Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Door Set Open, by Peter Steinke

Chapter 4 – The Challenge of Change

1.  Steinke begins with a difficult and poignant question, “How will the church find leaders for emotional systems caught in a rising tide of change?”  He then discusses the relationship between change and emotionality, noting that, “Change will touch off a burst of emotional energy.”  “People in the church can make the same wrong assumptions as some economists…we think that if we make a few sensible changes, harmony will hold.  But animal spirits find their way into any system.”  Steinke illustrates these animal spirits with the example of the misguided senior pastor and the various reactions within the congregation.

Where did this pastor err grievously?  Where did the congregation err grievously?  (Yes, stuff like this really happens!)

2.  Change is hard for everyone, especially congregations. 
“Now, suddenly, with steep changes happening in our society, congregations have to ask themselves whether they are responding to a world that no longer exists and whether they have the sort of leadership required to shift to new understanding and practices. Surely, the priestly work is always needed, but now, especially now, clergy may need to become advocates for adaptive change.”

“Ask yourselves—does your congregation need a more prophetic ministry?  Do you need a more visionary type of ministry?”

3.  Rightly so, Steinke casts doubt upon the myriad invitations to participate in transformational leadership training seminars.  (I get several of these each week in the mail and promptly round-file them!)  “Transformation is a process. It may take five years, a generation, or perhaps even forty wilderness years to see its effects. Early in the process it isn’t possible to tell how transformed a church might become. So impatient and anxious, well-intended change agents turn a decade into an hour.”

Why is our religious culture so gullibly transfixed by such transformation magic…and what is the antidote?

4.  Steinke notes that the success rate for a turnaround church is about one in four.  “People can squelch urgency by dragging out possible negative results and impending doom. If leaders want to
implement change, they are placed under suspicion. With fear hovering in the community, the coalition of change agents that needs to develop doesn’t know how to get started, or they prefer add-ons rather than substantive changes. The challenge of change for a congregation on a steady downward slope is precisely to redefine and redirect its mission.”  As Kathleen Norris states, “Their challenge is to go on living thankfully, contributing liberally, and living graciously.”

How does this last statement serve to guide St. Mark and other congregations toward effective mission?  How does each of these three responses positively redirect our energy and efforts toward change?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Door Set Open, by Peter Steinke

Chapter 3 – So That You May Hope Again

1.  Steinke’s stated intention in this chapter is to “look at hope in the context of God’s people in exile, a time of dislocation and near despair, like ours.”  To that end, we receive an excellent, although truncated, biblical history lesson.  The Babylonian captivity is paramount to Jewish history, as demonstrated by the deep involvement of its prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. 

In review, what series of circumstances led to this predicament and how did the exiles learn to find hope in the midst of exile?

2.  Steinke points out the necessity of dialectical thinking here, citing Brueggemann that, “In a broken world, hope and lament are partners.  Hope does not need to silence the rumbling of crisis to be hope.”  Steinke adds that, “The paradoxical nature of faith as exile and homecoming defines the Christian in the world.”

How to you relate to these statements?

3.  Church leaders today likewise face the temptations of denial, despair, and magic.  Take time to examine how each of these temptations poses a threat to the health and vitality of today’s congregations and church leaders.

4.  “To many, religion is a good thing, as long as it provides personal comfort and meets individual needs. Consequently, they want the church to double the offer—to give them not only a message of salvation but also the elements of a benefits plan, such as self-improvement methods, life-coping skills, satisfaction enhancement, and stress reduction.” 

How does this “double offer” expectation lead to the dark side, namely…the three temptations of denial, despair, and magic?  How can the church communicate and extend genuine hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ in today’s shifting culture?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Door Set Open, by Peter Steinke

Chapter 2 – Emotional Systems & the New Anxiety

1.  Boy, am I ever familiar with this chapter’s material!  And if you’ve spent some portion of your adult life ensconced in church life (i.e., politics), chances are, you are, too.  We’re right at home with this discussion involving emotions and anxiety.  Steinke describes congregations as “emotional systems”…quite prepared to engage in self-deceit, when threatened.

“When the challenge of change confronts a congregation, members’ survival brains surely will excite their emotional forces. Supervised by the amygdala (the anxiety alarm in the brain), a rapid line of defense takes over in threatening situations. The amygdala functions to protect an organism by:
• appraising danger and acting faster than consciousness,
• operating apart from awareness,
• eliminating any set of options that might delay action,
• generalizing for rapid reaction,
• pairing an outside threat with any previous thought, feeling, or prior experience.”
What situations or circumstances might evoke such responses?

2.  Steinke then discusses homeostasis, “to function in the same way,” hanging on to the familiar.  Must be a Lutheran thing!  This “persistence of form,” as Friedman defines it, can be explained by: A) emotional barriers, B) imaginative gridlock, and C) resistance.  (My, my, my…where should we begin?)

A.  “An artificial limit born of mythology and preserved by anxiety.”  Why are churches susceptible to emotional barriers?    What promotes their popularity and duration?

B.  “Friedman’s second concept involves human survival instincts. During anxious periods, what is most needed—imagination—is most unavailable. Reacting supersedes thoughtfulness. Anxiety locks up the imagination and misplaces the key.”  Again, what are some examples that come to mind?

C.  “Emotional resistance to change is powerful. In our minds is this formula: Stability equals safety. The amygdala is keyed to suddenness and newness, for either could be threatening. Since the amygdala is ready to react if something is strange, new, or novel, resistance serves as a defensive action, usually apparent in sabotaging behavior. Friedman called dealing with resistance ‘the key to the kingdom.’ Minimal reaction to the resisting positions of others, whether exhibited in apathy or aggression, is “the key.

If the leader stays the course without compromising, abandoning, or corrupting the goal, good outcomes, though not guaranteed, are more apt to happen.”

Where have you seen such leadership demonstrated wisely and effectively for the good of the congregation?

3.  “A natural response of any emotional system is to return to its previous state when challenged and strained. After the initial steps toward change, a leader will therefore encounter resistance, mostly from those who are emotionally invested. As Friedman noted, such resistance is predictable: ‘Most theories of leadership recognize the problem of mistakes, but there is a deeper systemic phenomenon that occurs when leaders do precisely what they are supposed to do—lead.’ People who can differentiate well—act maturely—will arouse anxiety in less mature people.

“The ensuing sabotage is sometimes organized and sometimes just mindless opposition. The challenge to the leader is to self-regulate in the midst of anxious reactivity. Being focused on principle and direction, the leader does not get caught up on rash behaviors or cruel comments. As a last resort, reactors will demonize the leader.”  (Would this a good time to recruit new Council members?!) 

Like every pastor of 30 years in the trenches, I could write a book on this subject…and it’s not pretty.  I see and hear efforts of sabotage all the time…some of it unintentional, and much of it quite intentional (but never admitted).

How can pastors & congregations work to counter sabotage?