With any renewal project, there are always both internal and external things that a church needs to work through. Some self-reflection is always in order, but it can be hard, and sometimes threatening. Sometimes, in a very small congregation, the church is the size of an extended family, and works like one.
That's why people have put together this idea of Church Family Systems. Understanding church as an emotional unit, and understanding how we impact one another with our words and actions. This is new for many churches, and it is a new concept for mine. Below, you can read about how we went about understanding this with our 1st of 4 workshops. The congregation ended up doing some really intense emotional work on themselves during the workshop, in amazing Holy Spirit led ways. Also, because we were playing, there was laughter and fun the whole time.
If you decide to do this, please comment below (with permission) a picture or screen shot of the reaction of your treasurer/reimbursement person when you submit receipts from Toys R Us as ministry expense.
Part ONe: BIble/ Prayer
In July and August, our congregation studied a Bible story together every week for six weeks. You can read about that here. We started the workshop by reading Mark 4:35-41. Then, we listed in two columns The Disciples and Jesus. Under each heading, we listed together on the marker board things that each person (let's pretend the Disciples are one person for ease of writing, grammar, and because that's how the story is written) did, said, and may have felt. We concentrated on action words at the beginning like "going across". Then, we drew arrows from the Jesus column to the Disciples columns to talk about how their feelings and actions impacted each other and what each other did next. We talked about the group as an emotional system, and how anxiety traveled from the storm (outside influence) to the disciples, to Jesus. We noted that to survive a storm, Jesus must be in the center.
I spontaneously prayed for our group, what we would learn, and thanksgivings based on the previous conversation. If anyone needs me to script a prayer that might work, let me know in the comments and I'll add one.
Part Two: Stories of Churches
We read pages 13-19 of the book Creating Healthier Church. I have reached out for copyright permission to post it here, but we'll see if I get it. It is the story of two churches who both have broken boilers, and therefore no heat, on Sunday morning. Because of the coldness, snow, and ice, several Sunday school teachers call in sick. Finally, because the sewer drains back up with snow, the preschool at one church and the daycare at another are flooded on Sunday morning. There are calls and conversations between the custodian, head of the property team, director of the preschool/daycare, pastor, and head of the Sunday School.
In one church, each person owns their own feelings, and decides what they can do about it all. At the end of the day, everyone likes being at that church, even though it was a wild morning.
In the second church, each person blames someone else for the problems, people staring calling and gossiping, and lot of stress and anxiety gets passed around.
We made a list of the differences between the churches.
From Creating a Healthier Church by Ronald W. Richardson copyright © 1996 Fortress Press, admin. Augsburg Fortress. Reproduced by permission. No further reproduction is allowed without the written permission of Augsburg Fortress. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Part Three: Teaching
As feelings and stress get moved around our congregation, they are amplified and changed by the person listening. Person B can change the course of the car, like the wheel. The car would fall off the track if not for the wheel. What kind of emotions do we want to send around our congregation? How do we want to respond to things? How do we take problems and feelings seriously, while amplifying joy and positivisty?
Part Four: Practice
Everyone has their own Hot Wheels car, and there is a pile of straight and curved track in the middle of the table. People are paired off, and the pair each make some kind of track with at least two pieces connecting. Laughter ensues. Since each person also has their own car, the pairs practice sending the cars back and forth to one another for awhile. Then, attention focused on a noticed reality. We noticed that toys were left in the kid's toy area after all the kids and parents had left. We attempted to say it using only factual words, which turned out to be pretty difficult. People tended to use value or blame words, and it took us awhile as a group to come up with a fact. Any example will do here. You may want to use something people complained about in a different congregation.
Let's go back to using Person A and Person B. Person A, the first person in the pair, says to Person B, the second person in the pair, "I can't believe how irresponsible parents these days are. Back in my day I never let kids leave without cleaning up! How could the kids not know? Parents, Geesh!" Person A sends his car to Person B while saying this, and then, as the leader, I ask Person B how he felt hearing that. We did a little debriefing, and to send his car back, he decided to say "I'm disappointed you feel this way, I'm just glad kids are in the church."
We went around the room having Person A of the pair saying something to Person B, send them their car, and then having Person B send a car back with a new statement.
Things We Learned from Practice
Part Five: Bible RePrise/ Prayer
We figured out that Jesus and his disciples, in the storm from Mark 4:35-41 were not in a totally healthy emotional system. When the disciples say "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” they are almost blaming Jesus for the storm. They are also making assumptions about him and his behavior. We practiced what might be a healthier response of the Disciples. Something like, "Jesus, wake up! There's a storm, I'm scared we're going to die, can you help us?" In that sentence, the Disciples own their own feelings, as opposed to before, when they assume Jesus doesn't care. What else could the disciples have said? Be sure to write that in the comments.
As we wrapped up, I made an offhand comment about how I'd know the success or failure of the worship based on if the toys were cleaned up by time I was done packing up. Person said that since we talked about all accepting responsibility for things, everyone should help. They went and picked up the toys.
White Lutherans helped pray out loud (this is foreign to most of us raised in white Lutheran churches). I started each round, and for each sentence, we went around the table (you could say "pass") and everyone could contribute to the prayer.
Dear Creator God, we thank you for your creation of Calvary and for all the work you are doing here. We also thank you for . . . . .
Dear Redeeming Jesus, we ask that you help us with . . . . .
Dear Inspiring Spirit, we ask that you give us hope that . . . . .
Thank you for hearing all these things, and also the silent prayers of our hearts. Continue to be with us and help us to be a place that showers our entire neighborhood with your love and blessings. Amen.
And all the People Said Together AMEN!
Pastor Jess is all about sharing the life-saving love of Jesus with the world. How she does it is up to the Holy Spirit.
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This work is licensed by Rev. Jessica A. Harren under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.