Pastoral Leadership: Why It May Be More About Your Family of Origin Than About Technique and Data Collecting

Family problems can often be resolved by having the parents or partners focus on and work at unresolved issues in their families of origin. By the same token, leaders must not only develop vision, persistence, and stamina, but also understand that the problems they encounter may stem from their own unsolved family issues, their organization’s past, sabotage in response to their effective leadership, or a combination of these factors. (pp. 27-28)
A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by Edwin Friedman

Let me begin by saying that Friedman’s book in my opinion is an absolute must read for not only those in any leadership position, but I especially think it’s a crucial read for those in pastoral leadership. The more and more I work with families in therapy, and the more and more I work with pastors in the church…the more and more I see the similarities of issues that are involved. I’m obviously not the first to see this correlation, and in fact, in Friedman’s seminal work, Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, he explores at length this very idea.

There is so much valuable insight in this book, but one aspect that I have been thinking about a lot is something that Friedman says in regards to data collecting and technique by leaders. Friedman says:

It was at this point that I began to realize that before any technique or data could be effective, leaders had to be willing to face their own selves. Otherwise the effect of technique was like trying to build up energy in a spring where the initial twists store up more potential and then suddenly, with one twist too many, the entire spring unwinds. If this sounds similar to the recover problems of alcoholics, there may be more to the association than we would care to admit….the chronic anxiety in American society has made the imbibing of data and technique addictive precisely because it enables leaders not to have to face their selves. (pp. 21)

There is so, so much in that statement by Friedman that needs unpacking, and I will do so at more length in the near future. But let me leave you with a few thoughts.

Is it possible that our hunger as pastors to attend more conferences, read more books, acquire more skills, learn more techniques, and use more technology…is really a means by which we avoid doing the difficult task of looking at ourselves?

As pastors, do we lead with a non-anxious presence (self-differentiated), or does our own anxiety model to our congregation some of the same self-avoiding behaviors that they see in us?

If it is true that leadership is more of an emotional process than a cognitive one (pp. 11), then much of our ability to lead lies in our discovery and awareness of who we are in our families of origin, than in our ability to just know and do more.

8 Comments

  1. Pingback : Tweets that mention Pastoral Leadership: Why It May Be More About Your Family of Origin Than About Technique and Data Collecting | | Rhett Smith:. Transitioning Life's Journey – 2011 Focus:. Pastors, Marriages, Young Adult Transition -- Topsy.com

  2. by Rich Kirkpatrick on February 17, 2011  1:16 pm Reply

    Rhett...painfully brilliant post. I've got a lot to learn in the EQ areas.

    We in ministry want to succeed and all in our minds for the cause so it is excused. However, from my experience, you can lose a bit of your soul which is the very power you have to lead people in the first place.

    Try being an empathetic artist in ministry leadership. Ouch. You are not allowed to let out the things you feel deeply about and see around you since "hiding" is the norm. Avoidance is such an art for the professional Christian and you nailed it in my opinion.

    --RK

    • by Rhett Smith on February 22, 2011  12:52 am Reply

      Rich,

      Thanks for being so honest and vulnerable. It's been a pleasure to have gotten to know you these last few years and to see how you have gracefully handled the challenges of leadership in ministry.

      Thanks for the encouragement.

      Rhett

  3. by Brit Windel on February 17, 2011  1:57 pm Reply

    I have 'collected' a few of Friedman's books. Haven't had the chance to crack them yet, but will be soon. I think your questions are very important and straight forward.

    To answer: 'Is it possible that our hunger as pastors to attend more conferences, read more books, acquire more skills, learn more techniques, and use more technology…is really a means by which we avoid doing the difficult task of looking at ourselves?' I would say for many it is finding the joy in the hype and in fact avoiding the task for sure. I know I have enjoyed those mediums because it helps give me an excuse to project fault, failure, frustration on others instead of addressing what is at the core of who we are.

    • by Rhett Smith on February 22, 2011  12:53 am Reply

      Brit,

      It's a good collection of books to have....read them and they will change your life, especially as a leader.

      I'm there with you about avoiding things....it is much easier to use those mediums than get to the core of things.

      Rhett

  4. by Angela C. on February 17, 2011  4:29 pm Reply

    i couldn't agree more that often times those in ministry and leadership (or mental health for that matter) use our intellectual hunger as a means of avoiding emotional needs and/or past pain. it's so much easier to delve into either a personal/organizational project or into the life of someone else who is struggling than to confront our own stuff. one of my favorite teaching pastors was one who was willing to delve into his own struggles as a means of being transparent with the church body as well as enabling the congregation to realize that it's okay as a christian to struggle. he was incredibly impactful to a lot of people.

    • by Rhett Smith on February 22, 2011  12:54 am Reply

      Angela,

      Thanks for your continued encouragement.

      It's great that you have a pastor who has been a good model of being transparent with the congregation and enabling them to struggle and grow.

      Rhett

  5. Pingback : Are You a Self-Differentiated Leader? If Not, You Need to Become One | | Rhett Smith:. Transitioning Life's Journey – Reflections on Writing, Therapy, and Faith

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.