Saturday, June 26, 2010

Upside the Head

I love it when two areas of personal interest intersect. It's kind of like discovering a mutual friend with someone you really enjoy.

Last evening I was reading my group therapy text and, of all things, discovered an intersection between group therapy dynamics (area of interest #1) and church structure (area of interest #2). I'd like to share a quote from The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy by Irvin Yalom, but first let me explain a couple of terms so that the impact of the text will be total for my kind readers.

In any group (which would include community groups, Bible study groups, etc., in addition to group therapy), there are always two things going on: content, and process. Content refers to what is said and done. But process refers to the "how" and "why" of the comments and actions. For example, if one group member is a single, young professional and another group member is a middle-aged homemaker...and the young person looks at the homemaker and says, "Parenthood is demeaning!"...the content is obviously very provocative and will probably start an argument.

But even more provocative and potentially life-changing can be the questions asked about the content, i.e. the process. Such as, "I wonder what is going on between these two individuals that he would attack her like this," or "Why did he set himself up for an attack with such a provocative statement?" These questions are referred to as process commentary.'s the quote:

"Process commentary undermines arbitrary authority structure. Industrial organizational development consultants have long known that an organization's open investigation of its own structure and process leads to power equalization -- that is, a flattening of the hierarchical pyramid. Generally, individuals high on the pyramid not only are more technically informed but also possess organizational information that permits them to influence and manipulate: that is, they not only have skills that have allowed them to obtain a position of power but, once there, have such a central place in the flow of information that they are able to reinforce their position. The more rigid the authority structure of an organization, the more stringent are the precautions against open commentary about process (as in, for example, the military or the church). The individual who wishes to maintain a position of arbitrary authority is wise to inhibit the development of any rules permitting reciprocal process observation and commentary."

If any paragraph in all of literature can sum up the problems I have experienced with the church, I think this would be it. Don't let the layperson ask how we did something, or why we made this decision. And if they do ask, give them confusing, defensive, or deflective answers. Because we have to hold this thing together! Right? Isn't that the church leader's job?!

Actually, no.

As I read the Scripture, it's Jesus at the top and then the rest of us. Variously gifted, but equal. And just because someone is gifted to be a teacher or visionary (is that word even in the Scriptures?) doesn't mean they automatically make better decisions than one who is gifted to be hospitable, for example, and therefore should restrict the flow of information or the give-and-take of an equal relationship.

I think the most unfortunate thing in all of this is that less change happens. Less personal change, because we're all hedging and angling and hiding our true (black) hearts. I think Jesus said something about white-washed tombs that may apply here...

And isn't it everyone's job to love God first, and then love people? A tall order, no doubt, that none of us will perfect (I am so far from this that I can't imagine myself ever, in all of eternity, perfecting this) -- but one that gets so clouded by our natural fears and faults.

And, I am now even willing to say, our institutions.

1 comment:

Ramón said...

Hospitality is listed as a requirement for elder/overseers in both 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8, but the word visionary does not appear in the entire Scriptures. Nearly all references to vision refer to dreams/visions and prophetic revelation.

The one verse I've often heard to support the role of the "visionary leader" is Proverbs 29:18, which in the ESV says where there is no prophetic vision, the people will cast off restraint. Does not seem to be in context.