that Thirty years ago there was this massive church split over whatever issues and people sense that I’m hearing that same language. So they’re feeling like All my good friends are going to leave, they’re going to do this, they’re going to do that, so they become overprotective or trying to save the church or or something in the current day based on that fuel from the past. That’s sort of energizing that anxiety in a different way. So there’s a disproportionate response. It’s blown out. Of proportion is the way we say.
Speaker 1: 24:07
Yeah, so as a leader, then if you’re talking about moving the Christian flag off of the platform and somebody totally gets unglued, you know there’s a hint then that the issue really isn’t the flag, there really is something more and it could be something historic in the church because, no matter what we all interconnect with, you know, as individuals I interconnect with who my parents were and their parents before them, and that that is something I can’t disconnect from. I might try, but it usually bubbles back at some point, no matter how hard I try. But it’s the same thing with churches. It’s important you know what is the beginning history of that group, what is the history along the way, was their issues that never got dealt with, that eventually leech back through? You know, yeah, absolutely. And so then you need to be a little bit of a detective and then, at the same time, as a leader, manage your own level of anxiety. You know, and I’ll be honest, there’s times I do that well and there’s times I don’t, and I’ve had friends tell me that’s because you’re human and I go that yes.
Speaker 2: 25:27
So, yeah, you go ahead, margie. I was just going to add that in regards to managing your anxiety, for even always talks about playfulness and the other sign that there’s a lot of anxiety within a church, a lot of reactivity, is there’s a lack of playfulness. Somehow it’s just not as joyful or fun in it. I think we can really test when we’ve lost our joy. We just don’t have that spot in a adi and that create creativity. We get really upset, we’re on edge. We take people’s words. We put a lot of emphasis on it. You know they become hurtful. When we’re more playful, it’s easier for us and that’s a good way to understand how well is there a real freedom in Christ as we seek to self-differentiate, be our own agency, our own person in the midst of it, have that authenticity. And if we don’t have, you know, kind of that joy, it’s a sign we’re not managing ourselves real well.
Speaker 1: 26:35
Yeah, yeah, the joy. That’s a big thing. I mean, I have been in some churches where I thought, all right, who’s passing around the lemons for people who suck on here?
Speaker 2: 26:48
I can say these things.
Speaker 1: 26:49
Now, you know I used to think of them a lot and I just wouldn’t say them. But you know, you’d swear somebody was doing that somewhere or they were passing out the pills that, you know, would you know, just drain the joy out of people and you’d be surprised. You know, as a leader, then you know the question is how can you initiate or integrate some playfulness back into the world?
Speaker 2: 27:15
You want to be sober-minded and you want to take things of God seriously. It doesn’t mean to be vain or light-hearted or dismissive, it doesn’t mean that. But there is a certain joy that comes. And when it’s overly serious, people are afraid to speak up, they’re afraid to be attacked, people become defensive and that’s when nobody I can go do work in a, like a workshop in a church, and I’ll crack some jokes and some churches people will laugh, and other churches the same comment, just dead silence. People just look at you and we might call it reptilian regression.
Speaker 1: 27:56
That’s kind of a trick. Yeah, you’re like all righty, this is where we’re at today. So yeah, and as a leader, then as well, you need to know and understand the baggage that you’re carrying, because everybody has it. We all have our baggage, and you’ve got to know what’s in your suitcases and you know why a certain person or situation sets you off. You know why so that you can manage yourself and offer your best leadership to God and to the people over which God has given you authority.
Speaker 2: 28:30
Yes, absolutely For sure. Yeah, if you come through your home life and say you’re the oldest of five and you were, say you were the sister doing the babysitting, helping mom make sure others get in and you know, get ready for school and get their lunches and that’s kind of that role and you’re kind of used to being the one in charge. You come to the church and often you’ll play out that role in various ways, particularly when things start to go awry. You’ll start feeling the need to kind of step in and overfunction on some of that if you’re not careful. And there’s many examples, yeah, the over-functioning and under-functioning thing.
Speaker 1: 29:14
Yeah, we could probably go into that We’ll say that for our next we’re going to talk a little bit more because the whole family systems here you do is not just birth order, like I’m the oldest of three girls. I mean that says something about how I function and it was very apparent to me when we went to my nephew’s wedding and I wanted to get a picture of all three of us together and I knew if we didn’t take that moment when we were just kind of loitering around, that it wouldn’t happen and I was just really bent on. I want to have this happen and I immediately went back to that you know 10 year old kid that was sent. My mother would say go tell your sisters it’s time for dinner. And so you go. You know, you’re like trained into that role. And you say, you and you, it’s dinner time. Well, I did that to my sisters as an adult. I said you and you get over here, we’re going to do this picture now we’re going to this. And I could see my middle sister shoes kind of went again. Yeah, like oh, here we go. She’s so bossy, but they don’t understand that your parents kind of groom you that way when you’re the oldest one and you go for it. So of the time, understanding the family systems and how they function and how you function in the midst of it, you know, can have great value and I know for me when I was a pastor, it helped me not take something so seriously. Yeah, like when somebody was arguing about the flag on the well, aren’t we going to have that flag on? And I’m thinking in my head, I’m thinking, well, can you not worship Jesus without the flag stand? You know what did they do in the early church? You know they didn’t have I don’t know if they had chairs or pews. You know the whole, a lot of things that pastors deal with. It helped me to take something more serious in a different way and some things not so serious. It helped me understand that it was important how I managed myself in the midst of it and that how that could help the change that needed to happen to move along. So I’m going to just kind of leave that there, but just know in the show notes I’m going to put information about the Friedman book and Murray Bowen and I think it’s well. I think Esoie TC at EНу Cor basically it in a second
.Speaker 2: 31:40
I think that was what was happening today.
Speaker 1: 31:41
In the last I was just looking at some other people, the older people among the writer’s age and uhhhhh, that’s salad.
Speaker 2: 31:55
The first person that was applying to their psychiatry was Robert, you know, and the spacing pick don’t make much sense to. Stanky is really significant. Peter was a Lutheran minister and started the healthy. He passed away about two years back. But he talks about healthy congregations and how your church family works, and there’s a few, but Stanky is really religious or Christian. I mean, comes out of that context and there are others that I can talk about, and there’s always the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center that you can talk to. for workshops, yeah, we have the Reagraph Peace, and we’d be glad for anything, though.
Speaker 1: 32:29
Okay, and I’ll put all that in the show notes and so I’m gonna end our time and just know that this is part one of two parts of our discussion here with Jay Whitmire. The Krabby Pastor podcast is brought to you by Bryce Coaching, and I connect with ministry leaders and help them when they are stuck, help them when they need to know what their next steps are, and just a journey with them, which is a type of self care, actually. But this podcast is also brought to you by Bryce Glass Art. You can find that on Facebook. So when I am doing this podcast, it is paid for and sponsored by the Glass articles that I make and sell and the coaching that I do, and it is my privilege to call you to radical self-care so that you can go the distance with God. Hey, thanks for listening. It is my deep desire and passion to champion issues of sustainability in ministry and for your life, so I’m here to help. I stepped back from pastoral ministry and I feel called to help ministry leaders create and cultivate sustainability in their lives so that they can go the distance with God and whatever plans that God has for you. I would love to help, I would consider it an honor and in all things, make sure you connect to these sustainability practices so that you don’t become the Crabby pastor.