Each week I write a blog to try and make the case that leadership training for congregations is based on the wrong research. Congregational development is not about training leaders to redevelop the mission, vision and programs of a congregation. Congregational development must be about training leaders to navigate emotional process within the context of relationship systems.
Congregations are facing an enormous number of problems and challenges. These problems and challenges raise the level of anxiety in the relationship system of a congregation. As anxiety goes up, leaders who can manage their anxiety and reactivity do better in engaging the hopes, dreams and assets of a congregation. Likewise, leaders who are less anxious in the face of problems and challenges do a better job of communicating a vision for the future. Intense conflict emerges when leaders are unaware and unable to manage their reactivity. As the congregation responds to the vibrations of anxiety in the pastor and as the pastor responds to the vibrations of anxiety in the congregation, tension within the relationship system increase. So, where does one learn their automatic reactions to anxiety? We learn it from the family.
What one learns in their family is the extent to which one can be an individual and the extent to which one is part of a family. Dr. Bowen described it as the force for individuality (differentiation of self) and togetherness. If individuals and families are tilted towards more togetherness, it will be more difficult for them to manage their anxiety and reactivity. If anxiety is vibrating too much in the family, the togetherness force will motivated someone to take control. If it gets to high, someone will walk away. Congregations, like families, also react predictably to the vibrations of increased anxiety. This then is the challenge for all congregational leaders: how does one articulate their thinking without trying to control others or walk away and give in? Researching one’s family system is the key.
For anyone motivated to do family research, I recommend the new book by Victoria Harrison, The Family Diagram & Family Research: an illustrative guide to tools for working on differentiation of self in one’s family. It is “a guide for people motivated to develop and use their own family diagram to observe, abstract, see, and better think about the facts and factors operating in their family.” You can find the book by clicking here.
One’s family is the best place to do research on being a better leader. This is not about going back in time or going back to resolve past problems. It is about learning to relate differently in the present as one works on differentiation of self. It’s not about correcting wrongs or making things right. It is about being a self that is connected in important ways to important others. A good coach can make a difference in one’s effort to relate better to important others. Bowen Theory can be a useful guide for one’s thinking as one journeys down this road of differentiation. A good place to begin is with family research.